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Piers Morgan is revealing his finely tuned focus on CNN

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

The ratings could be better. Though “Piers Morgan Tonight” boasted 2.1 million viewers for his Oprah-blessed premiere, last Thursday’s confab with Kim and Kourtney Kardashian shriveled the audience to just 498,000.

His predecessor, Larry King, was averaging 674,000. And King never would have excluded Khloe.

But Morgan has been humbled before, with no apparent effect on his ego. There was the time he fell off a Segway and broke five ribs. (Ouch.) Then there was the time his newspaper printed photos of British soldiers abusing an Iraqi prisoner that turned out to be fake. (Awkward.)

Morgan was not in the least discouraged. He has, as the Onion would say, the tenacity of the cockroach.

As “Piers Morgan Tonight” labors mightily to create buzz and find its groove, I’m hoping CNN stands by its man. Why?

1. He’s versatile.

Morgan’s 25 years of experience as a muckraking journalist have given him an impressive ability to mix high and low culture — and emerge with the bulk of his dignity. He’s asked Condoleezza Rice what she’d cook for a man (gumbo) and Kim Kardashian about her charitable urges. He wasn’t above mixing it up with Omarosa on “The Celebrity Apprentice.”

And on Friday, Morgan proved that he won’t ignore the news. He bumped a pre-taped interview with Colin Firth to cover the Egypt crisis live. Morgan has admitted that he is “self-confident to the point of self-adoration,” but he gave his ego the night off as he fielded various commentators and eyewitness accounts.

Morgan is still trying to figure out what we want from him, but his instincts are good.

2. He’s an outsider.

Remember what a hard time we gave Posh and David Beckham when they immigrated here? Those were the days. And now we accept Victoria as a guest judge on “American Idol” without blinking.

We’re not done hazing Morgan yet. “To be successful in England’s very nice, but England’s about the size of Philadelphia,” Howard Stern noted on the second episode of “Piers Morgan Tonight.” “To conquer England, it takes about two days.”

All most people know about Morgan is that he’s smart, because he has an accent like in all those fancy boring movies. He has no particular allegiance to America, and seems to think that we’re a silly country.

He may be right.

3. He’ll do whatever it takes.

Morgan has a healthy appreciation for hype. Substance is all well and good, but it’s buzz that gets people to tune in. Oprah, Stern and George Clooney all are attention-getters, and Morgan was considerably lucky in lining up Ricky Gervais just after the Golden Globes. Upcoming guests include Mitt Romney, Kid Rock and Donald Trump. Morgan even bet Oprah that he’d be the first to interview Michael Vick.

He’s probably gotten more print, though, for the people he refuses to have on his show. Madonna is banned for life, for the simple reason that we have a new Madonna, and her name is Lady Gaga. You can’t really argue with that logic. Also blacklisted: Heather Mills (Morgan introduced her to Paul McCartney — whoops) and MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann. “It’s a temporary ban, designed to confuse and bemuse him, and hopefully engender a violent reaction,” says Morgan.

He’s already written about his “Hollywood makeover” back home, complete with whitened teeth, personal trainer and to-tan-or-not-to-tan agony. If he’s smart, Morgan will take a page from Jamie Lee Curtis and pose in frumpy underwear.

All of his considerable intelligence and ambition is focused on making us like him. If that means revealing some dark secret, that’s what he’ll do. If we hunger for domestic drama, he’ll divorce his wife. And if what we want most is to hate him, he’ll arrange that, too.

What’s gotten Morgan this far are some very American qualities: single-minded determination, brashness and shamelessness. How could he fail?

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