King to step down after 25 years
His future at CNN in question since a recent string of weak ratings became a symbol for the network’s struggle to find its way in an increasingly ideologically divided cable landscape, Larry King, host of the longest-running continuously hosted show on a single network, announced Tuesday evening that he is hanging up his “nightly suspenders.”
King, 76, and CNN/US President Jon Klein made the announcement after weeks of tabloid reports about King’s possible successor at CNN’s 9 p.m. timeslot, which “Larry King Live” has occupied for 25 years.
“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,” King wrote on his blog. “With this chapter closing I’m looking forward to the future and what my next chapter will bring, but for now it’s time to hang up my nightly suspenders.”
Kiein said that King would remain “a beloved part of the CNN family” and continue to host periodic specials.
In May, he scored his lowest ratings in 20 years, lagging far Rachel Maddow on MSNBC and Sean Hannity on Fox News. The ratings bounced back a bit in June, growing 28 percent on the previous month, according to Nielsen data released Tuesday. But the movement to replace King was already well underway, according to a New York Times report last month.
King said he'd be in the interviewer's chair until "maximum November," and, when asked who'd he'd like to succeed him said: "I can't be objective because I don't know his interest in politics, but Ryan Seacrest. He's curious, he's interesting, he's likeable. If he has a great interest in politics, I'd recommend him."
Known for his trademark non-confrontational conversations with everyone from Frank Sinatra to Bob Woodward, King did more than 40,000 interviews over the course of his career, according to CNN. But in the media-saturated age of 24/7 cable news and Twitter, his interviews occasionally lacked a sense of timeliness. He was criticized for putting Mick Jagger on the air, for example, during a recent primary night.
The early favorite for King’s replacement was Katie Couric, whose contract at CBS runs out in May of next year. But the New York Post reported yesterday, citing unnamed sources, that she has turned down the job.
The current favorite is Piers Morgan, the former British tabloid editor turned reality TV star on “Britain’s Got Talent” and its American offshoot, “America’s Got Talent.” The British press ran a series of stories last week claiming he was about to sign a contract to take over King’s slot in the fall.
CNN has declined to comment on the matter of King’s successor.
Matthew Freud, the chairman of Freud Communications, husband of Rupert Murdoch’s daughter, Elizabeth, and a friend of Morgan’s, told POLITICO, “He has a big mouth. It is probably half true and he is also trying to renegotiate his deal with Simon Cowell, with whom he has a complicated relationship.”
King’s departure represents the final piece of the shake-up of CNN’s primetime lineup, which began with 8 p.m. host Campbell Brown’s decision to step down due to low ratings. CNN recently announced it would fill her slot with the point-counterpoint format show hosted by former New York governor Eliot Spitzer and conservative columnist Kathleen Parker.
To break the news to his audience, King invited on an old friend, Bill Maher, to open the show by putting him in the interviewee’s seat. What was clear from their banter was that the Times’s reporting on King’s ratings troubles – and particularly David Carr’s column essentially declaring him irrelevant last week – had stung.
“I hope it’s coming from you and not dictated by the New York Times,” Maher said. “I hear people say, ‘Larry didn’t really understand Lady Gaga.’ Who understand Lady Gaga?”
Mayer said he had seen her wearing an aquarium on her head, but never sit down and talk to anyone the way she did during King’s 25th anniversary week earlier this month. King might be in his 70s, Maher said, but “it’s too soon.”
“I pay no attention to that,” King said of the media criticism. “I love what I do. It was time.”
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