Talking Larry King tonight on The NewsHour: Is CNN goofing by continuing his legacy?
Just learned I'm scheduled to talk about Larry King's final show tonight on PBS' NewsHour, which airs at 7 p.m. here in the Tampa Bay area on WEDU-Ch. 3. Though plans always change, I'm slated to go on about halfway through the show to examine his legacy as a broadcaster and CNN's surprising decision to continue an hourlong interview show in prime time with successor Piers Morgan.
While researching my feature story on King which ran Sunday, I asked former CNN U.S. president Jon Klein why he hired Morgan to create a new interview show at 9 p.m., when ratings seem to show that prime time cable news viewers seem to prefer partisan political punditry.
"So much of television has to do with the individual performer and not the format," said Klein, who was ousted in September from CNN. "You can see the revival of quiz shows in prime time because, you know, Millionaire was (a) such a great show and (b) Regis was great at it. Same with American Idol, right? (So success is) completely dependent on whether there’s an outstanding practitioner of the craft....I think, by the way, that Piers Morgan could be that. I mean, I put my money where my mouth was in hiring him … and we thought this through, you know. Is this format something that we oughta, you know, vary once and for all? And what we decided was no, you know, certainly for a news network there’s room for an in-depth interview show but you’ve just gotta … you know, do it really well."
It's an interesting gamble. Taken with the creation of Parker/Spitzer at 8 p.m. in October, CNN has had a chance to reposition 2/3rds of its prime time schedule at once, developing a new face for the channel at a time when its prime time ratings have never been lower.
As King presents his last show tonight, he'll likely reflect on a 25-year legacy which included revelations from some of the biggest politicians and celebrities in the world. And the oddball appeal he had as a gravelly-voiced guy from Brooklyn with an interview style forged over 20 years in the seat-of-the-pants atmosphere of Miami's early talk radio scene.
Klein's explanation for continuing an interview show with Morgan also came down to the audience: "I think the Internet has encroached on the more serious news viewers," he said. "A real serious news aficionado is gonna go to his favorite blog for news analysis. And, yes, when Larry would have a major figure, you know, they would tune in. But you know, viewers who really care about that kind of stuff, news consumers who care about that sort of story, that kind of personality, fell out of the habit of watching cable news for that."
Which is why TV news analyst Andrew Tyndall thinks CNN is making a mistake in continuing with another interview show after Kings' departure: "That’s the interesting thing that CNN has done – they didn’t get rid of the format when they replaced King. Getting rid of King was a personnel choice, not a formatting choice. Personally, I think they’re wrong. If CNN’s got any brand left, its being a hard news brand. I don’t think in modern day cable news – that softer non-political format works. I don’t see how you get from Wolf Blitzer and Eliot Spitzer to Anderson Cooper by way of this kind of stuff."
Tune in tonight to see me tackle these issues and more on the NewsHour.