powered by FreeFind

Apple iTunes


King leaving his court after a quarter century on CNN

Larry King on Tuesday night's very eventful show. Photo: Ed Bark

The Larry King farewell tour is now in progress.

Beset by all-time low ratings, more highly publicized marital woes and the growing perception that time has passed him by, the 76-year-old King announced Tuesday on CNN's Larry King Live that he'll be leaving the show sometime this fall.

Bill Maher, a longtime friend of King's, was belatedly summoned as a special guest Tuesday. "Well, maximum November," King said when Maher asked him to be more specific on how long he'll stay with Larry King Live.

That's not an Oprah-esque long goodbye, but it does give ample time for repeated trips down memory lane and last visits by an assembly line of big-name guests. On Tuesday's show alone, Nancy Reagan, Regis Philbin and Diane Sawyer phoned in to commiserate. Maher also fake-wept at show's end.

King said he'll still be doing occasional specials for CNN after first joining the network in 1985. He also said it was his call to end Larry King Live after Maher told him, "I hope you're doing this of your own volition and not because of what the media says."

"It has nothing to do with it," King replied. "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."

King said his exit package was "put together in for or five days" and that "I'd like to stay in some way with CNN."

He also expressed a desire to "spend more time with the wife, more time with the kids, more time to do other things. In other words, I can do things now that I wasn't able to do before. It's nice. There's a freedom."

King has been married eight times to seven women, with former Playboy bunny Alene Akins joining him at the altar twice. Latest wife Shawn Southwick and King jointly filed for divorce in mid-April, but reportedly have at least temporarily stopped the proceedings. In May she was hospitalized after over-dosing on sleeping pills.

CNN recently tried to bolster both King's ratings and audience demographics by matching him up with the 10 American Idol finalists and Lady Gaga.

"I did hear people say, you know, well, Larry didn't really understand Lady Gaga," Maher said. "Who understands Lady Gaga? Please."

"I liked her," said King.

Tuesday's announcement came on the same day that second-place MSNBC (running well behind Fox News Channel) issued a press release crowing about its latest prime-time victories over "the formerly dominant news network."

In the second quarter of 2010 (April-June), Larry King Live had its worst showings ever in both total viewers and 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming. King averaged just 674,000 total viewers opposite MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show (995,000), according to data from Nielsen Media Research. And with 25-to-54-year-olds, Maddow drew 255,000 to King's 176,000.

At the height of its powers -- and they were considerable -- Larry King Live drew a then cable record 16.3 million viewers for a contentious 1993 NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) debate between Al Gore and Ross Perot. He also was the show of choice during the 1992 presidential election, with Perot announcing his candidacy on King Live while President George Bush and challenger Bill Clinton were repeated guests.

Few really believe that King is exiting entirely by choice. His latest contract wasn't set to expire until June 2011, but CNN is under increased pressure to halt its continued ratings slide. So much so that the network recently hired former disgraced New York governor Eliot Spitzer to co-host a prime-time Crossfire-like show with conservative columnist Kathleen Parker.

King has said that his personal choice to succeed him is Idol host Ryan Seacrest. Other names dropped in the hopper include Katie Couric and Piers Morgan, currently a judge on NBC's America's Got Talent.

In his opening remarks Tuesday, King noted he's "incredibly proud that we recently made the Guinness Book of World Records for having the longest-running show with the same host in the same slot on the same network. With that chapter closing, I'm looking forward to the future, what my next chapter will bring. But for now, for here, it's time to hang up the nightly suspenders."

Late night talk show hosts quickly went into a semblance of mourning, with The Late Late Show's Craig Ferguson beginning Tuesday's monologue by lamenting the impending departure of his favorite comedic target.

Here's video of King's July 2009 appearance on Late Late Show, where Ferguson treats his guest to a segment of Larry King of The Jungle.