Jonathan Storm: Larry King is a genuine giant, but he got a phony send-off

Celebrating after the finale , Larry King poses at Spago in Beverly Hills with his wife, Shawn Southwick, and two children, Chance and Cannon King.
Celebrating after the finale , Larry King poses at Spago in Beverly Hills with his wife, Shawn Southwick, and two children, Chance and Cannon King.
Posted: December 18, 2010

Farewell, Larry King Live.

Has there been a worse finale for a long-running show? Seinfeld comes to mind.

Jerry Seinfeld had a bit of run-in in 2007 with King, who, as usual, had done no homework and assumed the classic comedy had been canceled by NBC. And Seinfeld's swan song was a weird departure from the wonder everyone had come to expect from the sitcom.

There was more fake emotion Thursday night in the supposed celebration of King's historic show than there had been perhaps in the previous 251/2 years. If the folks at CNN thought of rounding up the stellar talents of Bill Maher and Ryan Seacrest to assist the legendary interviewer, it's no wonder the network is in free fall toward the bottom of the cable news barrel.

The show hit its high point when the fake fawning dropped off, and Larry was allowed to be Larry. Despite the ridiculous time-delayed connection to Bill Clinton in Hope, Ark., real information and important opinion emerged from a typical off-the-cuff King question, this one about the current tax bill compromise.

"Think it's going to pass?" asked King, in a rare moment of comfort during the fawn-a-thon. His ego may be large, but who can be effective under a barrage of phony I-love-you's?

"I do," responded Clinton, adding, "Tax cuts to people in my income group are the single most economically ineffective thing that can be done because we don't spend all the money we make now."

Most of the show was as fake as the tans on Donald Trump, Regis Philbin, and Suze Orman, who made up one of the panels of supposedly "surprise" celebrities praising King. Other gushers included Arnold Schwarzenegger, President Obama, Diane Sawyer, Barbara Walters, Brian Williams, and Katie Couric.

The panel of anchors seemed especially uncomfortable, except Couric, whose first big job was at CNN. It was an audition of sorts for the woman whose talents, if not ambition, have been wasted as anchor of the CBS Evening News, and whose contract is coming up soon amid a lot of speculation that she will move back, with some sort of talk show, to the softer side of contemporary events that has always been her strong suit.

Her poem honoring King - sample couplet: "From Heather Mills' leg to Ross Perot's twang, you always cajole, not harass or harangue" - was incisive and one of the only real emotional moments of the entire show.

King is a giant of television. He was cable TV's first big star. His skills have not carried him through into the modern age of shouting news bullies, and he probably should have gotten out a few years ago.

Maybe CNN then would have done a better job with the send-off.


Contact television critic Jonathan Storm at 215-854-5618 or jstorm@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/ jonathanstorm.

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