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Please Explain: Larry King
2007-06-28 22:33
by Scott Long

I've been writing these Please Explain pieces for awhile and it dawned on me when I was doing research for today's topic that my concept could be compared to Jumping the Shark. So let me explain what makes them different. The definition of Jump the Shark is the following.

It's a defining moment when you know that your television program has reached its peak. That instant when you know from now on, it's all downhill.

The closest I've come to merging the two concepts is Larry King. During the 1980's, King hosted a great late-night radio show syndicated by Mutual broadcasting across the country. Just like the CNN television show that followed, King interviewed the major figures in the news. From politicians to those in the entertainment world, his radio and television show were the one place where thoughtful interviews would consistently happen on a nightly basis.


The pinnacle of King's career was during the early 1990's, when a eccentric Texas billionaire named H. Ross Perot started regularly appearing on the show. Perot had the ability to seem like he he had a clear answer to solving America's problems, by using wacky comparisons that often made no sense. From these appearances on King's show, he struck a nerve with so many Americans that Perot actually had a chance to become President as a 3rd party candidate. Check your history books on what happened later, but Perot's idiosyncrancies were exposed enough that he faltered by election day.

Since CNN had no real competition at this time, The Larry King Show continued to be the place for serious talk. There was no O'Reilly, no Hannity, no Olbermann or even a Stewart or Colbert. I'm not sure when it happened, but sometime by the late 90's, King did Jump the Shark. My lazy research has me swiping a quote from Wikipedia that originated in a 1996 interview in the Washington Post. King noted that he sometimes slips hard questions in between softballs. King prefers one sentence questions. In the Post interview, King also proclaimed that he prepares as little as possible for each program, does not read the books of the authors he interviews, and admitted that the show was not journalism but infotainment.

King was always a weird guy. He has worn more suspenders than Mork from Ork. He has treated people calling into his show like they were telemarketers and he was on a don't call list. At some point, KIng decided that he needed to offer up his inane movie reviews for public consumption, which outside of PR people form film companies, serves no useful purpose for the planet.. His previously mentioned interview style is one where soft-ball questions are followed up by non-sequitors, which generally leave you scratching your head. Truthfully, his show is such a trainwreck anymore that the only thing that is compelling about watching is to see what crazy-ass comment/question he is going to throw out next.

I'm guessing that King has continued to do the gig because he needs to take care of his numerous alimony checks. (He has been married 7 times.) On the subject of wives, my opinion of when King slipped on the leather jacket and the water skis began when he married his most recent wife, Shawn Southwick. If you haven't seen this Mormon firecracker before, let's just say that the juxtaposition of her and King together is quite striking. Kind of like a coupling that Bob Newhart would dream up for a sitcom. Southwick is so out of King's league that even Lyle Lovett was overheard saying "Damn, how did he pull that off?"

While Larry King Live doesn't get anywhere close to the same ratings he used to, he still does well enough for CNN to keep him on during Prime Time. Some of his rating success lies in that he still gets a lot of top-notch guests because he rarely asks a difficult question. The only type of show that he still does well is when he struts out c-list celebrities from the 60's like Connie Stevens or Robert Goulet. What really baffles me is why he even wants to do the job anymore, since half of his time is spent conducting interviews with the Freak of the Week. Since O.J. killed Nicole, cable news has created a new blueprint where sensational stories drive their ratings upward. Why 2 people in their mid-70's like King and Barbara Walters would try so hard to get an exclusive interview with some trollop like Paris Hilton is really sad. Don't you have anything better to do with your limited time on earth than striving to interview simpletons?

Please Explain why anyone under the age of 50 watches Larry King?


2007-06-28 22:44:02
1.   Greg Brock
People under 50 watch Larry King because he gets good guests. He gets good guests because everybody knows he is the biggest softball lobber in the history of television interviewers. So he even gets people that the youngsters want to see. That said, I haven't watched Larry King in five years. I find it amazing that he's never been on the internet. I actually believe him.

"Tonight, for the hour! Jesus Christ! Tomorrow...Steve and Eydie!"

2007-06-28 22:51:35
2.   jeffpico
I really can't explain why anyone under the age of 50 would watch Larry King. He's a relic of a bygone era, a time when the 'showbiz' curtain was less transparent. Him and Montel are the only 2 people in the world who take Sylvia Browne at face value. He's the last of his kind.
2007-06-28 23:50:48
3.   Scott Long
Larry King has become like Joe Franklin, with better guests.
2007-06-29 05:30:52
4.   markh
It isn't possible to explain Larry King. He's a worthless interviewer -- in fact, calling him that is an insult to interviewers. What he is is an facilitator of press statements by the guests who come onto his show to not be peppered with deep and insightful questions. He's the first refuge of politicians and celebutards who've committed some faux pas and need their asses kissed pronto as the first step to public forgiveness.
2007-06-29 07:24:13
5.   JasonO
Roger Ailes killed Larry King, bottom line.

