Say whatever you like about Piers Morgan taking over Larry King's 9 p.m. time slot on CNN.
But don't dare suggest that the global cable news network might have to counter perceptions that, in hiring a guy known best in the U.S. for stints on America's Got Talent and Celebrity Apprentice, it's turned to a nonjournalist for ratings juice.
"Wait a second; I was a journalist for 25 years on (Britain's) Fleet Street," said Morgan in a conference call with reporters Wednesday, showing his trademark brash confidence. "You can't just glibly call me a nonjournalist. … (It's an issue) if eminent journalists such as yourself go around telling people I'm not a journalist."
CNN resolved the worst-kept secret in television Wednesday, finally announcing that Morgan would take Larry King Live's time slot in January — months after journalists first broke the news and weeks after NBC acknowledged a deal sharing the prickly America's Got Talent judge with the news network.
Still, though Morgan's experience includes jobs as editor for both the News of the World and Daily Mirror national newspapers in Britain, along with hosting several highly rated interview shows on British TV, critics in America have wondered whether a guy best known here as a participant in entertainment shows could help CNN's credibility and news ratings.
"(Viewers) already know that Piers is honest, straightforward and he holds people accountable," said CNN/U.S. president Jon Klein. "What they'll be delighted to discover, is that he comes at that from a journalistic background."
Morgan and Klein also denied reports that work visa problems required CNN to delay the show's start to 2011, saying their deal was complex, requiring negotiating the new host's commitments to shows in America and Britain.
King is now expected to wrap up his 25-year career at CNN on Dec. 16, with best-of episodes airing until Morgan's January debut. In addition to hosting CNN's as-yet unnamed 9 p.m. interview show, Morgan will stay on NBC's Talent (giving that show precedence in his schedule), while also hosting his British interview show Life Stories. He'll also write columns for the British Daily Mail newspaper and CNN.com.
Morgan couldn't say he'd continue on Britain's Got Talent, saying negotiations were still ongoing.
Combined with Parker Spitzer, a new 8 p.m. show starting Oct. 4 featuring newspaper columnist Kathleen Parker and disgraced former New York Governor Elliot Spitzer, Morgan's hire may represent the biggest Hail Mary programming change in CNN's history. Morgan has guest hosted on the Today show and Live with Regis and Kelly, but has little profile in the United States as an interviewer or television host.
There's one thing Morgan did say he won't do: Indulge in the kind of partisan opinionating that has brought bigger prime-time ratings to rivals Fox News Channel and MSNBC.
"Most of those shows get caught up in all this inter-feudal arguing, when all I care about is 'Who's the guest and what can I get out of them?' " he said. "I don't want people to view me as a political animal."