After 25 Years, King Will Hang Up His Suspenders

Larry King says he's stepping down this fall from the prime-time show that has anchored CNN's lineup for 25 years. Larry King Live has been suffering in the ratings recently, and there's been speculation about King's future.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

Larry King has been a primetime fixture for the past quarter century on CNN. Last night, though, he told viewers he's going to retire from his nightly show this fall. King's ratings had flagged in recent years, but as NPR's David Folkenflik reports, his departure will still leave a big gap.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Larry King has been married eight times to seven women, but he has been most notably wedded to cable news pioneer CNN. And you could just hear the regret in his voice last night.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Larry King Live")

Mr. LARRY KING (TV show host): Good evening. Before I start the show tonight I want to share some personal news with you. Twenty-five years...

FOLKENFLIK: Early on, his CNN show relied on friends, such as Jackie Gleason, Frank Sinatra and Nancy Reagan. "Larry King Live" became a home for some serious discussion of world affairs with presidents, diplomats and experts, and for a lot of minor celebrity scandals.

Over time, "Larry King Live" became a vital stop on contrition tours and book junkets. Here, he pressed former President Bill Clinton to talk about his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Larry King Live")

Mr. KING: You did it because it was there. A lot of people - I think we need some elaboration...

President BILL CLINTON: Yeah, because it wasn't...

Mr. KING: ...because people are taking that...

President CLINTON: Wrongly.

Mr. KING: ...wrongly.

President CLINTON: I think everybody...

Mr. KING: What does it mean?

President CLINTON: ...everybody who reads it in the book will see that I was rebuking myself.

FOLKENFLIK: King never placed much value on preparing for his shows. In 2006, he described for me the technique he honed during years on local radio.

Mr. KING: There was nothing prearranged. It was totally off the top and off the cuff. And my style would be I ask short questions. I rarely ask a two-sentence question.

FOLKENFLIK: Last night, he looked back.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Larry King Live")

Mr. KING: I'm incredibly proud that we recently made the Guinness Book of World Records for having the longest running show, with the same host, in the same time slot, on the same network.

FOLKENFLIK: Yet, ratings at CNN have dropped sharply, across the board. Former 8 p.m. anchor Campbell Brown recently quit, saying she could not beat the ideological and bombastic appeals of Keith Olbermann of MSNBC and Bill O'Reilly of Fox News.

NBC News President Steve Capus oversees MSNBC. He says CNN's flagging fortunes mark a real shift.

Mr. STEVE CAPUS (MSNBC): If you think about what's going on in our world right now, everything from wars on a couple of different fronts, a recession, that absolute disaster down in the Gulf - this is a time, when traditionally, CNN would've been cleaning up. Now what we see is, the audience is not going to them.

FOLKENFLIK: King's own ratings are at record lows. Some television executives thought the 76-year-old King had lost focus and should have already been eased out. But Jonathan Klein, president of CNN's domestic network, tells NPR that King simply looked back at his tenure and made his own call.

Mr. JONATHAN KLEIN (President, CNN): And we do take a long view here and we don't make kneejerk decisions, especially about somebody who is an icon, based on a few month's worth of ratings. That would be ludicrous.

FOLKENFLIK: Yet, Klein acknowledges CNN now has the chance to reinvent its nightly lineup.

Mr. KLEIN: We all have to evolve. But what we will always strive to be known for is real reporting, incisive analysis and informed opinion.

FOLKENFLIK: Campbell Brown will be replaced at 8 PM by the crusading and disgraced former Democratic governor Elliott Spitzer. He'll be paired with the Pulitzer Prize-winning conservative columnist Kathleen Parker.

As for King, he says he'll continue until this fall and then appear periodically on the network. No replacement has been named, but King says he's pulling for another radio host - Ryan Seacrest of "American Idol."

David Folkenflik, NPR News, New York.

(Soundbite of music)

KELLY: This is NPR News.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: