The Insider

Jan 14, 2002  •  Post A Comment

CNN prepares to king Larry again
Hints were starting to burble up last week that Larry King and CNN were, to borrow a boldfacer’s cliche, thisclose to announcing they had wrapped up negotiations on a new contract. Indeed, this Insider item may be-perish the thought-old news by the time you read it.
But such an efficient resolution would come well before time runs out on the five-year deal he signed in 1998 and mere months after Mr. King began his very early and exquisitely obvious maneuvering: power breakfast with Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes, items hinting Mr. King could have his pick of cable news homes planted in friendly gossip columns.
Mr. King’s $7 million-a-year salary has made him the top wage earner at CNN, but after nearly 17 years at the news network, his reign as its top viewer draw was under gentle assault last year by Greta Van Susteren, then a colleague whose lead-in show, “The Point,” was sometimes sneaking past him in the ratings. Ms. Van Susteren is now at Fox News Channel, which has long maintained that its Bill O’Reilly is the ratings king of cable talk. Fox even toyed with pitting Ms. Van Susteren’s show against “Larry King Live” before putting her in the 10 p.m.-to-11 p.m. time slot previously occupied by Paula Zahn, who is now carrying the flag for CNN in the mornings.
All of this augured, said some observers, a quick resolution and a nominal raise for Mr. King, 69, who has characterized this CNN contract as his last big one.
The peripatetic Mr. King has also let it be known that any deal to which he agreed would have to include having a private plane at his disposal. Stay tuned, less glorious frequent fliers, for word on the particulars. There was no word on what the new deal might mean for his top producer since 1993, Wendy Walker Whitworth, the California-based senior executive producer and CNN senior VP, whose contract is thought to coincide with Mr. King’s.
The Insider also hears that Mr. King, who has been without a newspaper column since USA Today revamped its Life Section last fall and eliminated his column, still yearns to be considered an ink-stained wretch and had been in talks with the Christian Science Monitor. A spokesman for the Boston-based daily confirmed, “There were some discussions, but there hasn’t been anything conclusive.”
… And to showcase John King
Elsewhere at CNN, development of a newsmaker-style show continues for John King. CNN promised such a showcase for the senior White House correspondent when he re-signed last year. Washington-based senior producer Marty Kramer is said to be the executive producer, and he has begun choosing staff for the show, which is expected to be telecast at midday Saturdays, presumably giving CNN a chance to affect the agenda of Sunday newsmaker shows, including CNN’s own “Sunday Edition” moderated by Wolf Blitzer.
Meanwhile, Bruce Perlmutter, the executive producer who helped Greta Van Susteren make “The Point” on CNN, has been promoted to senior executive producer at CNN. In addition to continuing at the helm of “The Point,” which is searching for a permanent host, he’s expected to help develop programs and talent, particularly for prime time. His new title puts him in company with senior executive producers David Bohrman (“NewsNight With Aaron Brown”) and Katherine O’Hearn (“American Morning With Paula Zahn”). All three producers are based in New York.
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When he moves to Chicago, where he’s to become Tracy Townsend’s 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. co-anchor on CBS-owned WBBM-TV in March, Mr. Mora will vacate the ABC News studio he has occupied as “Good Morning America’s” news anchor (no successor designated yet).
And there’s the apartment at 77th Street and Park Avenue for which he could use a buyer. Soon. If you’re in the market for a “classic seven,” as New Yorkers sum up the layout that includes three bedrooms and a bath (plus maid’s room and bath), call Mr. Mora. Did The Insider say “soon”?
“I’m totally house poor,” jokes the newsman, in the vernacular of New York, where mortgage and maintenance fees can eat up a paycheck faster than termites can reduce balsa wood to dust.
Mr. Mora’s plan is to find temporary digs in Chicago and turn over the search for a permanent place to his wife, whose family is in Chicago. In addition to being near the in-laws, factors to be considered in where the Moras will live include his hope that it will be close enough to “pop home for dinner” between newscasts and convenient for his wife to complete her doctorate in clinical psychology.
“I expect my wife will want to get her career back on track,” said Mr. Mora, who had little more than a month to make up his mind to move to WBBM.
While some would suggest that a second revenue stream in the family is essential to anyone who accepts the challenge of trying to bring WBBM out of its long ratings swoon, The Insider points out that Mr. Mora is quite familiar to Chicagoans, for whom “GMA” is the morning show of choice.
In the November sweeps, “GMA” averaged a 5.9 rating in Chicago, nearly double the combined Nielsen ratings of NBC’s “Today” (2.9) and “The Early Show” on CBS (0.8).