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Last updated on April 19, 2014 at 13:20 EDT

Piers Morgan is the Simon Cowell of `America’s Got Talent’

June 24, 2008

PASADENA, Calif. _ Being a smart aleck know-it-all might not be a passport to success in most circles, but it’s done wonders for Piers Morgan. The acerbic British judge on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” was hired for precisely those qualities.

It’s no accident that Morgan serves as the Simon Cowell of the talent show. It was Cowell who got him the job. “Simon rang me up and said, ‘Get on a plane to my L.A. home NOW, you’ve got an interview with NBC, and it’s 50-50. And if you do a good interview you may get this job.’ And my life changed completely,” he says in a deserted bar in a hotel here.

Morgan was used to changes. When he was 28 he was tapped to serve as editor of the British tabloid newspaper News of the World, and two years later he oversaw the Daily Mirror.

“I’ve always had confidence, even when I haven’t felt it,” says Morgan, the oldest of four from a village on the south coast of England. “People latch on to vulnerability and a lack of confidence. When you’re an editor and you’re a quite young editor, even when things are going bad, you have to exude an air of supreme confidence to your staff because most staffs on any newspaper or in the military or politics, you look to the boss for leadership,” he says.

“Leaders can’t afford to be too insecure or lacking in confidence. So I’ve always been able to take risks knowing they might fail and to learn to deal with that,” he says.

Nobody had heard of Piers Morgan when he arrived on Yankee shores. “I was a bit intimidated,” he admits. “I’m not normally intimidated by anything, but I found it weird coming to Los Angeles not knowing anybody at all and no one knowing who I was and thinking, ‘Who is this guy being foisted on this show?’

“I remember (co-judge) David Hasselhoff, he thought, ‘I can’t believe a guy from the tabloids has come to work with me.’ It was the ultimate nightmare. And then Regis Philbin had not heard of me either. Then after the first season went to No. 1 in the ratings, it made life a lot easier.”

Morgan’s adroit handling of his guest appearance on “The Celebrity Apprentice” helped too, he thinks. “I like a challenge,” he rubs his hands on the chair arm. “When I went on ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ and none of the other contestants knew much about me, I thought, ‘Well, you underestimate me at your peril, my friends, because if you can get on in the British tabloid game _ I was appointed editor of the News of the World at 28 by Rupert Murdoch and he’s no fool.’ And so I knew I stood a good chance on ‘The Apprentice’ if they underestimated me. And they did. My ethos in business has always been to win whether it’s newspapering, ‘The Apprentice,’ whatever it is. I don’t see the point otherwise.”

Morgan is a divorced father of three boys, ages 14, 10 and 7, who live in England with their mother. They come to visit often, he says. Becoming a father changed him, he thinks. “It definitely humanized me in a way that no one really understands until they have children. It just changes everything.”

While Morgan and Cowell usually represent the brutal pragmatist on their panels, they come by it naturally, says Morgan. “A lot of Brits are quite blunt speaking, whereas I think Americans are nicer people, you’re nicer to each other, you show more common civility toward each other,” he says.

“When you meet a stranger, Americans’ first thought is to be pleasant and nice, and in Britain our first thought is to be quite rude. I think as Britain gets ruder, America is actually a polite society. And I like that about you. People say that Americans don’t get our humor because it’s ironic and sarcastic. It’s also very cynical. You’re not a cynical group of people. You’re actually quite positive thinking. When it comes to judging, I think Brits _ like Simon and me _ it’s that American celebrities want to be very nice about the acts even when the evidence is to the contrary. I think our position is to say. ‘Let’s keep it real here. We are trying to give someone a million dollars and a show in Vegas, it’s serious business.’ You can’t just let them all through because you feel sorry for them.”

“America’s Got Talent” will air two two-hour episodes on Tuesday and July 1.

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With another James Bond movie, “Quantum of Solace,” on the horizon it’s time for the video people to think about capitalizing on the famous 007 name once again. Daniel Craig is cast once more as the new secret agent, but Pierce Brosnan, an earlier version, recalls what it was like to shoot “Tomorrow Never Dies” back in 1997.

He should remember. He was injured badly on that one. “I slit my face up, got whacked by stunt guy and had eight stitches,” he says. “Freaked them out completely because I was on a plane the next day to Germany and this lug of a stunt man just wouldn’t bend over _ pardon the expression. On take No. 6, I jumped on him and whapped him into the wall and he whapped back and his helmet sliced the face. I could feel it. I walked off the stage and there was blood everywhere. Off to hospital, eight stitches, producers standing in the hospital with a plastic surgeon who’s having a nice day then, he has James Bond on the table. You’ve got insurance people and they’re saying, ‘Stitches on the outside, stitches on the inside.’ They stitched me on the inside and I went off to Hamburg the next day and did (a scene) crawling over the roof.”

Six classic Bond films will be released on Blu-ray in November to coincide with the arrival the latest film, including Brosnan’s “Die Another Day.”

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Miley Cyrus (who else?) will host the Teen Choice Awards Shows set to air on Fox Aug. 4. In the meantime, kids between the ages of 13 and 19 can vote once each day for their favorite nominees at www.TeenChoiceAwards.com. Winners of the coveted surfboard awards will be announced during the two-hour celebration broadcast from the Gibson Amphitheatre in Universal City, Calif. Of course, top in the running are the kids from “Gossip Girl,” Justin Timberlake, Miley herself and Chris Brown.

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Alan Cumming is the new man of “Mystery!” as the appointed host of the PBS series for this summer, which will air the final three episodes of the wonderful WWII mystery “Foyle’s War” beginning July 13. The Scottish actor is probably best known here for his roles in “X Men 2,” the “Spy Kids” trilogy and “Golden Eye.

“I think acting is easy,” says Cumming. “The concept is quite easy, you just pretend to be someone else and mean it. Some people are better than others and some things are easier than others, some characters are easier than others. But I don’t think it’s very healthy to pretend it’s more difficult than it actually is.”

Corresponding with the airing of “Foyle’s War,” Acorn Media will release Set 5 of the masterful mystery on DVD on Aug. 5. The popular show features Michael Kitchen as a police inspector in a small coastal town in England during World War II.

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(c) 2008, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Visit the McClatchy Washington Bureau on the World Wide Web at www.mcclatchydc.com.

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