Thursday, December 16, 2010
Bad Ratings Killed Off CNN's Larry King
Anemic ratings are the real cause CNN's Larry King bid a teary adieu to his TV audience Thursday night after an incredible reign of 25 years.
And once again the TV universe is changing.
It certainly changed when Johnny Carson signed off on the Tonight Show in 1992. Sure there still are late night talk shows --in fact there are more of them than ever. But with the ratings divided among so many contenders it just isn't the same.
And King is getting displaced by a younger guy in the person of British import Piers Morgan and however well he does it can never be the same.
Last night's farewell was stacked with big names and why not? Larry made all his friends look good.
In my one encounter with him on a TV critics tour sometime in the late 1980s, he visited the Universal Hilton hotel and mused on what made him such a surefire TV talk show host.
Oh, he said all the usual things --don't ask long questions, never interrupt the guest, don't be confrontational.
But he also admitted he never studied notes in preparation for an interview. He'd just wing it.
And that was the key --he became one of us. He wasn't trying to be smarty pants like Anderson Cooper. He never hogged the spotlight. Decades of training in talk radio had taught him how to effortlessly pace a show.
And really all he ever was was a radio talk show who had wandered onto a TV set.
Hey, it worked for decades until the competition started horning in and over the last year King's ratings have shriveled disastrously.
During the famous 1983 debate between Al Gore and Ross Perot King attracted 23 million viewers. I'd guess he got his biggest ever ratings during the 1986 murder trial of O.J. Simpson.
In the last few months he was down to about 700,000 viewers a night.
Still for the last show he managed to snag Presidents Obama and Clinton and the three 6 p.m. anchors (Katie Couric, Diane Sawyer and Brian Williams and Ryan Seacrest.
Ironically, Couric was King's own personal choice as his replacement. plus California's governor Arnold Schwarzenegger plus Barbara Walters and both Bill Maher
As usual King was completely unprepared and it sometimes showed.
Indeed in recent years there were signs he might be losing it. Like his recent interview with tax evader Wesley Snipes who never did get a chance to detail what he did that merits jail time.
Years ago the cast of the Toronto-made Queer As Folk went live on Larry and several of them later told me he didn't seem aware of what the show was about.
Other talk show rivals are more than eager to bare their fangs and remember Larry set up shop well before those obnoxious entertainment series which follow minor Hollywood celebrities all over town and eagerly dish the dirty on anyone without even checking facts.
King's bizarre marital difficulties --he's been married eight times to seven different women--may have prompted CNN to start searching for a replacement.
But I'm not convinced the very British Morgan is that guy. Look at how poorly former New York governor Elliot Spitzer is faring in the CNN series right before King. Both Morgan and Spitzer lack that all essential common touch.
Larry King always had it and he'll take that quality to his new CNN assignment as host of specials and good luck to him.