26 September 2008 | classicalsteve
Larry King Live: Not Bad, Occasionally Trashy, and May Need a Better Interviewer than King
As talk-shows go, Larry King Live is not bad, and since he occasionally gets good guests, it's a show to turn on once in awhile, but not compulsively. When Bill Maher, Carl Bernstein, a former president, or other substantive guests sit across from him, it's not too bad. Other times, he tends to host guests involved in the latest celebrity scandal which contributes absolutely no intelligent information to the country and feeds a largely uneducated public that wants to hear the latest gossip about movie and TV stars. During the OJ Simpson trial, it seemed like every other guest on his show was related to the case. But is this really journalism? Or the National Enquirer on the tube? Sometimes, it comes off a little bit like trash television--Jerry Springer in a sit down interview with phone calls instead of a live audience.
On the other side, King's show is definitely much better than Bill O'Reilly whose show is nothing more than a rightest-political platform of the Rush Limbaugh variety. That said, Larry King is not a bad interviewer, but alas, he is not a great one. King does not always come off like he completely comprehends when intellectual material is being presented, especially if it is by a scholar or historian with a new book on subtle aspects of politics. Always seems like the minute King can't quite deal with the issue at hand, that's when he turns to the phone calls, maybe hoping someone out in the country will have a better question than he has. He might interview someone like David Gergen, but may not have read any of his books. Sort of like the movie producer that never bothers to read the script.
When it's an entertainment celebrity, no problem. He can come off like he's thoroughly knowledgeable since the material is not that substantive anyway. Talking to Elizabeth Taylor about her relationship with Richard Burton is not exactly rocket science. And I notice he usually has seen the star's latest movie. Watching a movie takes much less time and contemplation than reading a book. However, if it's the likes of John Dean or Bob Woodward, King comes off a little like he didn't quite finish his homework. So off to the phones.
If you are looking for real in-depth interviewing, Terry Gross of NPR is probably the best interviewer in the United States. She reads and/or researches everything written by or about her guests beforehand and has a working knowledge of those areas. I don't see King quite doing that. Granted, he probably has an audience 1000 times larger than Terry Gross, which may say more about the American audience than King. In short, Larry is better than Bill but not as good as Terry.