Larry King thinks his successor, Piers Morgan, laid on the hype a little too thick before debuting last month.
King, who made that point in a recent interview with a London radio station, repeated it to Morgan’s face during a prime-time reappearance Wednesday in the time slot he ruled at CNN for 25 years until December. It was part of an awkward interview in which King, 77, appeared to forget how many times he had been married.
Morgan, a British tabloid veteran, aggressively promoted his new show before it started in January, suggesting it could be “dangerous” and aspired to become watercooler talk. King suggested a quieter entrance would have been more appropriate.
King said he had seen about eight of Morgan’s shows and “I haven’t seen dangerous yet.”
“We couldn’t come in and undersell then,” Morgan said. “I’m following a legend. I can’t come in after Sinatra in Vegas and say, ‘By the way, this is not going to be very good. I suppose I’ve always oversold myself. I quite like doing that. It’s quite funny.”
As for promising danger, Morgan said, “I was only kidding.”
“Aha, British humor,” King replied. “I didn’t get it. I’m from Brooklyn.”
King said he missed being part of the mix when big stories, like the Middle East unrest, are unfolding. His post-prime-time career is emerging. He said he had a CNN special in the works for April and is about to launch a one-man theater show of jokes and old stories.
Morgan’s show started with a bang, with Oprah Winfrey, Condoleezza Rice and Howard Stern among his first week’s guests. Lately, his bookings illustrate the difficulties in keeping up that pace. With the Middle East unrest, Somalian pirates killing Americans and the New Zealand earthquake all in the news on Tuesday, Morgan brought on Playboy founder Hugh Hefner and his young fiancee. Morgan gamely asked about world affairs; Hefner seemed more interested in mentioning how his back still ached from a 1980s accident where he had too many Playboy Playmates in his bed.
“Piers Morgan Tonight” averaged 826,000 viewers during the last two weeks, compared with King’s 732,000 viewers during the same two-week period last year. CNN executives are pleased, however, that the percentage of younger viewers have increased far more dramatically.
Morgan asked King why he thought the ratings for “Larry King Live” went down so much in the past few years. King said it was because of the rise of opinionated hosts on cable shows where “the guest is a prop.”
He suggested the pendulum would eventually shift back.
King also corrected Morgan when the current host mentioned that his predecessor had been married eight times to seven women, saying it was one less. But Morgan was right.
“I forget,” King said. “The only one that counts is the current one.”