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April 7, 2022updated 30 Sep 2022 11:13am

TalkTV builds larger studio to contain Piers Morgan’s ambitions for nightly show

By Charlotte Tobitt

A new purpose-built studio in Ealing has been created to accommodate Piers Morgan’s ambitions for his new nightly show on TalkTV.

Piers Morgan Uncensored, launching along with the rest of TalkTV’s primetime programming on Monday 25 April, will air live for an hour each night from a state-of-the-art studio in Ealing, west London which as recently as mid-January was a concrete husk.

Winnie Dunbar Nelson, the executive editor behind the show who has worked with Morgan for almost 12 years, told Press Gazette that the ex-News of the World and Mirror editor wants to avoid being stuck behind a desk talking to his guests.

“We realised that the infrastructure in The News Building where we originally wanted to do his show couldn’t accommodate him moving around and being crazy and so the bosses agreed that we need to have some space to spread our wings,” she said.

News UK invested in new broadcast studios, initially used by its radio stations including Talkradio, at its London Bridge headquarters in 2018. They will soon house the other TalkTV primetime programming launching on 25 April: ex-Sun political editor and Times Radio chief political commentator Tom Newton Dunn’s news hour and Sharon Osbourne’s panel show The Talk.

However, Morgan will have his own space to spread out on the other side of London which was designed completely from scratch by his team over the past few months.

Dunbar Nelson previously worked with Morgan first at his CNN talk show, which lasted three years before being axed in 2014, and then at Good Morning Britain on ITV, the show he walked out of a year ago amid a row over his criticism of the Duchess of Sussex’s claims to have felt suicidal after joining the royal family.

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Dunbar Nelson told Press Gazette Morgan wants to make sure his new show does not forget “what he keeps on referring to as that dirty three-lettered word – fun”. For example in the past he challenged Martina Navratilova to a game of table tennis at GMB, while at CNN he got on the tennis court with Serena Williams.

“We gave all the interviews this texture of fun to them, even if we were talking about some serious stuff, to just lighten the load and also have some shareable moments,” she said.

Piers to channel ‘awesome Fleet Street tabloid journalism’

Dunbar Nelson said this sense of fun is not shared enough by other broadcasters and news media organisations: “Places like John Oliver do that right now but they are only once a week and they end up doing deep dives on big topics,” she said. “I mean, this is a nightly news show. We’ve got to come up with this quickly and fast and accurately and funny…”

She said she is inspired by the tabloid headline puns and wordplay at News UK stablemate The Sun, which will be echoed in Morgan’s on-screen headlines.

“It’s just this awesome Fleet Street tabloid journalism with a little bit of fun and humour,” she said. “That doesn’t exist in America at all, and here [in the UK] it’s used sparingly in newspapers but in a television show that doesn’t really exist.”

Dunbar Nelson said Piers Morgan Uncensored also aims to be a “platform for vigorous debate” and “cancel the cancel culture which has infected every society in the world”, as well as host “news-making” interviews and “sparkly” celebrities.

“This show in particular is going to be a show that champions free speech and celebrates the little guy and gives a big voice to those people in the world who feel voiceless or cancelled or are facing injustice,” Dunbar Nelson went on. “We really hope that it makes some people open their minds and their hearts to certain things, but then also at the end of it have a little fun.”

Aside from working with Morgan at GMB and CNN, Dunbar Nelson’s CV includes a role preparing to set up a new international news service run by NBC and Sky, which was abandoned in August 2020 after the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world. She previously worked on major US talk shows hosted by Oprah Winfrey and Tyra Banks.

Minds will be changed ‘whether they like it or not’

Asked why she wanted to join News UK’s fledgling TV channel after a career at established broadcast channels and programmes, she said she was attracted by the fact TalkTV would be a “brand new channel without any sort of living legacy, but yet a living legacy of amazing journalism within the building.

“And so it’s this nice combo that you don’t get anywhere else because everywhere else you’ve already made up your mind about it,” she said. “And so we get to be completely fresh and new, but we know that there’s newsgathering chutzpah behind it.”

Asked what she would say to those who may have already made up their mind about TalkTV, whether because it’s owned by Rupert Murdoch or because they don’t like Morgan or The Sun, Dunbar Nelson added: “I think those people who have already made up their mind are going to have their minds changed, whether they like it or not.”

Dunbar Nelson described Morgan as “one of the easiest talents that I’ve ever worked with” even though she acknowledged he may “seem on paper to be someone that would be prickly to work with”.

She added: “I just love that he knows who he is. He knows his voice. He knows what he likes, and he makes a decision and sticks with it and that leadership is the kind of leadership that you need when you’re trying to produce a television show of this nature.”

Dunbar Nelson added that he is also “a really nice man”, citing occasions he had looked out for her and her family.

“He’s a family man who cares about his community and those close to him. He’s a good guy. I can’t say anything bad about him, to be honest.”

‘It doesn’t matter if people like him or hate him’

Morgan has eight million Twitter followers and GMB lost more than a third of its average monthly audience in the six months after he left the programme. Although he proved less popular in the US where he took a “bath in the ratings” he routinely trends on social media in America too.

Dunbar Nelson recalled that during Morgan’s time on CNN the mantra was “it doesn’t matter if people like him or hate him. It just matters that people know who he is”, and she said this still applies today.

She admitted she gets stressed in guest booking meetings because she wants the biggest and best names, but recently had it pointed out to her by a producer: “Winnie, you’ve got to remember the best booking that anyone can have is Piers.”

She said: “I was like, ‘You’re right. He really is’. The amount of people that we have requesting him to be on their shows or their podcast or their radio show, it’s miles long every day.”

As well as on TalkTV in the UK, Morgan’s new show will air on the Fox Nation streaming service in the US and Sky News Australia, both also owned by Murdoch’s News Corp. And in addition to linear TV, the show will be available on connected TV, on the TalkTV website and app, on Talkradio, on on-demand audio listening, and with clips shared on social media.

“They’re probably going to have a lot of trouble just even avoiding the show,” Dunbar Nelson said. “It’s pretty incredible the reach that we potentially have.”

She admitted she was initially worried that it would be hard to decide what to focus on each day to appeal to audiences in the UK, US and Australia. But she said: “As we’ve been rehearsing, we’ve been having no problems choosing guests, topics, debates that impact and interest a global audience.

“It really does seem with social media and the internet that the world’s really become smaller and we’re more informed about global stories – like everyone cares about the war in Ukraine, everyone cares about big and little stories of discrimination and injustice, you know, the neighbour down the street, the kid on the school bus, local stories of hope, heroes around the world. They all seem like stuff that’s fair game for us that we’re definitely going to be talking about.

“Also, everyone cares about big, popular celebrities, and a really great rising new star. So we’re going to have all of that on Piers’ show and he’ll be presenting it of course with his unique perspective, but it’s basically stories that are interesting stories that you can’t not care about.”

[Read more: Piers Morgan returns to Sun with ‘shambles’ attack on Johnson starting three-year ‘£50m’ News UK deal]

Picture: News Corp

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