Larry King sits down to answer a few questions
With his trademark suspenders and glasses, Larry King has been a fundamental fixture on the CNN network. His relaxed demeanor and give-and-take with his guests have made him a popular -- and long-running --talk show host. For years he has interviewed the famous and infamous.
When he sat down to talk about his career, it was evident he has enjoyed it all. Having started out in radio then moved to television, King has connected with millions and millions of listeners and viewers. His celebrity and popularity has even led him to the big screen. It's rare when you come across someone who doesn't know the name Larry King.
Did you think you would be doing your radio show forever? Did you make an intentional move to your current show, or was it the opportunity that presented itself with CNN?
Larry King: I have been on radio and TV all my life. I started in radio in '57, started television in '59. Always did both. When the opportunity came to do a national syndicated -- actually network radio show for Mutual, I jumped at it. I was in Miami. Moved up to Washington. Started that national radio show and did local television in Washington on the ABC affiliate. Ted Turner was a kind of frequent guest on that radio show. He had been on four or five times. And Sandy Freeman was doing a show at 9 o'clock every night eastern on CNN. And her contract was up, and he was having a contractual difficulty with her husband and manager. So he called me and asked me if I would like to do CNN. My problem with it was it would be at 9 o'clock every night. I was on at midnight. That would be two shows to do. I was trying to lead a kind of life. I wasn't married. I liked to go to sporting events, but I said I would go give it a try. And Ted gave me a unique contract, which was we do a three-year contract, but at the end of a year, if either one of us was unhappy, we could get out.
I knew the first night that I loved that show. Mario Cuomo was the guest. It was a little makeshift studio in Georgetown. I had never seen CNN because CNN wasn't in Washington. We didn't have cable. I knew I loved it right away. And there were different shows. Radio was much looser. It was five hours. We did Open Phone America for two hours. Guests stayed for hour and a half. We did long form phone calls. But television is a different medium. It's more kinetic. It's happening right now. CNN had different kinds of demands. I thought it was wonderful to do both. And then after having a heart attack and then heart surgery in '87, I stayed on still for about nine years doing both cutting the radio down to three hours, and then finally in '97 gave up radio. And of course it was simulcast. Now with Sirius and XM it's like triple simulcast.
You grew up with Sandy Koufax, is that right?
Larry King: We went to the same high school.
You went to the same high school together?
Larry King: [We were] distant kind of friends, but I see quite a bit of him now.
Has he ever consented to an interview with you? Have you ever interviewed him?
Larry King: He did an interview with me in Miami in 1967, '68, around there, for about an hour. The unusual thing about Sandy is he was a much better basketball player than baseball player. He was all-city basketball. Baseball, he couldn't find the backside of a yard. I mean he was wild. They used to use him to warm up before a game just to scare the other team, like he was going to pitch and maybe decapitate someone.
Sandy was always very quiet, still is very quiet, very much into himself, was unhappy as a broadcaster for a year at NBC. But I'm very proud to have gone to the same high school with him, and sad to learn - in fact, they ran a story and they mentioned both me and him -- that Lafayette High School was closing, that high school in Brooklyn which produced so many great athletes and performers. I was sad to see that.
Did you try to get him into the interview chair again?
Larry King: I don't know if they've asked him. I'll have to ask the producers if they asked him. I hope they have. The problem is we don't do a lot of sports.
That would seem like a King-size interview.
Larry King: Oh, I would do him immediately. The problem is probably the producers don't know who he is. And it's not a knock at the producers. It's they're not into sports. The problem with doing sports on Larry King Live at 9 o'clock eastern is six out of seven nights there's a sporting event on opposite us. So if we have Sandy Koufax on and it's April and baseball has started and you're in Los Angeles and you're a Dodger fan and the Dodgers are playing the Mets and it's 7:30 to game starts and I've got Sandy Koufax on in the 4th inning, talking to him for an hour, you're liable to watch the Dodger-Met game. So the theory is sports wouldn't play much there.
Larry, TV is more and more about demographics and you've seen this go on during your career. How much have you had to tailor your show if at all to sort of suit those needs and hit the 25-54? Is that a consideration now where maybe it wasn't 10 years or so ago?
Larry King: Yeah. There's a lot of emphasis on it. Will this appeal to people 25-49? That's the - I think Jim (Walton, President of CNN) could speak to it probably better than I because as a broadcaster I'm too close to the forest for the trees. But it's the key, right?
Well, I don't know if it's just the television versus seeing you in person now, but have you changed your eyeglasses recently to not be quite so bug-eyed.
Larry King: You know, it's kind of weird. When I see myself like there (pointing to television), they were much bigger. And then, my wife suggested one day that that doesn't look real good. And you know, when wives suggest it, it's not a suggestion. There's no such thing as a suggestion from a wife. It's like when we bought our house. I walked in and she said to me, "Do you like this carpet?" Automatically you know you're getting new carpet.
The answer is redundant. No. The glasses have been like this for about four or five years. But whenever they show old tapes, it's the bigger glasses. And I also weighed about 20 pounds more. Some people say I look better now than I did 10 years ago.
On a more serious note, it seems to me that over the years culture has become much more concerned with celebrities as opposed to people who actually have some substance. Do you find that your show has had to gear itself more to the latest movie star or pop star?
