NEW YORK — Larry King, who interviewed statesmen and stars from a prime-time perch at CNN for 25 years but has faded in ratings and influence lately, said Tuesday that he will step down this fall from his nightly show.
“It’s time to hang up my nightly suspenders,” King said in a message sent to fans via Twitter.
King said he will do occasional specials for CNN. He marked his 25th anniversary on the air this month and takes pride in a Guinness Book of World Records citation for hosting the longest-running show on the same network in the same time slot.
The long-time radio host was a pioneer in cable television. From the first show where he interviewed then-New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, King’s desk was considered a valued spot for anyone interested in talking to the nation. King’s interview style was plain-spoken and critics would suggest occasionally ill-prepared, but he was good at making his guests feel comfortable.
“He lured so many people to this new frontier of cable back before anybody understood what it was all about,” said CNN U.S. President Jon Klein, who called King a “living, breathing Hall of Famer who is still doing the work.”
King said he felt no pressure from CNN to leave. He said he began thinking about stepping down as his 25th anniversary week ended earlier this month, on the airplane home after interviewing basketball star LeBron James. During that week, he also spoke to Bill Gates, President Barack Obama and Lady Gaga — an apt example of the mix that he always sought on his show.
“I said, ’I can’t top this,”’ King said in an interview Tuesday.
“I’m tired of the nightly grind,” he said. “I do want to do other things but I want to stay at CNN in some way . . . There’s a case of great mixed emotions.”
King told his staff of his decision during a conference call Tuesday that he called “one of the saddest 10 minutes of my life.”
CNN is in the midst of remaking its prime-time lineup and last week announced that former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and conservative columnist Kathleen Parker would co-host an 8 p.m. EDT show on politics and current events.
The network will now begin concentrating on potential successors. Klein said he wanted to continue with provocative newsmaker interviews in the time slot.
“Nobody else does it,” he said. “It’s an important tool in the arsenal and we want to keep it going.”
CBS News anchor Katie Couric has long been considered a potential successor, given her interviewing skills. That talk has cooled lately with suggestions that Couric may be reluctant to take responsibility for another network with ratings troubles; Klein would not discuss specific candidates.
Recent published reports have suggested that America’s Got Talent judge Piers Morgan could be a candidate. King said if it were up to him, American Idol host Ryan Seacrest would be the best choice to fill his shoes.
As cable news audiences gravitated toward politically opinionated shows and newsmakers found many more outlets for interviews in recent years, King slipped behind Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow in the ratings. During his interview with Lady Gaga, the 76-year-old broadcast veteran had people wondering if he was really connecting with a pop star a half century his junior.
King got some sympathy from comic Bill Maher, invited as a guest on Larry King Live on Tuesday specifically to be there on the night of the announcement.
“I heard people say Larry didn’t understand Lady Gaga,” Maher said. “Who understands Lady Gaga?”
King estimated he’s conducted some 50,000 interviews during a 53-year broadcasting career. He said he always tried to ask short questions and to never come in with an agenda. “I left my ego at the door,” he said.
“I never learned a thing while I was talking,” he said. “That would be my motto.”
He dismissed a series of stories this spring questioning his future and speculating about possible successors.
“You can’t worry about things you can’t control,” he said. “I can’t control if a newspaper is going to speculate about something or if a blog is going to speculate . . . If I let it get me, I’ll go nuts. So what I try to do, and I’m not being morbid, I just try to do the best show I can. If it works, it works.”
King said he was able to see the baseball all-star games of his sons this weekend. If it was during the week, he’d miss them.
“I’m never going to see these again,” he said. “They’re not going to repeat themselves. They’re 11 and 10. They’re not going to be 11 and 10 again.” Besides work with CNN, King said he’d also be interested in working in comedy.
“I think I speak for a lot of people in America that I will miss you terribly at this hour,” Maher said on the show.