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TOH Poll: Pick Successor to CNN's Larry King

by Anne Thompson
July 7, 2010 10:00 AM
10 Comments
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Thompson on Hollywood

The problem with trying to fill Larry King's slot on CNN, once you look at it, is how few people have the necessary skills. King was so successful because he combined the probing curiosity of a journalist with the safety of a talk-show host. And he could handily interview a wide range of newsworthy folk--from politics, business, the tabloids, the real world and celebrities--without getting into too much hot water. King was known for soft-lobbing questions--not unlike James Lipton--but he was still capable of grilling someone and getting strong reactions and quotes out of them.

Put a great journalist in that chair and they might alienate the subject--not knowing where the comfort zone-line should be. Put a light-weight celebrity-friendly person in the chair and no one will care. Part of the job is about knowing what viewers want to know, and figuring out how to get it. That's what the greats like Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyer get paid for.

Vote for your choice below.

Ideally, the new candidate would be experienced and charming and sharp but young enough to hang in there for a while, building an audience. So I took a stab at rounding up some of the suspects that have been already mentioned, as well my own candidates for the job. Who would I tune into every day? First choice: Carson Daly. He could do it in a heartbeat.

Some of these people are too senior. For example, it's unlikely that CNN would put veterans Rona Barrett, Joan Rivers, Jane Pauley, Paula Zahn, Jane Fonda or Jeanie Wolf in the job. All would be great. Many folks who could do it would probably consider it a come-down. So I don't see Anderson Cooper, Ellen DeGeneris, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Maher, Bryant Gumbel, Joy Behar, Bob Costas, Jon Stewart, Glenn Beck, Stephen Colbert, Barbara Walters, Howard Stern, Bill Clinton, Keith Olbermann or Katie Couric stepping into that role. Although a big enough pay check might do the trick.

Others have brought up the likes of Ryan Seacrest and Jeff Probst, who just don't seem like trained journalists to me. They also make more money than King did, some $10 million a year.

More in the zone of the possible are experienced interviewers who know their stuff:
America's Got Talent host, Brit Piers Morgan.
Entertainment show anchors such as Nancy O'Dell, Pat O'Brien, Leeza Gibbons and Jules Asner.
PBS talk-show host Tavis Smiley.
MTV's Tabitha Soren.
The Oprah Winfrey Show's Gayle King.
CNN's own Campbell Brown and John King both seem too straight.

Then I have my own crazy candidates who would make the show a must-watch for me:
John Waters, who would do a credible job while being witty and fun.
Kevin Smith. He's hilarious, knows his way around Hollywood and the world.
A.J. Jacobs, the funny Esquire editor and book writer (The Know-It-All, The Year of Living Biblically)
The LAT's charismatic entertainment reporter and Hero Complex blogger, Geoff Boucher could do it. He's an excellent moderator and interviewer with a great sense of what people want to know about.

Who Should Replace Larry King
Carson Daly
Thompson on Hollywood
Ryan Seacrest
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Jeff Probst
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Piers Morgan
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Nancy O'Dell
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Pat O'Brien
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Leeza Gibbons
Thompson on Hollywood
Jules Asner
Thompson on Hollywood
Tavis Smiley
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Tabitha Soren
Thompson on Hollywood
Gayle King
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Campbell Brown
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John King
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John Waters
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Kevin Smith
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A.J. Jacobs
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Geoff Boucher
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pollcode.com free polls

[Larry King photo/illo courtesy New York Magazine.]

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10 Comments

  • Kathleen | July 11, 2010 6:30 AMReply

    Bob Costas is a brilliant idea. King's replacement needs to be likeable, noncontroversial and able to attract guests. Is there anyone who dislikes this guy? Costas is also a very good interviewer for both serious topics as well as fluffier stuff. He'll elevate the show while keeping it accessible.

    Tavis Smiley would be a good alternate choice. He has many of Bob's attributes. I enjoy both of these guys.