Larry King: The answer is yes. It's a delicate balance. What the producers try to do -- and this is a dilemma for anyone in the business. What are people interested in as opposed to what is current and important? Now, I can certainly make a case that the terrible situation in the Sudan is worth a lot more than the Laci Peterson murder case, but what will be watched more. So you have to deal with that both People magazine culture as well as the culture of news and you try to balance it both, so you give attention to both, with the weight would probably come down on the side of what is a celebrity. And this boggles in the mind because celebrities are made and gone so quick, stories appear one day and they're history the next, and I think CNN deals with that all the time. We have to deal with all the time. I think we're unusual at CNN because we're not a news show per se.
How do you feel about that Larry? There was a lot of time you really ruled the roost and now there's a lot more competition out there.
Larry King: You know something, it's really funny. I say this. I never thought when I sort of ruled the roost, I never thought about ruling the roost. All I ever thought about my whole career, I swear to you, is going in, doing a good job. I never looked at numbers much. I never said who's on opposite. I really just tried to do since my first days on radio in Miami, used to go in, do the best job you can. If it's good enough, it's good enough. You can't make someone like you. You can't force someone to watch you. All you can do is all you can do and that's all I've tried to do. So when CNN was the only news network and we were the number-one-rated, I didn't go around saying, "Hey, I'm the number-one-rated. I'm the only news network." And now there are 14 networks. I don't go around saying I'm now 7th. All I'm interested in, was I doing a good job. I was trying to do the best job I can. That's really the truth.
Larry, how often have you lost your cool with a guest?
Larry King: Not very often. I don't give my own opinions. I don't get into arguments on the air. How often have I lost my cool? I'm trying to think of the last time I really lost my cool. Boy, I'd have to go back a long way. I'd have to go back to George Wallace, who was governor of Alabama. And this was in Miami. And he walked in very pompously to our television station, Channel 4, and he said, "I don't see any blacks working here." And I said, "They own the station. They're out to lunch." (Laughter)
And it started from that, and then we started just - it was bickering and arguing and -- but I don't think I've ever lost my cool on CNN. I have to think about it. I don't think I have lost my cool.
How often do you interview somebody you just really don't like?
Larry King: Often. Oh, -- well, I'm human. So that is part of the game. But my duty, as I see it, is I'm a conduit. I ask the best questions I can. I listen to the answers. I try to follow up. And hopefully the audience makes a conclusion. I'm not there to make a conclusion. I'm not a soapbox talk show host. Never have been. What I think of someone may not be what you think of someone. So what I try to do is present someone in the best light - you know that Edward R. Murrow, if you look at some of his old tapes, never knocked anyone. He just let the case fall by itself. The Perot-Gore debate was a classic example. The next day, 95 percent of the people said that Gore won that date. The President called me -- Clinton -- he said, "You are responsible for NAFTA. That show last night changed the NAFTA vote." If you watch that show, every question was asked fairly. Each man got the same amount of time. And you would have no idea what I thought of who won.
How do you get roles in movies?
Larry King: I never sought one out. I've done 21, and I always play myself. And I've done Shrek 2 as a woman. Doris, the ugly stepsister. And I'll be in Shrek the Third. We just finished that. And I'll be in the bee movie, the Jerry Seinfeld story about bees, in which I play a bee. It's Larry B. King. He's a bee with a bee show. It's Larry King Live in a bee hive. I've never sought them out, but they're fun to do. Often we shoot it at CNN.
Sometimes we go to other studios to shoot them. I've also done a lot of television shows: Boston Legal, among many others. They're all for the kick. You know, you're acting. You're playing yourself. I'd like to do one where I play someone else, not a woman - (Laughter)-- and not a cartoon. But Al Pacino told me -- not to name-drop, but he was telling me that, "If you get a role in a movie, because your face is identifiable, you'd have to have a role that runs throughout the movie. You couldn't do a cameo where you walk into one scene as a lawyer and then leave. People would just say, 'Larry King, the lawyer.' But if you can play a role throughout a film, by the middle part of the film, they'll accept you if you're good at what you're doing."
But it's just another area. It's fun. I like to do [it] -- I do it - when I make speeches, I do a lot of humor. I'd like to do a show on Broadway, maybe for a week, a one-man show. My nephew is Scott Zeiger, who produced The Producers, and did a lot of other successful shows. I'd like to do a show. But economically it wouldn't work for a week, and I couldn't run back and forth to CNN and do Broadway. But I'd like to do it. I like to make people laugh.
And then the biggest extracurricular thing I do is the Larry King Cardiac Foundation. After I had my heart surgery, we helped people who can't afford to get hearts. CNN is a major contributor for us. That gives me the greatest joy. But doing films is a hoot.
What's been your best movie-making experience of these 21 or so?
Larry King: You know, the best is I worked for Mike Nichols in the movie about -- the Bill Clinton takeoff, Primary Colors. And I worked for Costa-Gavras, the great Greek producer. I've worked for, God, a lot of them. I guess my favorite was America's Sweethearts, the one they showed the clip from when she gets so angry at me for yelling at her. Billy Crystal wrote it. But they're a lot of fun to do. [It's] fun to go in and play someone, even though I'm playing myself.
Larry King Live airs 9-10 p.m. ET Monday-Sunday on CNN.
Dont't forget to also check out: Larry King Live