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Ryan Johnson, Grand Forks Herald, Published March 09 2012

GF Herald columnist who reviewed Olive Garden to appear on CNN's 'Piers Morgan'

GRAND FORKS - As Internet buzz over Marilyn Hagerty’s review of the Grand Forks Olive Garden continued to build Friday, the longtime Herald columnist said her newfound national fame was still “pretty surreal.”

“The phone has been ringing constantly and the emails have been rolling in one after another,” she said. “It’s pretty wild.”

One of those calls was from producers of the popular CNN primetime show “Piers Morgan Tonight,” who wanted the 85-year-old columnist to agree to an on-air interview about the national hysteria that started Wednesday with her review of the new Olive Garden restaurant.

She also took a call from “Good Morning America” staff seeking more information about her column and the ensuing Internet buzz.

The Herald will soon send Hagerty to New York City for a special assignment. Look for more details to be announced in the coming days.

Hagerty said she has handled all the interview requests the way she wants her sources to handle her own questions while she works on her five columns each week for the Herald, including her Thursday "Dear Shirley" column and the Eatbeat.

“I just have tried to be cooperative and answer the questions of anyone who asks me questions, because I know I like people to be cooperative when I ask questions,” she said.

Hagerty will be interviewed live on “Piers Morgan Tonight” on Monday from a Grand Forks studio. She said host Piers Morgan will be on vacation that night, so a guest host will fill in.

The show will air locally at 8 p.m. Monday on CNN.

Internet sensation

Hagerty’s review of the new Olive Garden restaurant quickly shattered records on GrandForksHerald.com after being posted early Wednesday morning. The column tallied more than 376,000 views by 3 p.m. today, and seven of the website 10 most-viewed stories from Wednesday morning this afternoon were Hagerty’s columns and stories about her Internet fame.

Hagerty’s column gained notoriety on the Internet after being posted on popular websites such as Fark, Gawker and Boingboing, and thousands of Twitter and Facebook users linked the story and weighed in on the latest viral sensation Thursday and today.

It was not long until mainstream media outlets took notice and wrote their own stories about the Internet sensation surrounding Hagerty, including Star Tribune, The Wall Street Journal, and The Associated Press.

NBC's “Today" show called the Herald newsroom this morning trying to schedule an interview with Hagerty in Grand Forks on Monday.

Since Thursday, the Herald also has responded to several requests for Hagerty’s photo from People magazine, the Huffington Post, ABC News and several other national publications and websites.

Hagerty also has appeared on multiple radio stations to discuss her Internet fame.

She said the first response she heard about her column was that it was “pathetic,” and said her story probably went viral because “somebody just ran across it and thought it was kind of dumb.”

But Hagerty said virtually everyone else who has emailed or called since that initial criticism has supported her column and the writing style that she has employed at the Herald since the early 1960s.

“I think the fact that people were criticizing me and saying mean things makes people want to reassure me and say nice things,” she said.

Still the same

Still, Hagerty said she does not understand the fuss.

“I just feel mostly amused and interested and amazed that people have so much time to worry about such things,” she said. “I’ve got more to worry about than that.”

Hagerty said the Internet buzz surrounding her Olive Garden review, as well as her past reviews of Taco Bell, Italian Moon and other Grand Forks restaurants, will likely “blow over in a few days.”

No matter how long it lasts, she said her time in the spotlight will not change her approach to the job or the matter-of-fact approach she takes to review local eateries for her loyal readers in the Grand Forks area.

“I just don’t care,” she said about the attention. “It makes no difference to me. It’s interesting; that’s what I think it is, very interesting.”

But Hagerty said the hoopla over her critique of the Olive Garden’s salads and chicken alfredo could have one noticeable impact — it will generate plenty of ideas for future columns.

“It will do that for sure.”