Thursday, July 1, 2010
THE KING, DETHRONED
So, Larry King is finally going off the air.
And people are now writing all these essays of praise about him, pieces about how great his show has been for the last 25 years and what a wonderful interviewer he is.
Well, this may come off as me dancing on someone's grave, but I've been saying for YEARS that it was time to put Larry King out to pasture already. (Just ask my wife!)
For decades, Larry King has consistently been one of the main faces of CNN. Night after night, he has hosted one of the tentpole shows of a network that purports to be a serious, professional, credible news organization.
And yet, on countless occasions over the years (including a 1987 radio interview with Howard Stern), Larry King has proclaimed proudly that he does absolutely NO advance preparation for his program.
And boy, does it show.
Granted, I have not been a regular viewer of "Larry King Live." But on the occasions where I've watched, I have more often than not found myself shaking my head and groaning at King's inane questions, his ignorance, his inaccuracies, and his apparent inattentiveness to what's going on right in front of him.
I remember how he had on Paul McCartney in 2001, for a full hour. Here was a golden opportunity to have an in-depth conversation with one of the true pop culture giants of the 20th century, something that could possibly show McCartney in a refreshing, new, interesting, and even revelatory light. Something along the lines of Bob Costas's rightfully legendary 3-part interview with McCartney on his thoroughly great interview show Later With Bob Costas back in 1991. (I still have the entire Costas interview with McCartney on VHS, and I transferred it to DVD recently for posterity. That's how good it was.)
So what did King ask McCartney? Stuff like "Why did the Beatles break up?" "Did you write the music and John wrote the lyrics?" "How does it feel being so successful?" "What's your favorite song that you've written?"
In other words, the same tired questions every hack interviewer has asked McCartney thousands of times over the years. For a full hour. No real thought or effort put into any of the questions. Nothing new. Nothing insightful. Nothing original.
Oh, except for this gem: "What are you doing now? Do you sing?" (That's an exact quote.)
I think it says a lot that McCartney eventually got so bored with the whole thing that he started playing with his brand new camera-watch, taking pictures, right in the middle of the interview.
Some other Larry lowlights over the years:
He asked Stan Lee, one of the chief architects of Marvel Comics, about how he created Batman. ("Wrong company," Stan corrected him politely.)
This one's a jaw-dropper: Larry accuses Roman Polanski of murdering his wife Sharon Tate. Luckily, Sharon's sister is on the show to set Larry straight. (Larry's "I meant to do that" attempt to backtrack and cover his rear end is actually impressive in its ballsiness.)
In 2007, Larry scored the first joint interview with McCartney and Ringo Starr since their days in the Beatles. And what did he do? Asked the same questions he asked Paul in 2001. Oh, and in a moment that has since become infamous, he called Ringo "George." Being called on his gaffe, Larry went with his apparently standard "Oh, I meant to do that" defense.
All of this might seem like petty nitpicking on my part, but my point is, if Larry and his staff don't have their shit together when it comes to stuff like this--stuff for which it is very EASY to get accurate information and to have all of the facts straight--then what about the bigger, more important topics? You know, the ones involving war, government corruption, the economy, climate change, and so on.
To top it all off, King is just a weak interviewer. He misses golden opportunities to ask follow-up questions and get to the bottom of a topic. He doesn't challenge guests when they make odd or downright ridiculous statements or when they fail to answer his questions--which isn't too surprising since he doesn't seem to even be paying attention when they're talking. (Comedienne Kathy Griffin said recently that this is indeed the case.)
And it doesn't look like things are going to get much better with King's departure. His rumored replacement is Piers Morgan, some British guy I've never seen or heard of, who I understand serves as a judge on America's Got Talent. Whatever. And apparently, Larry King's own favored successor is the ubiquitous (and, in my opinion, odious) Ryan Seacrest.
If those are the best choices, hell, they might as keep Larry around. (Where have you gone, Bob Costas?)
But to end on a more positive note towards ol' Larry (who, incidentally, was a classmate of my mother's at Lafayette High School in Brooklyn, New York, back when he was still known as Larry Zeiger), he does have the ability to make me laugh out loud. Check this out and be sure to watch the guy that Larry's interviewing chuckle briefly the moment after Larry pauses in mid-sentence to drop his "bombshell."
Bye, Larry. Stay out of trouble now, you hear?