Talk show host Larry King was recently nominated for a couple of Daytime Emmy awards — as the host of the thrice-weekly "Larry King Now" and for the show itself, in the outstanding informative talk show category — and was in a mood to talk.
Unlike his nominated competition in the awards, to be held Sunday in Pasadena, King, 84, does his work in the digital realm. After more than six decades practicing his special mix of journalism and show business, including 25 years at CNN, his home since 2012 has been the web-based Ora TV. Launched with the Mexican multi-mogul Carlos Slim, ORA TV is also where he hosts the current affairs series “PoliticKING with Larry King.” You can find him on the internet at ora.tv/larrykingnow, as well as on Hulu, Amazon and YouTube.
King's interviews, which favor sometimes wayward conversation over targeted promotion, are conducted from what might be called a state of productive ignorance — he never tries to show off how much he knows, and is unafraid to expose what he doesn't. His brand of informality has become common in the age of podcasting, but King had already long perfected his style when Marc Maron was still learning to tie his shoes. No one has done this job better, or with more gusto.
Do you get a sense of validation from being nominated or rejection from being overlooked?
King: No, I never get a feeling of rejection. I didn't go into this for awards; I'm in it because I love doing it. It's nice when your peers acknowledge you. This is especially nice because it's the only digital show in it, which makes you feel especially good, to forge new territory. I just love what I do, I love asking questions, I love doing the interviews. I'm a communicator. I like to communicate.
In 2011, after I left CNN, I got a lifetime achievement award from the Emmys. It was a great night in New York City. All the anchors were there; I was very proud. Brian Williams presented it to me. You get a lifetime achievement award, you figure that's the end, that's the cherry on top of the ice cream. And since then I've gotten seven Emmy nominations and three Webby nominations. Won a Webby — that's for internet shows. Maybe it's in praise of stamina.
Did you ever in your life consider retiring?
When I left CNN [and “Larry King Live”] I thought I'd be retired. In fact, I had a contract to do four specials a year with them for three years. The second was about to air, and that was the night [U.S. Navy SEALs] killed Osama bin Laden, and I wanted to jump up and run somewhere to broadcast. I knew then I couldn't retire. I was lucky to have a friendship with Carlos Slim, and he came up with this whole idea. My wife Shawn came up with the idea of calling it Ora TV — Ora is Italian for "now," and then we called the show “Larry King Now.” We're in our seventh year.
Now that you've un-retired can you picture ever doing it again?
Retiring? No. I asked Milton Berle once if he was going to retire and he said, "Retire to what?" I don't know what I'd do. I don't golf. I can't see myself living in Phoenix. I don't play shuffleboard. I don't like cruises. But work isn't work to me. The easiest thing I do in my day is on the air. Because I control it and I'm asking questions and learning something every day. I can't control life, I can't control traffic jams, I can't control my wife or my kids. But — when that light goes on — I can control that, and it's a very nice feeling. So I think to myself, "I haven't worked in 61 years." I wouldn't be retiring from anything.
You get a lifetime achievement award, you figure that's the end. Since then I've gotten seven Emmy nominations. Maybe it's in praise of stamina.
When I grew up we had disagreements — when I was 18, I could tell you every member of the Senate. I know half of them now, and they don't get along. I mean, Barry Goldwater and John Kennedy were great friends — to me, were buddies. And now these senators come in, they go out — these days, you’re opposed politically, you're opposed personally. And so they don't get together. And then you get a president where you don't know what to expect day to day. It's tumultuous. But I hate the fact that it's hate. That it spews from the top. The president hates. And that's bad.
Is there anyone you hate?
I hate bigots. I hate people who think other people are less than them because of the color of their skin or because of their religion or what they think or because they're gay — I hate that. Prejudice is stupid.
As a Jew from Brooklyn, did you ever experience discrimination?
If I did, I didn't know about it. Jews in Brooklyn, you know, we were a majority. And then I went down to Miami Beach, which was Brooklyn South. So no, I never experienced it, but I knew. I know what's happening in the world — there's still anti-Semitism. And it just makes no sense to me. We never had that in Brooklyn; I never said the N word. All these years in the business, I still don't understand it. If I hate anything, I hate bigotry.
When we last spoke, in 2016, Donald Trump phoned you while I was there. Does he still call?
No. He called me through the whole campaign, weekly, sometimes every other day. I told him I was for Hillary, but we're old friends and he understood that. And I knew him as, I would say, a moderate Republican, a Rockefeller Republican. He was a big supporter of Hillary when she ran for the Senate; I have quotes of him on my show praising her as a great senator. He would call and say, “What do you think of this? What do you think of that?” We talked a lot back then. And after he was elected I never heard from him again.
I can't control life, I can't control traffic jams, I can't control my wife or my kids. But when that light goes on — I can control that.
Are there other interviewers you listen to, as a fan?
I love Chris Cuomo — he's getting his own nighttime show on CNN. He's got a wonderful manner. Camera likes him. I might be partial because his father [Mario Cuomo] was such a good friend. I don't like the guys on MSNBC or Fox, it's all soapbox — they preach to the choir. I don't learn anything. I want to learn something when I watch a show. If I click in on “Hannity,” I don't learn anything. He's just spewing venom. And that's not my style of broadcasting, never was.
What is the value of what you do in the world?
A good interview — you know more than you do before you start. You should come away with maybe some of your opinions changed. You should certainly come away entertained — an interviewer is also an entertainer. I don't like when people put something down as "entertainment." We're all infotainers. The Los Angeles Times has a masthead; like the way it looks on the page. It draws me to the paper. It has nothing to do with information. When you see an interview show you're entertained, you’re into it. You pay attention to it. And when you come away, you feel better, you know more.
I think it's an art form. I never took any lessons for it. I have my own rules — I don't ask the wrong questions, I listen to the answers. I don't have an agenda. I'm not there to embarrass, nor am I there to praise. I'm the conduit, from the interviewee through me to the audience.
Has talking to so many people over the years made you feel closer to understanding the world? Or does hearing so many points of view just make it harder to grasp?
Good question, but that's hard to answer. A little bit of both. With the number of people I've spoken to over the years and different perspectives and opinions I've heard — along with the advance of the internet age — sometimes it's hard to get a straight answer that makes sense. There are some days I think I understand the world a lot better and there are days I wonder what it's all about and I'm grasping.
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