King keeps CNN crown

Cabler keeps 'Live' alive through '09

CNN has inked a contract extension with Larry King, keeping the iconic interviewer at the news net through 2009.

Deal is worth close to $7 million a year, Daily Variety has learned, and assures the immediate future of “Larry King Live” while quelling speculation that King’s sometimes stand-in Nancy Grace is being groomed as his replacement.

“I’ve had a great relationship with CNN. It’s my family,” said King. “I’m looking forward to many more years with the network.”

Created in 1985, “Larry King Live” was the first international call-in talkshow, and it remains CNN’s highest-rated offering in primetime, averaging more than a million viewers in February.

King, 71, has interviewed every U.S. president since the Ford administration. His famed NAFTA debate between Al Gore and Ross Perot in 1993 broke a cable ratings record with more than 16.3 million viewers. He’s played himself in cameo appearances in 21 films.

“Larry King is in a class by himself — no one has delivered more influential interviews over the last 20 years, and we look forward to his next 20,” said CNN U.S. prexy Jon Klein.

More recently, his show has provided ratings stability for the news net, which has struggled to hit the right note in primetime. He goes up against Fox News’ “Hannity & Colmes,” which averaged 1.6 million viewers in February.

But King’s style has become distinct in a media environment populated with partisan commentators. King was least likely to offer a personal opinion on the air among cable TV hosts, according to a recent study published by the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

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