The problem with trying to fill Larry King’s slot on CNN, once you look at it, is how few people have the necessary skills. King was so successful because he combined the probing curiosity of a journalist with the safety of a talk-show host. And he could handily interview a wide range of newsworthy folk–from politics, business, the tabloids, the real world and celebrities–without getting into too much hot water. King was known for soft-lobbing questions–not unlike James Lipton–but he was still capable of grilling someone and getting strong reactions and quotes out of them.
Put a great journalist in that chair and they might alienate the subject–not knowing where the comfort zone-line should be. Put a light-weight celebrity-friendly person in the chair and no one will care. Part of the job is about knowing what viewers want to know, and figuring out how to get it. That’s what the greats like Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyer get paid for.
Vote for your choice below.
Ideally, the new candidate would be experienced and charming and sharp but young enough to hang in there for a while, building an audience. So I took a stab at rounding up some of the suspects that have been already mentioned, as well my own candidates for the job. Who would I tune into every day? First choice: Carson Daly. He could do it in a heartbeat.
Some of these people are too senior. For example, it’s unlikely that CNN would put veterans Rona Barrett, Joan Rivers, Jane Pauley, Paula Zahn, Jane Fonda or Jeanie Wolf in the job. All would be great. Many folks who could do it would probably consider it a come-down. So I don’t see Anderson Cooper, Ellen DeGeneris, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Maher, Bryant Gumbel, Joy Behar, Bob Costas, Jon Stewart, Glenn Beck, Stephen Colbert, Barbara Walters, Howard Stern, Bill Clinton, Keith Olbermann or Katie Couric stepping into that role. Although a big enough pay check might do the trick.
Others have brought up the likes of Ryan Seacrest and Jeff Probst, who just don’t seem like trained journalists to me. They also make more money than King did, some $10 million a year.
More in the zone of the possible are experienced interviewers who know their stuff:
America’s Got Talent host, Brit Piers Morgan.
Entertainment show anchors such as Nancy O’Dell, Pat O’Brien, Leeza Gibbons and Jules Asner.
PBS talk-show host Tavis Smiley.
MTV’s Tabitha Soren.
The Oprah Winfrey Show’s Gayle King.
CNN’s own Campbell Brown and John King both seem too straight.
Then I have my own crazy candidates who would make the show a must-watch for me:
John Waters, who would do a credible job while being witty and fun.
Kevin Smith. He’s hilarious, knows his way around Hollywood and the world.
A.J. Jacobs, the funny Esquire editor and book writer (The Know-It-All, The Year of Living Biblically)
The LAT’s charismatic entertainment reporter and Hero Complex blogger, Geoff Boucher could do it. He’s an excellent moderator and interviewer with a great sense of what people want to know about.
[Larry King photo/illo courtesy New York Magazine.]