To commemorate Larry King’s 50 years in broadcasting, CNN is releasing a three-DVD set filled with clips from Larry King Live, which premiered in 1985. The packaging makes claims that King is the greatest TV talk show host and an influential interviewer. I don’t agree with either one, but there’s no denying the program has provided a fabulous pop cultural snapshot of America and the world over the last 20-plus years. His interview style is relaxed and conversational. He comes across like a regular guy, not a well-researched reporter with an agenda or someone who wants to outshine the guest. The guests are put at ease, making it easy to reveal themselves.
Disc One presents “Hollywood Film Stars & Legends.” It runs over two hours long and features the biggest stars in show business over the past three decades. The disc’s chapters group together the stars’ answers over a wide range of subjects. King focuses less on the work, and more on the person behind it, discussing the roller coaster that is fame and the trappings that come with it. There is some discussion about acting, but King appears more interested in how people made ends meet and dealt with lulls in their career. Most likely one of his favorites, Liz Taylor got her own segment.
The bonus material is 24 minutes of King’s reflections of off-camera and off-mike moments with the likes of Marlon Brando, George Burns, Frank Sinatra, Jackie Gleason, Lenny Bruce, and Jackie Robinson.
Disc Two is “Presidents & First Ladies, News Events & Scandals.” Seventy-five minutes that feature every President since Nixon, and every first lady since Betty Ford. King gets surprising candid moments from the Presidents about mistakes they made, the effect on their marriages, dealing with the media, being commander-in-chief, and their legacies.
“News Events & Scandals” is 100 minutes of the biggest stories during King’s tenure on television. Being part of CNN was certainly beneficial to obtaining amazing news footage and access to guests. The disc covers 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, “Deep Throat” Revealed, The Waco Tragedy, and the South Asian Tsunami, the Gulf War, and the War in Iraq. The most powerful footage is when King interviews the people personally affected. In 1993 King got his largest audience, and the largest on ad-supported cable until a game on ESPN's Monday Night Football last season, when H. Ross Perot and Vice President Gore debated NAFTA.
King is prone, as all in the media are, with providing more coverage than is needed about some topics that have a salacious nature to them. While there is certainly some news value to Princess Diana’s death, the OJ Simpson trial, and the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the quantity usually outweighed the quality. One of his frequent overdone topics is the JonBenet Ramsey murder; however the confrontation between her parents and Detective Steve Thomas who accused them of her murder was interesting.
However, I do question the need to have interviewed John Mark Karr, the man who erroneously confessed to killing JonBenet, after the child pornography charges against him were dropped. While I’m sure it got good ratings, I don’t see what is accomplished by giving the man airtime. King traverses the same gutter of bad taste with jailhouse interviews of David Berkowitz, Karla Faye Tucker, and most reprehensibly of all, John Lennon’s assassin. Considering King helps the latter by providing him the fame he sought by murdering Lennon, I very seriously considered not recommending this set. I would request everyone email the show and let them know that this material should be removed.
The disc bonus material features world leaders: Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, Mikhail Gorbachev, Vladimir Putin, King Abdullah of Jordan, Yasser Arafat, Nelson Mandela, and The Dalai Lama
Disc Three is entitled “Television Stars, Broadcast News Icons, Comedians & Unforgettable Moments.” It begins with 36 minutes of television stars. King talks to fellow talk show hosts Oprah Winfrey, Regis and Kathie Lee, Rosie O’Donnell, Ellen DeGeneres, David Letterman, Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien, Phil Donahue, Sally Jesse Raphael, Jerry Springer, Steve Allen, and Merv Griffin. King meets the casts of recent hit shows: Everybody Loves Raymond, Frasier, 24, and Friends, and those of old who live on in reruns: Andy Griffith and Don Knotts, Tony Randall and Jack Klugman, Linda Evans and Jackie Collins, Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams, and Larry Hagman, who appears with Barbara Eden and also Linda Grey
It wouldn’t be TV without a look at reality television. King visits with Steve Irwin, Donald Trump, Judge Judy, Howard Stern, and from the biggest show of the genre, American Idol’s Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, and Ryan Seacrest, who sits in as host for King.
“Broadcast News Icons” puts the reporters in the spotlight, covering the legendary names in the business. He talks with network news anchors past and present: Walter Cronkite, David Brinkley, Peter Jennings, Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, Jim Lehrer, Bob Schieffer, and Katie Couric. The tables are turned and hosts from morning and evening news programs, such as Tim Russert, Diane Sawyer, Barbara Walters, Charlie Rose, and Ted Koppel, answer questions. The same goes for investigative reporters, like the gang from 60 Minutes, and The Washington Post’s Woodward and Bernstein. Some of CNN’s own make an appearance, but the other cable news channels are not represented since they are the direct competition.
“Comedians” are featured for almost an hour with a stellar roster of talent going all the way back to the early days of television with Milton Berle, Sid Caeser, George Burns, and Jonathan Winters. Current stars and up-and-comers get equal time, from George Carlin and Chris Rock to Lewis Black and Kathy Griffin.
“Unforgettable Moments” rounds out the disc with the favorites of King and his crew. They present the beginning of the very first show, a Law & Order spoof, and Kermit The Frog hosting the show. Memorable guests include the Who Wants To Marry a Millionaire couple, Larry Flynt with Jerry Falwell, and Ted Turner. Sharon Stone appears repeatedly snapping King’s suspenders. Brando appears on this disc as well for his castigation of the Jews in Hollywood.
The last bonus feature is King reflecting on comedians. The oddest moment is when he tells of Don Rickles' show in Vegas. Rickles is an insult comic and was picking on the crowd. When he got to actor Sidney Poitier, Rickles made a crack about there being no fried chicken or watermelon on the menu. King laughs then pauses as he looks off camera. Most likely a producer was slightly flabbergasted like when you are caught off guard by a 90-year-old using the word “colored.” King quickly clarified Poitier was cracking up over it.
The Greatest Interviews would make a great video time capsule. Clips of some Unforgettable Moments are available at the CNN website.