If the goal of Larry King’s last talk show on CNN was to go out with a representative sample of what the program has really been all about for the past twenty-five years, then it was truly a smashing success. Unfortunately for the viewers (thankfully I was probably one of the few under the age of 60 who was stupid enough to subject myself to it), that meant one full hour of vapid, insipid, awkward, embarrassing, cringe-worthy, decrepit, self-congratulatory, uninspired, talentless, fawning narcissism.
It was particularly appropriate that a man whose most remarkable characteristic was being able to get so very far without any discernable talent or even redeeming qualities somehow managed to host a show with perhaps the longest list of big-name guests (though what were Suzy Orman and Dr. Phil doing there?) in the history of hour-long television, and make it completely uninteresting and almost literally unwatchable.
Let’s go through some of the lowlights of Larry King’s last show.
Of the over a dozen big-name guests, by my count seven were openly “liberal” and the most “conservative” person invited on was RINO king Arnold Schwarzenegger. There were numerous instances of awkward silences and people talking over each other due to satellite audio delay. Regis Philbin tried to get Larry to sing with him to show people King’s knowledge of old tunes and, get this, Larry had no idea what Regis was doing. King had Bill Clinton on live, gave up most of the interview to Bill Maher and Ryan Seacrest, and the closest thing to “news” that came out of it was that Maher selfishly appeared to be able to guilt Clinton into agreeing to come on his show (hopefully so they can share their abundant wisdom on how ugly guys can use fame to chase skirts). Then there was the pathetic sight of the three network news anchors along with Barbara Walters uncomfortably holding up champagne glasses as if to toast Larry from New York only to realize that they had been instructed to do so (while being barred from actually drinking on live TV) at the wrong time. When Bill Maher is by far the most entertaining aspect of any show, you know there is a very big problem.
I personally believe that Larry King, with apologies to Joy Behar, Keith Olbermann and Maher, has created and represents more societal decline than any other media member and that the nation is a better place now that his show is off the airways for good (though one of the few amusing aspects of the last show was King seemingly believing, like a newly broke sugar daddy trusting his soon-to-leave mistress, that he will have some sort of career after this). The reasons for this are many.
Forget that he has been married eight times to seven women. Forget (heck, somehow Wikipedia has) that back when he was still named Larry Zeiger he was a rip-off artist who was found guilty of passing bad checks. No, Larry King’s greatest offense was that he almost single-handedly destroyed the hard news interview.
By wallowing in his own ignorance (which he would often brag about) and priding himself on purposefully not asking tough questions, King provided a safe sanctuary for any public figure that was in trouble. As long as you were famous enough and could handle the question, “So, what was that all about?” no transgression was too difficult to escape from once you got embraced by the warm and forgiving bosom of “Larry King Live.”
This had the infuriating effect of giving numerous scoundrels the ability to give the impression that they had faced media scrutiny for their indiscretions, without actually having to do so (O.J. Simpson once called in after his acquittal and King actually asked him about how he and his kids were doing). But it also had the perhaps even more insidious side effect of forcing every other interviewer to follow the same softball path.
Because the competition for big-name guests in an increasingly fragmented media world was increasing, and Larry King was always there as the safe option for anyone who needed a “get out of jail free” card, all of the other suitors had to unilaterally disarm or price themselves out of the celebrity guest hunt business. (Ironically, as a Larry King hater and a Sarah Palin defender, I have always felt that the biggest mistake of the 2008 presidential campaign when it came to the handling of Sarah Palin was not putting her on with Larry King the Monday after the convention.)
Consequently, we now live in an era where there have never been more supposed interviews with public figures, but where fewer real questions ever get asked. That is the real legacy of Larry King. That, and the fact that a man with no looks, no wit, no wisdom, no talent, and no scruples could become rich, famous, powerful and get married to numerous beautiful women. But I am convinced that King will one day be forced to pay for all of that, for surely if there was ever evidence that there is such a thing as a deal with the devil, Larry Zeiger has provided it
John Ziegler is currently a documentary filmmaker who most recently released a movie on the 2008 election called, “Media Malpractice… How Obama Got Elected and Palin Was Targeted.” He has also been in radio talk show host in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Louisville and Nashville. Ziegler has written two books and has appeared live on numerous national television shows including the Today Show, The View, Fox News Channel, CNN and MSNBC.