Twenty-five years. That's a long time.
That's a longer time, and longer than many of us have been on the planet. But there last night was Larry King, wrapping up fifty-three years on the air. This was was a fond and gentle farewell - a bit like a Friar's Club roast without the roast. Everyone turned up. President Barack Obama thanked him for those two-plus decades, and a parade of incongruous boldface names followed: Ryan Seacrest, Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, the TV anchors, and Regis. Tony Bennett sang Sy Coleman's "The Best is Yet to Come." Shawn King, his wife, and family too were there. The old pro wrapped with this: "Instead of goodbye, how about so long."
Now may not be the best moment to assess this run - it's not over until it's over because King will continue to do specials for CNN - but it was the end of 25 years (and change) of "Larry King Live." The key to longevity was this: Larry King was a listener. He planted his chin upon his hands, and listened to everyone, seemingly anyone, from wackos to felons to presidents to starlets. He listened to interesting answers, and (sometimes) newsworthy ones, (sometimes) idiotic ones, and more often than not long-winded ones year after year as if they were the most fascinating answers anyone had ever heard.
As an interviewer, he was seductive. People, especially powerful people, like to be heard. Larry was there to hear. He could attend to the response of Paris Hilton - "I just want people to know what I went through" - with the same level of intensity that he would give Colin Powell: "The information I was being given by the intelligence community hung together," the former Secretary of State told him.
Many CNN veterans howled at King's softies, but he predated most of them. He joined CNN in June 1985 - after a very long run on the radio - and was there for the network's watershed moments including the Challenger disaster, the last half of the Reagan presidency, the Gulf War, Bill Clinton, Nine Eleven, Hurricane Katrina, George W. Bush, and two other wars. While the finest work at CNN was done by its reporters, Larry was always listening and helping to build CNN in the process.His most recent numbers are 669,000 compared to 2 million in the mid-90s, which explains this departure.
But if you watched last night, you watched TV history. That was the end. There will never be another Larry King.