Watch the author's full analysis of Piers Morgan's ratings on The Wonderful World of Stu
By Dan Andros
CNN officially announced Piers Morgan as the replacement for the legendary Larry King on September 8th, 2010. The next few months on CNN saw a steady barrage of promotion to hype the shakeup, hoping to end what was dubbed a ‘ratings depression’ in the 9pm time slot.
Piers himself said before his program debuted that the ‘only benchmark’ of his success would be whether or not he could lift CNN’s ratings from ‘cellar-dwelling’ status. Well, he’s had 664 shows to get the job done – has he?
Nope, not even close.
A closer look at his entire ratings history leaves no doubt: Piers Morgan has failed and he’s failed spectacularly. You might be saying CNN has been in the ratings gutter for quite some time now and it’s a little unfair to unleash an entire ratings expose on a single host. That’s a completely legitimate argument – but Piers Morgan’s massive ego and unwarranted arrogance nullifies it.
From day one, Piers has made it clear that this is about him and only him. Instead of humbly entering the cable arena, Piers entered guns blazing:
After the months of promotion, Piers did come out of the gate sprinting. He placed 2nd in the demo on his opening night with 521,000 viewers, thanks to debut guest Oprah Winfrey. But Hannity still managed to score 600,000 and win the night with an interview of Sarah Palin. Piers' assessment of the situation was strange, to say the least:
“Without that (Palin interview) we would’ve beaten Fox.”
Ah yes, the old ‘if the other team didn’t score all those touchdowns we totally would have won!’ excuse. Works every time.
On show number two, Stern did indeed score a first place finish for Piers with 551,000 in demo, beating Hannity (506,000) for the night. A good start, but the next few weeks would be a harbinger of things to come. Over the next 27 shows, Piers averaged just 228,000 in demo and that number was inflated by CNN’s breaking news coverage of the Arab Spring during the month of February.
Amazingly, Piers’ ego remained completely intact. On his satellite radio program, Howard Stern recalled running into Piers a few weeks after their interview. Piers asked Howard how ‘my’ interview was and actually made Stern an offer: “you can come on my show once a month” he said. Ironically, the stated purpose was to help boost Stern’s career – not the other way around. Imagine telling the guy responsible for your only number one finish that he needed career help and that you were the one who could provide it. Imagine having a show that loses badly to Hannity and Rachel Maddow night after night - and telling a man who has made hundreds of millions of dollars off of his broadcasting talent that you are going to save his career. It’s madness.
During those first 27 shows, Piers came in 3rd or 4th place (out of 4) 20 times, or 74% of the time. A terrible start by any measure, but unfortunately for Piers and CNN, this would be as good as it gets. Over the next few years, Piers Morgan Tonight would be a consistent 3rd place finisher and whenever a decent made-for-TV trial landed on CNN Headline News, Piers was a guaranteed last place finish.
Earlier this year, during the Jody Arias trial, Piers finished in last place an amazing 24 straight times, covering a period of 5 straight weeks. The only thing that stopped the streak was a miserable 85,000 put up by Headline News on March 29th – but Piers picked up the streak again the following Monday and came in last another 10 straight times. Piers finished last 34 out of 35 nights – and it wasn’t just because he was getting decent numbers and others went through the roof.
He was awful.
He averaged a measly 119,000 viewers in the demo during the stretch, which included some insanely low scores:
89,000 (3 times)
The low point was on April 8th with a 68,000 in demo.
To give you an idea of how miserable these numbers are – during that same month of April, Fox News' Red Eye averaged 155,000 in demo. Red Eye airs at 3am ET, when almost the entire country is asleep.
The losing streak finally came to a halt on April 15th, 2013 when the Boston Marathon bombing occurred. Piers scored a rare first place finish, squeaking past Hannity on that tragic Monday as CNN covered the bombings with all of its breaking news team. Later in the week, Piers would be the benefactor of the manhunt for the bombers, scoring two more first place finishes in demo on Thursday and Friday.
This is a trend that seems repeat itself with Piers – so much so that science is considering calling it ‘Piers Law’ – and that is: when Americans suffer, Piers Morgan is having a pretty decent day. When Americans are having a pretty decent day, Piers Morgan ratings suffer.
In late 2012, Piers had placed third (out of four) in 13 of 14 straight shows before tragedy struck – the Sandy Hook massacre. CNN’s breaking news coverage helped lead Piers to another rare first place finish.
Between September 10th, 2012 and November 6th 2012 he placed third or last an astonishing 40 out of 45 times. His only first place finishes came the day Hurricane Sandy hit shore and on election night, which wasn’t even him hosting the program, it was CNN’s election coverage.
In 2011, another abysmal streak of distant 3rd and last place finishes (18 out of 20 shows) was stopped by the Tsunami in Japan, where CNN’s breaking news coverage lifted Piers to a 1st place on Friday March 11th.
When a tornado struck Moore, Oklahoma and devastated an entire town – it lifted Piers Morgan ratings up to #1 on May 20th.
The pattern is clear: very few Americans intentionally watch Piers Morgan.
Sean Hannity averages more than double Piers per night in demo – 476,000 for Hannity and 235,000 for Piers. Maddow also beats Piers with a nightly average of 312,000 in demo.
In his first 664 shows, Piers Morgan has placed 3rd or 4th (out of 4) an astonishing 85% of the time. He most commonly comes in a distant third place (60% of the time) behind Hannity and Maddow and is dead last with 25% of his shows. He occasionally places 2nd (11%) and he only lands in first place a mere 4% of the time.
But even the 4% is misleading. Let’s take a closer look: that 4% is a total of 28 shows out of the 664 he’s aired to date. Of those 28 first place finishes, very few of them are legitimate wins.
To score a ‘legitimate’ win, Piers has to be on the air and so does Hannity. Vacations and guest-hosts don’t count. So here’s the breakdown of his 28 first place finishes:
- 7 were due to breaking news coverage of natural disasters and tragedies (Tsunami, hurricane Sandy, Tornado in Moore OK, Sandy hook shooting, etc)
- 3 were not against Hannity (he had fill in hosts those nights)
- 13 were due to alternate programming (debates, SOTU, inauguration, holiday schedule, etc)
That leaves five legitimate first place finishes.
FIVE out of six hundred and sixty four programs – or 0.8% of the time – Piers Morgan Tonight has been successful.
By his own measure, Piers Morgan has been a ratings failure during his tenure at CNN. There is no refuting the numbers – the only question that remains – is his ego still intact?
If only his ratings were as big as his inflated ego…