Lyle Lovett was not that far out of his league...Really look at Julia Roberts and ignore the media hype: Her beauty is highly overrated.

Say what you want about Perot's strange behavior, he is the reason Clinton became President. 19% of the popular vote, and 90% of that from people who would have voted for Bush.

2007-06-29 07:27:22
6.   joejoejoe
I enjoy long form TV interviews. Larry King is one of the few places left that still does a full half hour (or hour) with one guest. It's interesting to see what guests choose to reveal about themselves in a long form softball interview.

What I need explained is Larry King's old column. My local sports columnist calls them three dotters. Here's The Onion goofing on Larry King: "Kudos to those fine folks who make Bugles so consistently delicious.... I just thought of a great question to ask Jan Michael Vincent.... Boy, do I hate this shirt.... What's that guy over there doing?.... The Amish make fine houses.... I wish Freddie Prinze was alive today so we could both laugh.... Some of the most beautiful women in the world work in diners.... Sex after 60 may be a challenge, but I like challenges.... If I had four awards to give, I would give them all to the Golden Girls.... I cannot wait to see what the producers of Logan's Run are up to next...." Three dots, four dots....nothing beats The Juice.

In short I like Larry King. He has a nice pace to his show and pacing is underrated.

2007-06-29 07:39:36
7.   joejoejoe
5 Perot voters would have split about equally between Bush and Clinton. Perot didn't cost GHWB the race, Clinton flat beat him. The "without Perot Bush would have won" story came from the Bush camp as an excuse for the loss.

From Washington Post columinst E.J. Dionne (11/12/92): "In House races, Perot voters* split down the middle: 51 percent said they backed Republicans, 49 percent backed Democrats. In the presidential contest, 38 percent of Perot supporters said they would have supported Clinton if Perot had not been on the ballot and 37 percent said they would have supported Bush."

*based on exit polls conducted by Voter Research & Surveys (VRS)

2007-06-29 08:18:59
8.   JasonO
Jan 19, 2005:

"NEW YORK (AP) — Two firms that conducted Election Day exit polls for major news organizations reported Wednesday that they found a number of problems with the way the polls were carried out last year, resulting in estimates that overstated John Kerry's share of the vote.

Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International found that the Democratic challenger's supporters were more likely than President Bush's supporters to participate in exit polls interviews. They also found that more errors occurred in exit polls conducted by younger interviewers, and about half of the interviewers were 34 or under....

....In their report, the firms suggested several steps to mitigate errors in future exit polling efforts, such as using fewer young interviewers in races where that might make a difference; taking steps to assure that interviewers can conduct exit polls closer to polling stations; stepping up training procedures for interviewers; and revising the length and format of exit polls to see if more voters can be enticed to participate.

The report noted that discrepancies between exit polls and actual voting results also have occurred in previous elections, but not to such a great degree. Joe Lenski, the head of Edison Media Research, said the error tended to show up in elections with a high level of passion among the electorate, such as the 1992 vote in which Bill Clinton defeated the first President Bush and Ross Perot."

So let's review:
1) The sampling process for exit polls is inherently not random, and is biased by a) those who conduct the polls, and b) those who participate in the polls.

Other than that, exit polls are a great indicator! Perot's candidacy was aimed at preventing a second Bush term, and it succeeded.

2007-06-29 09:00:35
9.   Scott Long
Perot ran because he hated 41. Having said that, the majority of people who voted for Perot were Independents. This idea that Perot is the reason Clinton won is something that has become a tired urban legend propogated by conservatives. What Perot managed to do was keep Clinton from getting a 51% or higher majority, which would have given him more validity to some of the public. (I believe Will Carroll was a big Perot supporter. DO you think that he would have supported 41?)

The reason that 43 has been able to win was because Rove tapped into so many christian conservatives that never voted before, even for Reagan. Bush 41 never pandered to this group.

I really wish I would have written comment 4 in my piece. Succinct and pointed.

I love Lyle Lovett and I can see why some women would fall for his charm. It was done more in a joking style. I guess Rik Ocasek would have worked better for you?

Joe3. Since King doesn't do these columns anymore, I left that out. I've seen parodies of these King columns before The Onion even existed. My favorite was Norm MacDonald's version that he did on SNL.

