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September 17, 2014

We'll Miss You Larry, But This Dance Should Have Ended Long Ago

by Danny Gallagher, posted Jun 30th 2010 8:25AM
Larry King, the soon-to-be former host of CNN's Larry King's announcement that he's bringing 'Larry King Live' to an end after almost 25 years shouldn't come as a shock, but it does.

The ratings were way down. The choices of stories and interviews were almost comical. The man just looked plum tired. And yet his decision to end one of the longest-running news and talk shows in the world still feels like it came too soon.

It's not hard to understand why. It represents a changing of the guard, not just in cable or TV news but in the news in general. 'Larry King Live' may not have been as great as it was in its salad days, but it still had an air of the old news model. A show that achieved great things in television without shouting, without spouting unsubstantiated claims or comments, without creating needless confrontation for the sake of it. It was just two or more people sitting and talking because that's the best way to get to the bottom of any story, whether it's the true cause of the Gulf oil spill or the latest celebrity scandal.

So why is it such a shocker? Why does a twinge of despair rattle through our bones when news of the demise of 'Larry King Live' filters through that giant fleshy organ between our ears? Some will blame it on a sudden realization of the large passage of time underlined by its ending. Others will call it the end of a TV tradition. I call it denial, also known as the first stage of grief.

Larry and his show were special because of their style and simplicity. He always called himself an interviewer instead of a journalist and it showed in his shows. The man could get Jimmy Hoffa to open up, and that's taking into account the condition that Hoffa is in right now.

He also created some historic moments as he sat hunched over that desk like a snickering gargoyle across from some of the most famous and interesting names of our time. My personal favorite was when he got preacher Jerry Falwell and magazine publisher Larry Flynt together (and if you don't know why putting the two of them together is an achievement in and of itself, try sneaking into a media law class at your local community college) and their conversation was so personable and honest that Falwell and Flynt actually shook hands at the end. It was special because I never thought I would see such a moment and it didn't make my brain explode.

Of course, being an "interviewer" meant he wasn't above talking to celebrities whether they were celebrated artists or flavor-of-the-month, pop culture, tabloid floozies. Who can blame him? They're softer-than-softball interviews, provide a nice break from the monotony of real news and, God-forbid, score a ratings point or two. But towards the end of his run, they happened more and more until it seemed that having barely five minutes of fame was enough to get you behind the desk. The capper, in my mind, had to be his hard-hitting interview with Snoop Dogg. Watching ol' Lar get behind the wheel of Snoop's "Doggie Deezie" was like watching my old man doing a Biggie Smalls karaoke tribute.

He started to feel out of his element, even in easy interviews that simply required the famous person to show up and sit still for 30 minutes. He would throw out questions for no other reason than to pad the time, and it made him look unprepared and unfocused. Sometimes he seemed to ask a question just for the sake of asking a question whether or not it was relevant to the issue or topic at hand. Honestly, 1950s soda jerks grasped at less straws than Mr. King in the show's twilight years.

The ratings agreed. 'Larry King Live' may have been CNN's flagship show since it first hit the airwaves, but recent ratings had taken a huge dive, with the show regularly finishing third in the race between Fox News and MSNBC. The new cable news war that aims to develop audiences by pandering to their ideological differences has also changed the game and left CNN hurting across the board. Larry's show still had some of CNN's highest ratings, but that's the broadcasting equivalent of being the star pitcher for the Seattle Mariners.

Now that he's finally leaving, his absence will raise all sorts of interesting questions, not just about his show but the future of TV news as we once knew it.

Who will replace him? (Please Larry, tell me you were joking when you said "Ryan Seacrest".)

Will it be a simple sit-down talk show or just another screaming editorial talker?

What will happen to Kevin Pollak's brilliant "Larry King Game"?

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