Open Mic

June 2010

Larry King: Hero or Hypocrite?

Chuck Ross Posted June 30, 2010 at 7:01 AM

Am I the only one who has found all this recent on-air hoopla at CNN surrounding Larry King’s 25th anniversary of his talk show, culminating in King declaring on his show last night that HE has decided to quit “Larry King Live” this fall, somewhat surreal?

Talk about the irony in the phrase “The King is dead, long live the King.”

As a major radio talk show addict and part-time insomniac, I first became a King aficionado more than 30 years ago, when he had the graveyard shift on a nationally syndicated program for the Mutual Radio Network.

All of King’s wonderful trademarks were evident back then: he was smart, funny, had a quick wit and was a tremendous interviewer, asking an excellent mix of questions that drew out guests in ways that made most of them seem far more interesting and human than they would appear at first listen.

All of these traits he brought with him to CNN, which was clearly one of the reasons he’s had such a successful run at the network. And, almost unfailingly, for most of his reign he would ask his guests the questions that were on the minds of most of his viewers, be they innocent inquiries or the toughest of interrogations.

In other words, he seemed honest and fearless.

So here’s why watching him has seemed so surreal to me lately. For weeks now, if not months, speculation has been rampant about CNN replacing him. But I haven’t seen him honestly address the issue head on.

In other words, when it comes to Larry King on CNN examining the professional status of CNN’s Larry King as its been in the news lately—and as he’s generally grilled his guests over the years—Larry King on CNN hasn’t passed the talk-show standard acid test as devised by Larry King himself so many years ago on the radio.

So while his ratings have been dropping to new lows, and CNN, seemingly, has been talking to everyone from Katie Couric to your mother about replacing him, the King has remained mostly silent on the issue.

Instead we’ve gotten all these plaudits about King’s 25th anniversary by a whole plethora of celebrities—not the least King’s patting himself on his back.

And please, there is no one more deserving of congratulations for a career done well than King.

But when he was finally asked on his show last night by Bill Maher, “I hope you're doing this [leaving your show] of your own volition and not because of what the media says,” King answered, “It has nothing to do with it. There was no pressure from CNN. I don't pay attention to that, I love what I do. But it was time, Bill. It was time. It was just time.”

Really Larry? No pressure from CNN? And you don’t pay attention to that, anyway? I don’t believe you for a minute. And I’ll bet most of your fans don’t either.

What’s that old saying? Don’t kid a kidder. Larry, you used to have a lot more respect for your listeners and viewers.

Maybe sometime before you leave in November you’ll get together one of those incisive, informative and entertaining panels that you convene from time to time—like you did recently in discussing the Rolling Stone article by Michael Hastings that got General McChrystal fired—and have an honest discussion about CNN’s problems, including your show.

No, it’s not something most talk show hosts would do. But it IS something the Larry King I grew to love and respect listening to during those enlightening late-night hours on the radio those many years ago would do.#

10th BET Awards: A Queen, a Prince and Family

Hillary Atkin Posted June 25, 2010 at 6:50 AM

It’s the baby of entertainment industry awards shows. This Sunday, the BET Awards turn 10 years old in ‘10, as the network itself celebrates its 30th year.

The show got booted into adulthood last year, when just three days before it was scheduled, Michael Jackson unexpectedly died, sending shock waves throughout the world. Perhaps it was fated to be the first major nationally televised awards show to pay tribute to the pop legend, as Jackson himself had strong ties to Black Entertainment Television — and was considered part of the “family” the network likes to foster with its staff and talent.

“It was just devastating,” remembers BET Chairman and CEO Debra Lee of Jackson’s death. She was in the middle of a speech at DirecTV in Los Angeles when she got the news. “Everyone worked around the clock, knowing how important it was to the audience to make it a special tribute. Michael had always been very good to BET, having his videos released to BET and MTV at the same time, and he was the first honoree at our Walk of Fame. He was a big fan of BET, and it was important for us to do the tribute right.”

It was a night to remember, with Janet Jackson taking the stage in her first public appearance since her brother’s untimely passing. “She called us, knowing this would be the place fans would come for comfort,” says Stephen Hill, BET’s president of specials and music programming, who EPs the show with Lynne Harris-Taylor and production partner Cossette Productions. He and his team spearheaded the frenzied activity to revamp the entire program to make it a celebration of Jackson’s life and career by the top artists in the business.

Not surprisingly, the show garnered its best ratings ever, with about 10.7 million viewers — and Hill has his work cut out for him this time around to match last year’s epic broadcast.

Sunday’s program features not only a popular Queen and a celebrated Prince, but a King and a Princess. Queen Latifah hosts the show for the first time — not that she hasn’t been asked before. The artist known once again as Prince gets the Lifetime Achievement Award for his legendary, iconic career — and the tribute to him promises to be a blockbuster. King of the South TI is performing, as is Princess Nicki Minaj. And let’s not leave out Eminem, Alicia Keys, Ludacris, Usher, T-Pain, Drake, Diddy-Dirty Money and Rick Ross.

Assuredly, all eyes will be on Kanye West as he makes his first awards show appearance since the debacle that was his notorious interruption of Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the MTV VMAs last year. Will she be waiting in the wings to exact some payback in West’s direction? Hill won’t say, but promises a lot of surprises.

