Larry King: Where Entertainment Meets Broadcast News

Posted on December 14, 2010

This week the lights will go out on Larry King Live. The host whose suspenders dig into his now age-sloped shoulders will end over two decades at CNN moving between what used to be the  separate worlds of entertainment and broadcast news.  All it takes is a national disaster and King cans the format of the show for the night and becomes just another newscaster at the scene throwing out probing questions both at the principals in the news story and at other reporters at the scene.  Think of Jay Leno or Dave Letterman negotiating that transition and you will then understand King’s genius.  He runs a successful entertainment vehicle and he is a believable news source.

He is at his best as an interviewer.  Unlike others who think they are interviewing,  hey stays out of the way of the answers to his own questions.  He does not become a co-performer in the interview.  He asks questions that require answers that will help unravel the true character of the guest in ways we have not seen before.  Unlike Barbara Walters, he does not bring his guests to tears.  He goes for the story behind the story not the emotional shtick.

A couple of years ago, the show went stale and King seemed as if moving in a dream scape.  Ratings were in the basement and both management and King himself began thinking about the end.  But once the announcement had been made, it was as if King were making a sprint for the finish.  He has been sharp and on the mark this last year.

Tonight, he has the Judds on with him.  They are on their last “final” tour.  Like Cher,  it’s been hard for them to give up the life on the road.  America has lived through all of the ins and outs of their family feuds, the many colors of red their hair has held and now they even have a reality show on Opra’s network.  The Judds are interesting.  They are interesting on Opra, they are interesting on their own but Larry has a way of making them interesting through his unique and timely deadpan questions with some lovable interactions thrown in.  He makes you feel  you are listening in on their phone call.  It is his genius that the performers on his show forget the audience most of the time and concentrate on King.  For a television interviewer, that is the best you can achieve.

If you had asked me last year what I thought of King, I would have not even bothered responding.  I was down on the man.  He was a has been.  But this year, he has sprung back to life and so has his show and it has been a revelation. He has even saved his marriage along the way.  What a year, what a show, what a showman oh, and newsman.