CNN is ending the Larry King show on its network. The question is will anyone miss a man who founded a portion of his career on his USA Today, dot, dot, dot column? Will anyone miss a man who unabashedly asked the softest, most ill-informed questions in interview history? Will anyone miss a man who formed a career based on his colleague Barbara Walters’ question: “If you were a tree what kind of tree would you be?”
Larry King often said that one of his keys to success was that he was ill-prepared for the interviews he conducted. He stated that doing homework on a specific interview subject harmed his natural, inquisitive skills. He stated this as if to suggest that America should tune in to see his ill-informed, inquisitive nature on display, he stated this as if not doing research was a resume enhancer as an interviewer, and he stated this to suggest that viewers should be as fascinated with him, and his God-given abilities, as they are his interview subjects.
Larry King was one of the first to fashion the talk radio universe. If you didn’t know he was a talk radio star, don’t worry, not many other people did either. He was great on the radio with Tommy Lasorda as a guest, but what interviewer wouldn’t be? With Tommy Lasorda, a host can ask the question “how you doin’?” and Tommy will launch into forty-five minutes of priceless radio. He was great with baseball. At the height of the Braves/Yankee domination in the 90’s, Larry made a preseason prediction that the Yankees and the Braves would be in the World Series. He concluded this gutless prediction with the line: “You heard it here first folks.” He then said, “It will probably go seven games, but here’s to hoping that the series will never end, and there would be no winners and no losers.” He was undoubtedly going after the female demographic with this line.
As a majority of his status in the media comes to a close, Larry must ask himself if he added to the discourse of American politics in the course of his career. As the self-professed pioneer of the current talk radio format, he had his chance. He not only failed in his attempt to shape the discourse of American politics as a talk show radio host, he apologized for his role in it. The question is what is he apologizing for? Larry didn’t expound upon his apology, of course, but he probably thinks that right wing talk radio discourages debate, and that it is too partisan in nature. Listeners of Larry’s radio show will remember that open line callers were often treated with great disrespect when their views did not correspond with the hosts. When these callers launched upon a central point with a key question Larry cut them off in mid-sentence. He followed this by turning to his producer to say: “I thought I told you, no more wackos.” Larry quashed debate and lessened political discourse to mean-spirited, name calling on this radio show. If that is what he is accusing his right-wing radio brethren of, then he should probably go back through his transcripts to see what exactly he is apologizing for. He had his chance.
When Larry got smashed in the daytime ratings by a radio talk show host competitor, Larry switched to evening broadcasts. When no one listened to him there, he quit radio to “focus on his CNN show.” He then wrote some inane books on baseball and growing up in the Bronx. No one read them. Now that Larry is getting smashed in cable TV ratings, he is no longer focused on his CNN show. He says he is, “Tired of the nightly grind.” He says, “I want to do other things.” He says he wants to “spend more time with his family.” A good interviewer would ask him if his ratings were soaring, and he was in line for a huge contract, would he still want to spend time with his family?
People watched his CNN show for decades. That fact cannot be denied, but what did they watch? When people wanted to see an interview with a top tier politician, or they had an aching desire to see some political discourse where did they go during the week? King had no mid-week competitors for decades. Then, just when Larry would get the public’s beak wet for political discussion, he would force us to endure interviews with luminaries such as Kanye West, Lady Gaga, Sean “Puffy” Combs, or Anna Nicole Smith. The handlers of these people never had to worry about Larry King asking their people the wrong question. Larry limited himself to safe questions no one really wanted to know of people no one cared about. Larry played it safe and close to the vest with these people, so that they would come back to his show at a later date. I don’t know if these interviews involved pre-arranged questions, but Larry’s history spoke for itself. He was safe. There were occasions when Larry asked challenging questions, but they were far and few between, and they were always directed at politicians who held views that differed from his.
Larry felt he had to hold these certain people with certain views to the fire. Here’s how his show generally handled such politicians. Larry attempted to ask them the questions that would put their feet to the fire. If they wriggled out of them, as most skilled politicians will do, a final caller of the show was invited on the air. This final caller would ask the evil politician an evil question pertaining to the politician’s evil nature. The politician then had less than thirty seconds to reply to this caller’s charges before Larry apologetically cut the evil politician off and said they were at the end of the show. The evil politician was usually left with egg on his face as the closing credits began to roll.
Larry once wrote that he didn’t understand why everyone was complaining about a liberal bias in the media. He wrote that he’s been in the media for eighty-nine years, and he’s never seen anyone display a bias. That’s not a direct quote, but it’s close. If Larry were to take an objective look at the media, he would undoubtedly be forced to admit that he was a liberal insider that couldn’t see the forest for the trees.
“I don’t understand why everyone is complaining about the federal government,” Larry wrote in his USA Today column, “America is the greatest country in the world.” Sane people don’t usually punch newspapers, but there were probably hundreds of thousands of people around the nation that clipped that editorial out, so they could enjoy the rest of the paper without aggravation. It’s not the government that made this country as great as it is you poor, misguided fool. It’s the Constitutional limits placed on government that provided the individuals of this country to send America to heights beyond France, Cuba, and all the other countries that tried to modeled themselves on this Larry King Doctrine. Taken on face value, this quote would lead one to believe that Larry thinks that some government official passing government legislation to inhibit freedom is what made this country great; or that passing a bill that raises taxes on an individual that made this country great; or that a government official who passes legislation on salt content in food is someone who has made this country great. It’s the poor, unwashed individual Americans, that you hold in such disregard Larry, that made this country great.
Larry once won a pause award that stated that he paused better than any other radio broadcaster. This may have given birth to the USA Today column that espoused such profundities as: “There’s nothing I love better than bologna in the Spring time at Coney Island…Does anyone still wear galoshes…” It’s the end of a career no one really understood and few appreciated. Someone once said that a major part of success is being on time. This may be the cornerstone of Larry’s legacy: he was on time. He was in the right place at the right time in history to achieve success.
On that note, how does a CNN ever replace a Larry King? I’m sure the CNN chieftains are asking the same questions corporate chieftains ask themselves when searching for such a replacement. What exactly did Larry do? What did that man do to differentiate himself from the others who were equally qualified for such a position? Larry has often said he never prepared for an interview. He stated that he felt this would harm his inquisitive nature. Is there anyone out there who can perform this feat? A better question is is there anyone who can’t? Is there another person who can fulfill the role of being in the right place at the right time? If there is, CNN should probably choose them.