As Larry King prepares for the last broadcast of “Larry King Live,” I finally can understand the sadness my parents felt more than two decades ago when Johnny Carson retired. My dad worked evenings and came home in time to watch “The Tonight Show” with my mom. Johnny Carson’s humor and his guests launched many recliner discussions and a few heated ones.
I know…Larry King Live is a lot different than “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson. More substance, less humor, fewer out-of-control animals (not counting the politicians.) And that was the way my friends and I liked it. Before the rise of the tabloid television shows, Larry King was whom the rich and famous turned to when they needed to make amends with their fans, break open a new brand or launch some far-out program. I once heard a sports expert say that, if Pete Rose wanted his ban from baseball lifted, he should probably go on “Larry King Live” and admit to gambling and betting on the reds. Then, be sincere in offering an apology. I guess that won’t happen now. Pete, you’re really out for good.
I don’t look forward to Piers Morgan. Larry King is an icon and irreplaceable. I’ll give Piers one or two tries. His choice still confuses me. Better choices? Ann Curry of NBC, Lester Holt, the hottest working guy in the news business or even Harry Smith of CBS, who happens to be looking for a job anyway.
Looking back over Larry King’s long run, I do have a few favorite shows…I imagine you do, too. So please feel free to share a favorite in the comments below. Here are five of mine:
1. Post 9/11
Following the terror attacks of 9/11, Larry King had extended programs every night and interviewed everyone from the mayor of New York City right down to people carrying posters, looking for people who were missing people. Larry King gave us the average New Yorker’s perspective and provided a calm, reassuring voice during a time of national crisis.
2. The Al Gore/Ross Perot NAFTA Debate
Unlike the timed-to-the minute presidential debates, this free for all on Larry King Live let two political rivals go at it head-to-head for an hour. Most people assume Gore won the debate (But don’t we all feel a tinge of regret when we remember Perot’s “that giant sucking sound is jobs going to Mexico.”
3. Larry King’s Odd Relationship with Tammy Faye Baker
Those of us over 30 know all the backstory and the seedy details of Tammy Faye Baker and her husband Jim Baker and their rise to the top of fundamental and charismatic Christianity – and the very fast fall from the top of the mountain. Years after the controversy ended, Tammy Faye was welcomed on Larry King Live several times. As her death from cancer drew near, she shared openly about her struggles and her pain, along with the faith of her heavenly reward waiting on the other side. She was on Larry’s show just days before her death. I don’t agree with a lot of her lifestyle, but I did appreciate the easy conversation between Larry and Tammy Faye.
4. Barry Manilow – The Ultimate Manilow Collection Interview
Pop Icon Barry Manilow was on Larry King Live many times. (In the interest of full disclosure, I am a huge Barry Manilow fan since I was 13.) In 2001, Manilow found himself with a #1 album after many years of dismal performances on the charts. Manilow and Larry talked honestly about Barry’s career success in the 1970s and how this time, the success was much sweeter. He shared his struggles moving away from an inner circle of “yes” men and revealed his embarrassment at filing for bankruptcy after the success of “Mandy” and “Copacabana.” This hour of television is truly must-see-t.v. for rising stars.
5. The Final Show
The all-star salute to Larry King was so entertaining, but with more laughs than tears. It wasn’t stoic, like Johnny Carson’s last “Tonight Show” was. It was more of a review of the last 25 years as seen through the show, which is a good perspective of history. And the poem by Katie Couric is so good that, should she be fired by CBS as is rumored, she can always fall back on Hallmark.