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Larry King Hands CNN Mike to Morgan After 40,000 Interviews

Larry King, who dominated prime-time cable news before falling behind Bill O’Reilly of Fox News and MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann, ended his 25-year run at CNN with an interview of former President Bill Clinton.

“Welcome to the last Larry King Live,” said King, 77, to open his final show last night, with guest-hosts Ryan Seacrest and Bill Maher. “It’s awfully hard to say that.”

“Larry King Live” was cable’s top-rated news show for most of the 1990s, according to Nielsen Co. data. It first aired in June 1985 and by 1998 was reaching 1.6 million viewers a night for Time Warner Inc.’s CNN. King, who once hosted a radio talk show for Mutual Radio, interviewed every U.S. president since Gerald Ford in 1974, according to CNN’s website.

“Larry King put CNN on the map,” said Brad Adgate, senior vice president for New York advertising firm Horizon Media and a former research manager at CNN. “But he’s not as relevant today when other cable networks have created personalities like O’Reilly. At CNN, the news is still the personality.”

During the show, King was bid farewell by a list of celebrities he had interviewed, including Donald Trump, Regis Philbin and President Barack Obama, who called the host “one of the giants of broadcasting.”

British television personality Piers Morgan, a one-time editor of the News of the World, will succeed King in January.

“Larry King Live” is averaging 669,000 viewers a night this year, behind “The O’Reilly Factor,” with 1.5 million viewers for News Corp.’s Fox News and “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” on NBC Universal’s MSNBC, with 954,000 viewers, according to Nielsen Co. data.

MSNBC saluted King in a USA Today advertisement that called him “one of a kind.” The CNN rival also thanked King “for everything you’ve done to advance cable news.”

Wearing his trademark suspenders, King interviewed more than 40,000 guests, CNN said on its website.

Free Trade Debate

King hosted a 1993 debate between Vice President Al Gore and Ross Perot on the North American Free Trade Agreement that was seen by 16.3 million viewers, a record for cable TV until a New England Patriots-Baltimore Ravens NFL game in 2007, Adgate said.

“King has transformed himself into a household name,” California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a statement, proclaiming “Larry King Day.”

King announced on July 14 that he would end his show. He has said he intends to do specials for CNN and is also serving as the spokesman for the Brooklyn Water Bagel Co.

Seacrest, who hosts “American Idol” and a morning radio show, said he and King are in discussing a joint venture about which he didn’t elaborate.

Morgan was named King’s replacement in September. CNN said it will run best-of Larry King episodes through year-end, and Anderson Cooper will add an hour to his nightly show until “Piers Morgan Tonight” begins.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ronald Grover in Los Angeles at rgrover5@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Palazzo at apalazzo@bloomberg.net

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