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Larry talked to Paris, and people watched

King's post-jail interview with the heiress draws 3.2 million viewers to CNN.

June 29, 2007|Matea Gold | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Paris Hilton's post-jail chat with Larry King drew 3.2 million viewers Wednesday night, three times the CNN host's average audience this year, according to Nielsen Media Research.

King landed the interview after the broadcast news divisions pulled themselves out of running, declaring they had no interest in interviewing the hotel heiress after her family's efforts to secure a financial payment for the exclusive were made public.

The controversy over the behind-the-scenes negotiations -- and the conflicting reports about whether NBC was willing to pay a hefty fee for the sit-down -- spotlighted the television networks' practice of compensating interview subjects through "licensing" fees for personal footage and other tactics.

Once word of her demands leaked last week, a Hilton spokesman said she was not being compensated for any interviews. CNN said it did not pay for its exclusive.

This week, in his first public comments about the matter, NBC Universal Chief Executive Jeff Zucker wouldn't say what NBC was considering paying for the interview but acknowledged that the Hiltons were demanding financial compensation.

"Our folks did not feel comfortable with what was being asked, and so the decision was made to move on," he told the online edition of the Financial Times, adding that he was not involved in the negotiations.

Zucker said network news divisions should disclose the terms under which they conduct interviews.

"Now, that's not to say that I think we should be paying for interviews per se," he said. "I think that if somebody has something to say, hopefully there's a way to do it without any checkbook journalism."

Still, he added that "historically there have been many instances where there have been fees paid for services, videos, photographs, and people have gotten around this, including the most famous interviewers on American television."

Despite the hubbub, none of the broadcast networks showed any compunction about airing clips Thursday morning of King's interview with Hilton. All three morning shows ran pieces about the sit-down in their first hour: NBC's "Today" devoted four minutes to the story in a package by correspondent Mike Taibbi, while "Good Morning America's" Kate Snow recapped the interview on the "Around the Watercooler" segment. CBS' "The Early Show" gave the topic nearly five minutes, with a story by correspondent Hattie Kauffman and an interview with Ashlan Gorse, editor at large of Life & Style magazine.

"Sometimes I feel people think we relish covering these train wrecks," said Steve Friedman, vice president of morning broadcasts at CBS News. "We don't, but we cannot be above the news. Our first responsibility is to our viewers, and if they're interested, we must be interested.

"Now that she's released, I think most people are willing to move on. But you can never say never."

matea.gold@latimes.com

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