Who’s news and who’s not tonight

A machine of bookers drives the guest list

Now does Larry King land such hot gets night after night? Not just media-savvy, albeit choosy, celebrities like Angelina Jolie, George Clooney, Chris Rock or Jennifer Aniston, but the newsmakers, survivors and next-of-kin-of-the-day, sometimes having just left the site of the breaking news?

King’s accomplished big-get machine, a staff of 10 world-class bookers, is driven by Wendy Walker, King’s senior executive producer of 14 years.

“We compete with everybody,” says Walker. “We compete with the afternoon shows like Oprah. We compete with the morning shows to get it the night before. We compete with “Dateline.” We compete with the Sunday shows. If there’s someone out there who you want, you have to look at all angles. You can’t just rely on calling one person. You have to find out who their friends are. And try to figure out what information they need to know in order to pick you.”

According to Walker, one of the big booking no-nos is to put down the competing shows: “I think it always hurts if you say, ‘Don’t do them. Do us.’ What we try to emphasize is why you should do Larry. He’s very fair, and he doesn’t have an agenda. He has a wide palette. He approaches every interview exactly the same. He has the ability to go from a head of state to a watercooler story.”

There is no typical day for King’s bookers. It’s a seven-day-a-week job. Up-to-the-minute news always takes priority. “Larry is great during breaking news,” Walker says. “He loves the adrenaline, the rock-and-rolling. It’s 2 p.m. as I am talking right now. If something happened, we could change the program pretty much until the show … and even during the show.”

Walker recalls the time she had the cast of “Queer as Folk” in remote studios all over the country: “There were like seven people ready to go. And I got a call. It must have been 10 minutes to airtime. The police were about to go down and arrest William Blake. I changed the entire show right then. We got Blake’s lawyer on the phone as he was driving to wherever Blake was, and that’s how we started — with a phoner. We started booking and continued to book during the show.”

Surprisingly, it’s not always necessary to run the booking by King first.

“We just get on it immediately, but Larry and I talk a billion times a day,” Walker says. “I know where he is at 8:30 a.m. I know where he is at 9 a.m. There have been many, many times when I’ll call the house at 7 a.m. and say, ‘This happened overnight’. When he says, ‘You know who I’d like to get?,’ usually, I can say, ‘We’ve already got the calls in.’ It’s like a sixth sense.”

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