2007-06-29 09:14:29
10.   JasonO
Long, IMO Perot saw the conservative discontent with 41 (based on 41's cave on the 1990 tax increase to George Mitchell et al) and ran as a fiscal hawk, precisely aimed at picking up fiscal conservatives and independents who were ultra pissed at the "no new taxes" broken pledge.

Hmmm...41 talked a conservative, small government game and then supervised an explosion of domestic spending. Like father, like son.

Right, Ocasek, or going back a few years, Dudley Moore (RIP) and the then-smoking hot Susan Anton.

2007-06-29 09:22:08
11.   Penarol1916
5. Julia Roberts' beauty isn't the only thing that is overrated.

I watched a lot more the Norm McDonald parodies of Larry King than I ever did of him. In fact, I think the only times I have ever actually seen Larry King were when he did his cameo on "Ghostbusters" and he did another one for the kids show "Arthur."

10. I seem to recall Clinton also running as a fiscal hawk and Perot promising that he would raise taxes. His protectionist bent also appealed across the aisles, I really don't think you can base your whole argument about Perot on the fact that exit polls can sometimes be wrong, you've got to have some facts to back up your argument.

2007-06-29 11:00:50
12.   Linkmeister
King's radio show really was as good as Mr. Long describes. One of the things about it that made it interesting was that he had the self-confidence (chutzpah?) to believe he could talk intelligently about anything his listeners could throw at him, so once a week or so he'd just announce "Open Phones America" and field calls on anything.

As stated, though, he's long since sunk to levels of banality I refuse to watch.

2007-06-29 11:28:51
13.   rbj
Never watched Larry King on CNN, but then again I am only 42.

And Scott, as long as you don't do Please Explain: Ted McGinley, you won't jump the shark.

I kinda liked Joe Franklin, back when I could get his tv show, it was funky and produced on the cheap.

2007-06-29 19:59:53
14.   al bundy
Larry's show was never watch-able, even before Fox. It's always been the same bore-fest. Even with an intriguing guest. I'd compare his success to Imus. Neither gets/got decent ratings. But they got/get high-profile guests. The guests created a type of marquee effect for advertisers. So even if nobody's watching, the ad agencies can justify spending their dollars there because of the guests and some self-delusion that because of the guests, the Larry/Imus must be attracting the "right" audience.
2007-06-29 22:27:37
15.   Scott Long
I would agree with Mr Bundy that both of them are irrelevant at this point, but King used to get huge ratings for cable TV. Until O'Reilly started taking off, King always had the dominant cable tv news show.
2007-06-30 11:23:58
16.   TFD
chris: I'll post this here because the other thread is dead....

You are my hero! What a man. As one from a family of eight, I know how fun-filled your next 10-15 years are going to be. (No satire or irony here.) Pleasure to (kind of) know you.



2007-06-30 19:19:27
17.   al bundy
My memory differs on the ratings that Larry used to get, pre-Fox. My admittedly hazy memory of the numbers from 10 or 15 years ago is that Larry used to pull a million viewers or so. I don't know what the actual numbers were. An internet search was not fruitful. But I did see 2 things of interest. 3.2 million people tuned into the show to watch Paris Hilton's interview, 1.4 million w/in the ages of 25 to 54. Also, you can order a dvd of the best interviews of Larry's career. Every house should have at least 1!
2007-06-30 19:22:22
18.   Penarol1916
I believe that he did pull over 16 million for his televised debate on NAFTA between Gore and Perot.
2007-07-01 13:38:47
19.   al bundy
Wow, that's an amazing number. But I'd be interested to know about regular viewer-ship. My argument is that his show always generated much more media interest and credit, and presumably higher ad rev, because he gets the celebu-tard interviews primarily because he tosses softball questions.
2007-07-02 08:31:29
20.   jgpyke
" the reason Clinton became President."

Maybe, maybe not. But the bottom line is that 63% of the voters did NOT vote for the incumbent. End of story.

And joejoejoe: the exit poll you cite means nothing because 25% were undecided.

Regardless, all this xit is an asterisk in a history book. Wait 100 years when everything we think is "important" is reduced to one sentence--at most.

2007-07-02 21:45:18
21.   jgpyke
Suggested topic for Please Explain: Keith Olbyloon. A full hour tonight on Scooter Libby? I guess Keith's foil hat protects him from the carbombs, so there's no need to report on them.
2007-07-02 21:50:14
22.   jgpyke
I'm sorry--I was wrong. KO gave Libby only 48 minutes. And then a correspondent reported on the carbombs for 2 1/2 minutes.

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