Hard-working host helped put CNN on the cultural map

Larry king, the legend of the broadcast died on Saturday at the age of 87, deserves more credit than he usually gets for helping build CNN and realizing Ted Turner’s bold vision for a 24-hour global news network.

In its heyday, King’s interviews “Larry King Live” regularly grabbed the headlines thanks to his unique questioning style, which could be remarkably sharp on the subject matter as well as, at times, misinformed. As CNN gained prominence in the late 1980s and 1990s, King’s show became one of the hottest stops on the TV circuit for journalists, political leaders, captains of industry, crusading activists and celebrities, ranging from Barbra Streisand and Liza Minnelli to Donald Trump and Oprah Winfrey to Suzanne Somers and Barbara Eden.

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King’s variety of guests and the fact that it airs live every night at 9 p.m. ET / 6 p.m. PT gave the show an extra sizzle. The inclusion of viewer-calling questions was a nod to King’s radio early days as a talk jock. The host was inspired by what the general public wanted to know from the content of the requests of his listeners.

A sign of how much the media universe has changed, it is unimaginable in the age of social media that major stars, ex-presidents, US senators and a myriad of celebrities go live for an hour on television with an interviewer who proudly didn’t like to prepare. King’s show sought to be the Instagram of its day, a news hub and a story dish everyone in the country was talking about on any given day.

Naturally, King had a good instinct for compelling stories. He was able to coax his guests into explaining the human dimensions of scandals, political battles or advocacy campaigns. He made the stars of crusading lawyers and camera hunters like Mark Geragos, Johnnie Cochran and Alan Dershowitz.

King first rose to fame in Miami but never lost his Brooklyn touches. He had a baritone voice made for AM radio and an attention-grabbing television presence. He displayed a genuine exuberance for his work and a curiosity for the people, causes and controversies that preceded his signature old-fashioned microphone. As CNN’s international reach expanded into the 1990s, King’s show was a beacon of American culture to the world.

“Larry King Live” comes mainly from CNN studios in Hollywood. This made King perfectly positioned to focus on the OJ Simpson murder drama from day one, following the brutal knife deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman in June 1994.

Family members of the Browns and Goldmans and all kinds of lawyers, witnesses and accomplices connected with the case were familiar with the legal storm that ravaged OJ Simpson in the mid-1990s. Simpson surprised King by calling for his show (when his lawyer Cochran was a guest) the day after Simpson’s acquittal of the murders in October 1995.

King has often been criticized for his questions about softball and his overly friendly style. When Simpson called, King mostly let him rant for about three minutes about the flaws in the prosecution case.

King didn’t apologize for his style when I sat down with him in 2013 in Miami. He was there for the annual NATPE programming convention to boost international sales of his post-CNN interview show “Larry King Now”. King’s latest series aired on the Ora TV digital platform funded by Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim.

King was proud to be associated with the capital of the company. And while his reach might have been smaller than CNN, King’s legacy was strong enough to command guests like Winfrey, Tony Hawk, Bob Woodward, Bill Maher, Ryan Seacrest, John Cena, and many other bold names. .

In 2013, it was clear from his jokes and crackles that King was still more than a little unhappy about being kicked from CNN after 25 years.

“I don’t respond to costumes anymore,” he said with a smile. It was also clear that he didn’t feel the need to reinvent his approach to television.

“I’m still doing what I did 55 years ago, asking people questions,” King said.

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