  • Kathy | July 9, 2010 5:42 AMReply

    There is a problem with the voting system: the names don't match the buttons they're next to. AJ Jacobs should have the lead.

  • Aka | July 8, 2010 8:22 AMReply

    Uh 'Andy'/''Blake' - have you ever heard the expression 'sock puppet'?

  • Carrie | July 8, 2010 8:16 AMReply

    John Waters and Duchess Fergie, in rotation.

  • switch | July 8, 2010 7:14 AMReply

    Not attractive? Please. Since when is that a requirement of the job? Larry King is a far cry from beautiful and he's held down the gig for 25 years. Or is it only women that are required to be attractive? This is a news show on CNN. This isn't Spike TV we're talking about.

    And she isn't annoying either. She's a New York Times bestselling author, has five books she's written, all of which sold very well. She's a popular contributor to This American Life. She's appeared several times on shows like Letterman, Conan, the Daily Show and Colbert Report. She's done speaking tours, minor film and television acting and was a main voice in the Incredibles. So I'm pretty sure you're in them minority in thinking she's annoying. But you're probably rooting for Ryan Seacrest, so there's no point in arguing.

  • cadavra | July 8, 2010 4:41 AMReply

    Costas isn't THAT old! He'd be far and away the best choice.

  • shle896 | July 8, 2010 2:43 AMReply

    Joan Rivers would be PERFECT! She's one of the best interviewers in the business. She can be serious when she needs to be and has a way of getting real answers to her very candid questions.

    I'm sure CNN wants someone under 40, though. How unfortunate.

  • Blake | July 8, 2010 2:34 AMReply

    Sarah Vowell? please...she's not on the list because she's
    NOT ATTRACTIVE AND ANNOYING.

  • switch | July 8, 2010 2:10 AMReply

    What about someone from radio? NPR has a lot of strong candidates. Bob Garfield from On The Media comes to mind. Terry Gross probably wouldn't do it as she seems content with her current show, but someone with her sensibilities would be a huge boost. She has the same skills that King has, but is much more engaging and well read.

    Sarah Vowell comes to mind as well. She's very smart, very witty and keeps up on politics and world events. She also knows pop culture and is extremely well versed in American history. She'd be an ideal candidate in my mind. I would be thrilled if they went after her. She's an author though, and her books require a lot of travel and research, so I don't know how she would be able to juggle the show and her writing.

    I voted for John Waters on your poll, but I don't think they'd ever dream of hiring him. He's too controversial for mainstream audiences. If they did though, I'd never miss an episode, that's for sure.

    Of all the people that you mentioned that seem to have a real shot at landing the gig, none of them would really get me to tune in and a lot of them I would intentionally avoid. I watch Larry King every night, but I wouldn't be too happy if they hired any of the names that are currently getting tossed around.

    Piers Morgan and Ryan Seacrest are both huge turn offs for me. They're way too light, intellectually speaking. And for me, they're both sort of annoying. Carson Daly is best on his current show, I don't think he would translate well to CNN. And his passion seems to be music, so I don't think he'd be a great fit. I also don't think he'd be willing to grill someone the way that King sometimes has to do. Larry's currently interviewing Benjamin Netanyahu. I can't see Daly doing that.

    And none of the in-house candidates are that exciting. Larry King stands out at the network. That's part of his charm. Possibly Sanjay Gupta, but that's about it.

    Another suggestion would be Elvis Mitchell. He's a smart guy and a great interviewer, but I don't know what his interests are beyond film.

    I just hope that CNN casts a much wider net than what's currently being talked about. If they choose wrong, the consequences to the network could be devastating. They're already struggling, making a wrong move here would hurt hard.

  • Andy | July 7, 2010 11:05 AMReply

    Jules Asner would be great.
    I've missed her on TV.
    Plus she's got the live news/celeb interviews/tabloid background..

    if only Soderbergh would let her out of the house.

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