THE TROUBLE WITH LARRY
By MICHAEL STARRDecember 19, 2006 -- WHEN Larry King re tires, he won't be re placed, a high-ranking CNN exec says.
"It's my hope that Larry works for another 10 years," said Jim Walton, president of CNN Worldwide and one of the top men at the news network.
"You can't" replace King, Walton told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Then he dropped a bombshell that was still reverberating throughout the TV industry yesterday.
"It's probably very unlikely that when Larry does retire that we would replace him," Walton said.
King's spot is one of the most sought-after jobs in all of TV news.
Rumors and speculation about his replacement have been circulating for years.
The latest name mentioned was Diane Sawyer, who appears to be ready to leave the morning TV grind and would - at least theoretically - fit well on a nightly interview show.
Bob Costas was thought for a while to be intertested in the job. Even "American Idol" host Ryan Seacrest's name has come up.
In fact, says the CNN exec, the format of the King show - 60 minutes of celebrity and newsmaker interviews - might be scrapped altogether.
"We likely would try to find something new," Walton said. He did not specify what that "something new" would be.
"Larry King Live" is CNN's top-rated show, regularly drawing over 1 million viewers and A-list guests - at least in part because King is not known for tough questioning.
Rumors that CNN was planning King's departure circulated earlier this year - and were quickly shot down.
"We'd have to be even crazier than people think TV executives are to even think about moving a legend like Larry out of his timeslot," Jon Klein, president of CNN U.S., said last March.
Still, King is seen inside the network as the symbol of the old CNN, a throwback to a time when the cable news channel had no competition to speak of and all the time in the world to fill.
But in the last five years, CNN has been surpassed in the ratings by Fox News Channel and King himself cannot match the 3 million viewers a night who tune in to his rival, Bill O'Reilly.
That does not mean that King has lost his clout.
His nightly show is still the first stop for people in the news who want to get their stories out - from booted Star Jones to disgraced author James Frey to, earlier this month, the fiancee of Queens cop-shooting victim Sean Bell.
King, 73, is signed with CNN through 2009 in a deal paying him about $7 million a year.
Asked to comment, King issued a prepared statement that suggested whatever plans CNN has will have to wait.
"I'm about to hit my 50th anniversary [next May] and we're already planning my 75th anniversary," King told The Post.
"I have never been happier than where I am now, and I've never felt better."