This is the year of Larry King. A stable broadcast institution for 30 years, Kingis branching out. Already a radio show host, TV talk show host, national newspaper columnist, best-selling author and occasional sports commentator, King is about to do...a variety show.
"Sunday Night With Larry King" on NBC marks yet another evolution in the lifeof the man listed in the "Guinness Book of World Records" for interviewing morethan 30,000 people and logging an unprecedented number of hours on nationalradio.
King grew up in Brooklyn as a welfare recipient following the deaths of hisolder brother and father. At 26, he found instant success and controversy inMiami with a radio interview show. Guests ranged from Lenny Bruce to RichardNixon.
King, 56, hosts "The Larry King Show" nightly over the Mutual BroadcastingSystem and "Larry King Live," CNN's No. 1 program. He also writes a weeklycolumn, "Larry King's People," in USA Today and has a new book in the stores,"Larry King: Tell Me More."
Daniel Cerone spoke with King about his new variety special on NBC.
How did you get involved with NBC?
I was in Los Angeles doing my radio show. (Former NBC president) BrandonTartikoff was a guest on the show and before it (started) he said, "Do you thinka variety show could work on television today?" I said, "They sure haven't."He said, "What if it were a mix, a variety show that was informational, with youhosting it?" I said, "Why me?" He said, "You fit the mold. You're not anentertainer, you're a presenter."
What is "Sunday Night With Larry King?"
We're going to try and do a sort of 1990 version of an old-fashioned varietyshow. Stallone will come on and show scenes from "Rocky V," and then we willshow a history of boxing on television. David Letterman will do a rare guestspot and some stand-up comedy. Bart Simpson will do an interview with me, ananimated interview. And Siegfried and Roy, the illusionists, are going toperform.
Ted Turner holds your exclusive TV contract. Why did he agree to let you do ashow for NBC?
It's not a conflict of interest because I'm not doing interviews. And in a senseit doesn't really hurt him. It's going to promote the fact that I'm on CNN. Tedhas a genuine friendship with me. He said, "If you want to give this a shot, Idon't want to stand in your way."
I nearly left Ted two years ago because I had a great offer from NBC. I decidedto stay, and I signed a five-year contract in May. It was the best move I evermade. Loyalty counts a lot with Ted. If this show got a 50 share and NBC offeredme $80 million, I would not leave Ted Turner.
Is doing a variety show a departure for you?
I'm not going to dance or sing with the guests. I'm the host. I can be funny. Ithink I'm witty. I've done things like this. I've hosted lots of breakfasts anddinners. It's an extension of what I do. It's Sullivanish, I guess, if you haveto compare. The show is on Sunday night. That's the night (Ed) Sullivan was on.
Not long after judging the Miss America Pageant, you were criticized for callingMiss Pennsylvania ugly on the Joan Rivers Show. What happened?
When I was on, Joan was kidding around, I was kidding around and the audiencewas kidding around. She asked me who the ugliest contestant was. I didn't sayanything. But she asked me again. I thought it was a bit. So I said, "MissPennsylvania." To this day it mystifies me why this became a story. In fact, Ivoted her third in the pageant, and on a talent scale of 10, I gave her a nine.
People who know me took it humorously. For one, I would never hurt anyone whocan't defend herself if I knew beforehand that she would be hurt. So Iimmediately apologized and sent her flowers. It hurt me that she was hurt. Ithurt me. I have a 22-year-old daughter, and I wouldn't want anybody to seriouslysay that about my daughter.
We're in a different age today. Probably in my career I have said a great manythings to offend people. Tabloids today pick everything up, and that attitudehas worked its way into the larger media as well.
Do you care what people think about you?
I care if I'm misunderstood. I never go on the air thinking, "Will they likethis?" In other words, my mind isn't saying, "Are you enjoying this?" My mindis saying, "Am I enjoying this?" Johnny Carson said to me once, "If I don'tlike the joke, you won't like the joke." If I'm enjoying the show, then there'sa chance that you are going to enjoy the show.
You're so busy as it is. Why take on this NBC special?
I don't want to be Mr. Media. I really don't. I don't want to control theairwaves. I have a comfortable niche on CNN and on the radio, and both havetheir special audiences. I mean, I'm not Johnny Carson. I have a nice place. Iget to do what I want to do. This is a new challenge, and that's appealing. Ihosted the Goodwill Games (on TBS) this year because I'm a sports nut, and Ithought it would be a hoot. If it were a yearly event, I would have turned itdown.
Do you have other enterprises planned?
Right after the NBC special I'm going to take stock. I'll probably slow down myspeaking engagements. I'm doing very well financially now. I have all thesethings; I want to appreciate them. If you work every day, what's the differenceif you make $1 million or $1,000? I want to take stock and take advantage of thethings that I earn. I enjoy my work. I have contractual obligations. But I don'twant another year where I do the Goodwill Games and speaking engagements and TVspecials. It's too much.
"Sunday Night With Larry King" airs Sunday at 8 p.m. on NBC.