From Ray Richmond, who is contributing to Deadline Hollywood’s TCA coverage:

He was once shooting for Barack Obama but Morgan got the woman who helped him become a president. When his new nightly talk show, Piers Morgan Tonight, premieres on CNN (replacing Larry King Live) on Jan. 17, Morgan’s first guest will be none other than the queen herself, Oprah Winfrey, a “get” of which he was clearly quite proud. “We had a terrific conversation, it was one of those discussions that went on and on,” he said during Piers Morgan Tonight‘s Q&A session at TCA. “It was one of those times where you drop your guard and it’s more like two friends talking. We extended far beyond our allotted time because she was enjoying it so much.” When it was pointed out by a critic that landing Oprah isn’t such a boffo exclusive these days given the launch of her new OWN Network — and that he’s already been beaten to the punch by, among others, Barbara Walters — Morgan begged to differ, noting with characteristic brashness, “Anytime you can get Oprah, it’s a great thing. She has an extraordinary brand. She’s worth nearly $3 billion. That makes her a totally unique character.”

Morgan wasn’t exactly shy during his first meeting before the gathered press, flashing his well-honed British self-assurance and controlling the room with a magician’s smooth sleight of hand. Without bashing his predecessor, he specifically conveyed the message that, yes, he is the savior who will instantly stop CNN’s ratings free-fall and restore it to the greatness and grandeur of yore. “The truth is that CNN remains the most prestigious and profitable news network internationally already,” Morgan said. “The fact that it has a short-term ratings problem here in the U.S. doesn’t diminish that fact. Over the last two years, CNN has been getting its butt kicked by Fox News and MSNBC in primetime. I’d like to get to the position where the butt-kickng is reversed a little bit. And I’m absolutely confident I can do that.”

In fact, Morgan demonstrated on Thursday that he’s pretty confident about being able to do a lot of things, including reverse the trend of plug-and-play talk show segments. “I believe there’s an appetite out there for compelling one-hour interviews with an interesting twist. The guests have to be fabulous, fun and fascinating…but that doesn’t mean sacrificing breaking news. We’re going to do live shows. Breaking news is my stock in trade. It’s what I cut my teeth on. I love it. That hasn’t been CNN’s problem in that slot. The problem has been bringing a sense of excitement. The way to get bigger ratings is to give them more meat on the bone.”

Morgan’s plan is to produce the show out of New York two-thirds of the year and Los Angeles the other third, “with the occasional show from London now and again.” And while his hour-long show won’t be partisan, “it will be opinionated,” he promises. “We’re going to make a lot of noise. And part of that is being polarizing. I like being polarizing. It’s more fun.” And indeed, Morgan says he has no fear of being disliked. “The idea of being some saintly figure in television would be, to me, unbearable,” he says. The plan is for “Piers Morgan Tonight” also to be “cutting edge” and make liberal use of Facebook, Twitter and the various social media. he said. It also will eschew the panel-style shows that Morgan believes the public has grown tired of. And not every guest will have something to plug, he promises, insisting that for his first week, “four of the five don’t have anything to plug.”

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