Larry King | Zuo Ding-shan

2021.01.31

Larry King, the world-renowned television talk show host, died in Los Angeles on Jan 23 at the age of 87. At the time of CNN’s founding, the founder of the network, Ted Turner, took a liking to Larry King and recruited him to host a live evening primetime talk show, Larry King Live. Its ratings ranked first in the pay-per-view segment and brought CNN huge advertising revenue. CNN ran a tough operation for the first five years, until the Persian Gulf War in 1991, when CNN reported live coverage of the U.S. Air Force bombing in Baghdad, which created a global sensation and led to an increase in viewership and a significant improvement in its financial situation. However, without the contribution of Larry King Live, it would have been much more difficult to launch the network at the beginning.

The show ran for 25 years and was probably the longest-running program of all time. However, since entering the 21st century, times have changed, audience tastes have changed and technology has changed. Those born in the 1970s and 80s have become the target audience for television, but they do not appreciate Larry King’s interview style, so the ratings kept dropping. CNN aired its last episode on Dec 16, 2010.

How is it that Larry King was so popular, but so underappreciated by traditional current affairs program hosts? The main reason is that Larry King had never considered himself a journalist and did not care about discovering secrets and embarrassing truths. He positioned his show as an infotainment program in which he had interviewed 50,000 people in his lifetime. He said that he never researched the interviewees and prepared the questions in advance, but rather, he improvised and followed instincts, focusing on listening and letting the interviewees speak their minds. Larry King’s greatest skill is to let his interviewees talk, listen to their answers and follow up with a series of questions, like peeling an onion, leading them to speak more and more with their minds. This is actually a difficult thing to learn, and is extremely difficult to do without profound experience and personal magnetism.

Larry King’s original name was Lawrence Harvey Zeigler. His parents were Austrian and Belarusian immigrants. He had excellent grades in elementary school. However, after losing his father at the age of 10, he was so devastated that he no longer enjoyed school and was obsessed with listening to radio programs all day long. He graduated from high school with very poor grades, and because of his family’s poverty, he could not go to university and found a job as a mailman.

Later, he moved from New York to Miami to try his luck, working as a janitor at a radio station. Then one day, one of the program DJs did not show up, and his supervisor pushed King into the radio booth to host the program. He was able to deliver without any stage fright, so his supervisor gave him a new stage name, Larry King, and he continued to host the show. This was May 1, 1957. From that point on, he gradually moved up the career ladder and became the king of electronic media hosting.

(Zuo Ding-shan, columnist)

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