Open Mic

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.#