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Contract time near for King

Oct 8, 2001  •  Post A Comment

With a little less than 11/2 years left on his $5 million- to $7 million-a-year CNN contract, Larry King seems to be in renegotiation mode.
Mr. King, CNN’s highest-profile and highest-paid on-air personality, was spotted having breakfast last Thursday morning with Roger Ailes, the chief of Fox News, CNN’s fiercest rival, at one of New York’s premier power-breakfast spots-the dining room at the Regency Hotel. Both sides characterized the breakfast as being just a couple of longtime friends getting together.
A spokeswoman for Mr. King, who is partial to the Regency when in New York, said, “He often has breakfast with old friends, and Roger is an old friend. They’ve known each other for 30 years.”
Mr. Ailes just last week staged a long-distance raid and hired Steve Harrigan away from CNN, which had shipped the well-regarded Moscow-based correspondent into Afghanistan-even though he had been working without a contract for about three months.
The combative Mr. Ailes said at the time that he had rather have a strategically deployed correspondent in Afghanistan than a $2 million anchor in New York, a reference to Paula Zahn, whom he fired after learning she had been offered a morning anchor job at CNN. (Fox News is now suing Ms. Zahn’s agent.) But Mr. Ailes was gracious, if amused, Thursday when asked about the breakfast with Mr. King-a breakfast for which he picked up the tab, he said.
“It was baby talk most of the time,” said the Fox News chief, who said the two men shared pictures of their young children. “We talked about terrorists and babies and bringing up babies in this world,” Mr. Ailes said. “A little bit of job stuff had been discussed.”
“I’ve always been interested in talent and have a great respect for talent,” said Mr. Ailes, who praised the records Mr. King has set on cable-records increasingly threatened since last year by Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly and “The O’Reilly Factor.”
“Larry does almost the opposite kind of show from O’Reilly,” Mr. Ailes said. Observers suggest that Mr. King may be feeling somewhat unsettled by the termination last month of his longtime column for USA Today; by not being able to call on the clout of his longtime protector and champion, CNN founder Ted Turner, who has almost no role in the empire of CNN parent AOL Time Warner; and by the increasing popularity of Greta Van Susteren, whose “The Point” tied with “Larry King Live” in the ratings for the third quarter.
In a statement, new CNN Chairman Walter Isaacson said, “Larry King has been a cornerstone of CNN for more than 15 years. We love him immensely and we expect to be in business with him for years to come.”
However, in July, Mr. King shared some of his contractual thought process with The World magazine. “I’ve probably got one big contract left,” said the talk show host, who said he “would listen” to outside offers. Sources also said there has been “outreach” to NBC, which owns CNN rival MSNBC and CNBC, where the prime-time schedule includes repeats of MSNBC shows and Geraldo Rivera. NBC declined to comment.