Larry King on going digital, and CNN’s strategy

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Larry King (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
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Alex Weprin

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This interview originally appeared in our Media Pro daily newsletter.

CAPITAL: What did you think of this year’s White House Correspondent’s Dinner? Were you able to see some of the clips?

KING: I sure did, I saw quite a bit of them. I think the writing was very good. Usually they hire outside comedy writers [for the President’s speech], and whoever did him was brilliant.

CAPITAL: How are you liking the Ora.tv programs? You have “Politicking,” which covers politics, and “Larry King Now,” which seems a little broader.

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KING: I am enjoying it a lot for a couple of reasons, one: there are no suits involved, it is very much my own gig. Carlos Slim is my partner but he doesn't interfere. We have a great staff, we have good executive producers, but there is nowhere near the tension or pressure that sometimes builds up at an all-news network, where everything is last minute and has to happen now, and often things are wrong.

I was at CNN 26 years, it is a long time, and now I do a half hour four days a week. It is very relaxed, a very informal setting. I am still doing the same thing, the who, what, where and why. The one thing I do miss is an immediate, big breaking story. With regard to the Hulu situation with “Larry King Now,” we really can’t go live, so if a big story breaks I can do stuff on it two days later. I miss being live, which I did all my life, and I miss the big story, though I will tell you, I am glad I am not at CNN now with this missing plane. Because that has been turned into the most absurd news story. It was a great news story and then it went absurd.

CAPITAL: It obviously boosted their ratings.

KING: Well, it boosted it for a while, but then it evens out. The problem is that, as they now face, with anybody covering a news story, if they call a news conference in Kuala Lampur, they have to cover it, because they are committed to it. But now it is absurd, you know? ‘Breaking Supposition.’

The funny thing about it is that in all this time, which I guess is approaching six weeks, the only thing we know is that it made a left turn. We don’t know anything else, so I have learned nothing, and all that coverage has led to nothing. So while it gave them better ratings, they weren’t doing what I consider great news work, which is letting the audience determine what is news. In that same period of time they had landslides in Washington, they had the ferry boat in South Korea, they had Ukraine, they had the G.M. recall with 13 people killed, and they are leading with the missing plane.

CAPITAL: I was at their upfront presentation a couple of weeks ago, and there was a big push for shows like Anthony Bourdain and Mike Rowe, shows like what you would see on Discovery or Travel Channel. The idea is, when there isn't breaking news, you put these on and they do well, but it seems like there has just been a lot of breaking news.

KING: I love CNN, they are nice people, Time Warner was a wonderful company to work for, they treated me very well, and I did a lot for them. But I think they are in a quandary. They have Fox News, which is basically the Republican Party, they have MSNBC news which is part of the left, and they are in the middle, and the middle doesn’t look all the time in today’s news picture. I am not a programmer, but when you run a special one night and then another special another night and then Wednesday night might be breaking news and then Thursday night I don't know who the host is. People are creatures of habit, you want appointment viewing. You made an appointment to watch “Larry King Live.”

CAPITAL: Jeff Zucker, at CNN’s upfront, said that the prime-time talk show format is dead [Ed. note: Zucker’s exact quote was "We believe that genre is no longer viable.”]. I am assuming you disagree with that?

KING: Well, he also said that Jay Leno would work at 10 o’clock. Nothing is dead. I like Jeff a lot personally, but the biggest mistake you can make in media is to say anything is dead. 10 years ago they said reality is dead, sit-coms are dead, murder mysteries are dead, two-hour shows are dead, you need to do half-hours, now half-hours are dead. If you have a good show, it will work. Any good products will work. Nothing is dead, everything is new.

CAPITAL: Do you find it more challenging to book guests [on ora.tv]?

KING: We have built a pretty good reputation over all these years. Joe Biden is an old friend, and he keeps telling me, ‘oh, I will do this very soon,’ whereas when we were in Washington at CNN we got him rather easily. All the big Hollywood and media figures, we get them. Denzel Washington, everyone. We get public figures, authors; we get Senators, Congresswomen, Congressmen. I think the only thing we haven’t walked into yet is the White House.

CAPITAL: That would be a great get though.

KING: Well, we had four million eyeballs in March, I am very proud of it. It is a whole new world, the Internet is such a diverse thing, and there is so much on it. The good part is that there is so much information, the bad part is there is a lot of wrong information, and everyone is a journalist.

CAPITAL: So I guess you would say things are going well.

KING: Life begins at 80, I still have my stamina, I still keep my interests and I still love my work. I am in New York this week, interviewing a lot of the Broadway show people, Neil Patrick Harris, Denzel Washington, TONY Nominees. I am also interviewing Jon Huntsman for the “Politicking” show, I am going on the “Today” show, I am going on Seth Meyers’ show, I’m going on Howard Stern. The fact is you can still be around, you can still contribute and you can still be relevant. I love being in the hunt, in the mix. 57 years ago I was asking questions, and today I am asking questions, it is just the method of delivery that is different.