CNN Said to Seek NBC's Assent to Approach Morgan as Larry King Replacement

Time Warner Inc.’s CNN is seeking permission from NBC to talk to Piers Morgan, the “America’s Got Talent” judge, about taking over for talk-show host Larry King, said two people with knowledge of the discussions.

NBC’s assent is necessary before CNN can hold direct negotiations with Morgan, said one of the people, who sought anonymity because the discussions are private. NBC is seeking assurances that Morgan would put his role as a judge on the broadcaster’s most-watched reality show ahead of the demands of a cable-news talk show, said the other person.

CNN is searching for a host to reclaim viewers who defected to cable-news rivals Fox News and MSNBC as “Larry King Live” lost viewers. King, who interviewed presidents and Hollywood royalty on CNN for 25 years, plans to step down later this year.

Keith Cocozza, a spokesman for New York-based Time Warner, declined to comment, as did Wendy Luckenbill, a spokeswoman for New York-based NBC, part of General Electric Co.’s NBC Universal.

A contract with Morgan could be signed within a few days, the New York Times reported yesterday, citing three people involved in the negotiations between the companies.

Other TV Roles

Ratings for “Larry King Live,” which airs weeknights at 9 p.m. New York time, have declined 40 percent this year through June, according to Nielsen Co.

The Tuesday episode of NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” tied CBS’s “NCIS” last week as the top rated show, while the Wednesday show garnered third place.

NBC Universal Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Zucker said today that Morgan’s continuing work as a judge on “America’s Got Talent” may not prevent him from taking on other TV roles.

“Piers will continue on ‘America’s Got Talent’ for the next three years,” Zucker said today on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program. “I can also tell you he has approached us about asking to do another job as well. Those conversations are continuing, and I don’t think those are mutually exclusive.”

Time Warner fell 10 cents to $30.82 at 9:50 a.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The shares had climbed 6.1 percent this year before today. Fairfield, Connecticut-based GE rose 6 cents to $15.27.

Simon Cowell

Morgan, 45, has interviewed Gordon Brown and Simon Cowell on the ITV network in the U.K., the New York Times reported. A former editor at The Daily Mirror, Morgan has gained a U.S. audience by following former “American Idol” host Simon Cowell in using a combination of self-confidence and criticism, the newspaper said.

“American Idol” host Ryan Seacrest and “CBS Evening News” anchor Katie Couric are also potential replacements for King, the New York Times reported June 21, without citing a source for its information.

CNN, once the leader in 24-hour TV news, doesn’t rank among the most-watched cable channels, according to Nielsen. News Corp.’s Fox News is the most-watched cable news outlet, averaging 2.11 million prime-time viewers this year through June, according to Nielsen.

Last month CNN said a show featuring Eliot Spitzer, former governor of New York, and columnist Kathleen Parker will replace Campbell Brown, who said in May she will end her 8 p.m. news program.

“Larry King Live” is listed in the “Guinness Book of World Records” as the longest-running show with the same host in the same time slot, King said in a June 29 announcement of his decision to step down. He plans to appear in CNN specials on national and international affairs.

King’s show averaged 723,000 viewers a night this year through June, down from 1.2 million in the same period a year ago, according to Nielsen.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andy Fixmer in Los Angeles at afixmer@bloomberg.net

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