The New York Times has a front-pager on the fate of Larry King’s show on CNN, which seems pretty cloudy. The web version features a photo of King taken at the correspondents’ dinner this spring, looking 112 years old. I was shocked to learn he’s only 76; I thought he was 91-year-old Andy Rooney’s college roommate or something.
Everybody lucky to live long enough gets old, but not everybody in their eighth decade is old. I met an 81-year-old man at the Economic Club gala last week who looked like he could tow a tanker down the Houston Shipping Channel with his teeth. King, on the other hand, fairly dodders. If his show goes away at the end of the season — the once-mighty ratings colossus is already well behind Sean Hannity’s and Rachel Maddow’s shows in the same time slot — it will have died of nothing more than terminal geezerhood.
I lost patience with it years ago. I don’t even understand why the show is named after King, as all he does is show up, sit there and occasionally announce a commercial break between unchallenged chunks of celebrity blathering. Jon Carroll once called him a tabula rasa, and that, in my opinion, would be a much better name for the hour: Tabula Rasa with Suspenders Man. Tonight, Kate Gosselin!
I can never, ever in a million years improve upon this James Wolcott takedown of King, pegged to the last week of June 2009, when Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson all kicked the bucket within days of one another. King is at his best, or worst, or whatever-you-call it when celebrities die. I remember reading this in the car on our way down to Defiance one day last summer, and laughing so hard Alan told me to put a sock in it, I was distracting him from the road. A lengthy passage, but all in one paragraph:
For his June 26 show, he assembled an A-list trauma team to pay their respects: Liza Minnelli, Usher, Quincy Jones, and Deepak Chopra. O.K., maybe Deepak dragged the overall grade down to B-plus, but the next evening Larry gave us Cher, Celine Dion, Smokey Robinson, and Corey Feldman—Cher and Celine on the same show being Christmas come early for the drag-queen community underserved by cable news. For the next two weeks, Larry King Live was wall-to-wall Michael Jackson in memoriam, the guest list and the quality of insight being offered beginning to betray moth holes—in a surreal interview with renowned dermatologist Dr. Arnold Klein, rumored to be the biological (sperm donor) father of two of Jackson’s children, King asked, “Is it true that he wanted to look like Peter Pan?,” to which Klein replied, “I didn’t see him implanting wings on the back of his back or doing anything like that, right?”—until the addled nadir was reached during an interview with Jermaine Jackson at the Neverland Ranch when, as an inside tour was being conducted of the vacated rooms, a shadow crossed the end of the hallway. To those who dare to believe, who dare to hope, it was the ghost of Michael Jackson returning to his place of solace. On YouTube, the shadow was there for all to see. “Plenty of America’s most staggering dipshits saw it,” reported Gawker, “so CNN devoted an entire segment on King’s show tonight to solving the mystery. And the answer to all of this is—A crew member walked [past] a lighting fixture, creating a shadow on the wall. Yep, that’s it, just as any person with moderate levels of oxygen flowing to the brain should have deduced on their own.” I’m not sure how large a percentage of CNN’s core demographic fits the definition of “staggering dipshits,” but it is reassuring to know that the network isn’t ignoring their needs.
But that’s King at his best. Most nights he just sits there, grunting. Wolcott again:
Eloquence is not his thing. He solicits and accepts banal clichés that convert every celebrity death into a crunchy meal, while tossing off non sequiturs that keep everyone guessing. Part of what makes King perfect for his role is that he came out of the Walter Winchell world and thinks in staccato three-dot segments (as witness his widely mocked column in USA Today), equipping him with a built-in short attention span that some believe makes him the unofficial godfather of Twitter. A typical Larry King Live is a pastiche whose absurdism defies parody. Wearing his trademark suspenders and purple shirts, he looks as if he’s strapped to the chair with vertical seat belts, unable to eject. Sitting across from him may be former Incredible Hulk Lou Ferrigno—whom Larry mistakenly refers to as “Lou Ferragamo,” corrects himself, then repeats the error—and Marlon Brando’s son Miko, dressed in a festive Hawaiian shirt, followed by a panel exploring “the world of celebrity autopsies.”
There was some talk in the NYT story that the reason Hannity and Maddow are thriving and King isn’t is because they appeal to people on the ends of the political spectrum, who want nothing but an amen corner for their own beliefs. Um, no. It’s because they have a pulse. I can’t watch Hannity — those close-set, beady eyes just creep me out — but Maddow registers with me because she seems to have all of her big brain engaged with whomever she’s interviewing. Of course she goes easy on lefties and hard on their opponents, but even a few lobs are more tolerable than King’s non-engagement. You get the idea he’s thinking about his alimony payments.
Or maybe he’s thinking about his replacement. The story speculates on who might replace him. Katie Couric? Eliot Spitzer? But then, once again, comedy gold:
Mr. King has said in the past that his first choice for a successor is the entertainer Ryan Seacrest.
I’d watch that if he wore suspenders.
OK, another morning when I’d like to get the exercise over with early — it’ll be mid-80s before too long. I leave you with a bit of bloggage:
And may I just say, yesterday’s comment thread was fantastic? I never knew that about Austin Peay, the college whose name rhymes with “pee.” Basset, last night: Back in the, I don’t know, late 60s or early 70s the star of Austin Peay’s basketball team was one Fly Williams… which led to the cheer, “The Fly is open! Let’s go, Peay!” You guys are great.
And now I’m off. Rumor has it Greg Kinnear is shooting a movie in the Farms, so I’m off on bike patrol to gawk.