What BET brings to the awards show table is not only a celebration of music, but honoring the best of African American culture in entertainment and athletics, as well as singling out people who have made a difference in their communities. Six-time Grammy Award-winning artist and philanthropist John Legend will receive this year’s Humanitarian Award for his work to end poverty through education. Long after the mainstream media spotlight has dimmed, there will also be recognition of the continuing plight of the people of Haiti, in the wake of the devastating earthquake.

“It’s as much a family reunion and gathering as it is an awards show,” says Hill. “The cousins get together and show off in a dance competition, bringing their best and brightest productions. They know we embrace their art and desire to show off. It’s a cool place for surprises — and to get the best entertainment and look back to yesterday.”

Achievements will be recognized in 19 categories.  Jay-Z leads the pack with five individual nominations for Best Male Hip Hop Artist, Best Collaboration, Video of the Year (two nominations) and Viewer’s Choice. Following with four nods each are Beyonce (Best Female R&B Artist, Best Collaboration, Video of the Year, Viewer’s Choice), Alicia Keys (Best Female R&B Artist, Best Collaboration, Video of the Year, Viewer’s Choice), Trey Songz (Best Male R&B Artist, Best Collaboration (two nominations), Viewer’s Choice) and Melanie Fiona (Best Female R&B Artist, Best New Artist, Video of the Year, Centric Award).

Drake scored three individual nominations, as did Young Money. Other multiple nominees include Rihanna, Fabolous, Nicki Minaj, B.O.B., Maxwell and Monica. Justin Bieber fever will heat up the house at the Shrine Auditorium, as the teen heartthrob scored a nod for the new “Fandemonium” award. He’s competing against Minaj, Songz and Chris Brown.

The Subway Sportsman of the Year Award promises a lot of drama, with LeBron James pitted against Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods, Carmelo Anthony and Usain Bolt. On the distaff side, it’s both of the tennis superstar Williams sisters up against Candace Parker, Vanessa James and Tamika Catchings for the hardware.

Women vying for the Best Actress trophy are Gabourey Sidibe, Zoe Saldana, Mo’Nique, Taraji P. Henson and Regina King. Either Denzel Washington, last year’s host Jamie Foxx, Quinton Aaron, Idris Elba or Don Cheadle will take home the Best Actor award.

“We’ve established a reputation as one of the best shows out there,” says Lee. “The audience continues to grow, people who love African American culture and music has allowed to grow. Our goal is to keep growing.”

The show has come a long way since its inception ten years ago, when BET brass decided enter the fray of awards shows that attract a similar audience, including the Grammys, the MTV Awards and the Soul Train Awards.

“The productions have gotten more elaborate, the pairings of artists has gotten better,” says Lee. That will be reflected in the tribute to Prince, says Hill, who expects the unexpected. “He’s nothing less than changed music and the perception of how black men play instruments. He’s the most emotional singer in more genres than anybody. He is music. We are honored beyond belief that he will appear,” he told me.

The Prince tribute will surely take its place among top moments in BET Awards history, like Michael Jackson's surprise appearance during James Brown's tribute, Rick James in his final duet with Teena Marie and Will Smith presenting Muhammad Ali with the first-ever Humanitarian Award.

(The BET Awards air at 8 ET/PT, 7 Central Sunday June 27 on BET.)

A Wonderful Father's Day, Thanks to TV

Chuck Ross Posted June 21, 2010 at 7:06 AM

Yesterday was Father’s Day, and turned out to be a great day to watch sports on TV.

Furthermore, if you watched with your kids, a good life lesson came out of it as well.

The day started, at least in our household, watching soccer on ESPN. The match didn’t seem too promising, so I didn’t think we’d be watching too long. New Zealand, ranked 78th in the world, was taking on the great Italian team, the defending World Cup champions and ranked 5th in world this year.

But the match quickly became interesting. New Zealand scored the first goal, seven minutes into the contest. We are not soccer aficionados in my house, but it became clear that Italy was really the dominant team, as almost all of the action had them continually assaulting the Kiwi’s on the New Zealand side of the field.

Italy did indeed score to tie up the game, but New Zealand was able, somehow, impossibly, to keep them from scoring another goal. And, incredibly, New Zealand had a great chance to score another goal itself in the second half, that just went wide of the net.

It was live sports at its best: Exciting, edge-of-your seat action. The announcers said it was one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history.

Later, we switched over to NBC to watch the final round of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, one of the most beautiful—and toughest—golf courses in the world.

We had watched Saturday’s round, with a surge by Tiger Woods and great play by Dustin Johnson, who surged into the lead.

What a set-up for Sunday’s final round. The seemingly cool as ice Johnson being pursued by some of the best players in the game: Woods, Phil Mickelson and Enrie Els—the great Els looking for a second Open win more than a decade after his first one.

Sunday was equally exhilarating to watch, as Johnson completely fell apart and Tiger, Els and Mickelson weren’t up to the task. Meanwhile, Graeme McDowell, who had played so well on Friday, but had been somewhat overshadowed on Saturday by Johnson’s great round, had the stuff of a champion yesterday, pressure be damned.

And Frenchman Gregory Havret continued his steady play yesterday to make a run at the championship as well.

The lesson of the day was the importance of perseverance. Sports shows us this all of the time, but especially yesterday, with the accomplishments of the New Zealand soccer team and McDowell.

For all of us dads who watched these events with our kids, that lesson that they saw really made it a satisfying Father’s Day.#