It’s official: After 25 years as a staple of CNN’s primetime, Larry King is hanging up his suspenders.
His exit, which has been expected for some time, puts speculation on his replacement — already a hot topic in news circles — into overdrive.
Among the names most frequently mentioned: “America’s Got Talent” judge Piers Morgan, who’s already been anointed King’s successor by the British press.
Also cited is Ryan Seacrest, who has been a substitute on the show, and whose radio contract with Clear Channel is up. He is rumored to be considering giving up his morning show, which would leave more time for a CNN show.
Then there’s the possibility of Katie Couric, although she’s seen as a longshot. Her CBS contract is up next year, but insiders are betting she remains anchor of the “CBS Evening News.”
In regards to King’s replacement, CNN said in a statement: “Today is about Larry. We will announce plans for the 9 p.m. hour in the weeks ahead.”
King announced his exit via Twitter. Timing of the announcement was a surprise, but the news wasn’t. As King celebrates his 25th year at CNN, it was widely believed the cabler and the host were ready to phase out his nightly duties, particularly as ratings for “Larry King Live” declined.
“Larry King Live” once regularly attracted more than a million viewers; this year, the telecast has clocked in at closer to 700,000. The show was down 43% in the first quarter of 2010, averaging its smallest audience to date.
News for “Larry King Live” was slightly better in June, growing by 28% in the key 25-54 demo thanks to interviews with newsmakers like Lady Gaga.
But a recent star-studded telethon to help support efforts in the Gulf attracted just 600,000 viewers.
Opening his show Tuesday night, King said CNN “graciously accepted” his move to end the show this fall, “giving me more time for my wife and I to get to the kids’ Little League games.”
King said he’ll continue to host regular specials on “major national and international subjects.”
“I’m incredibly proud that we recently made the Guinness Book of World Records for having the longest running show with the same host in the same timeslot,” King said. “With this chapter closing I’m looking forward to the future and what my next chapter will bring, but for now it’s time to hang up my nightly suspenders.”
CNN U.S. topper Jon Klein said King had been “a giant in the industry for as long as most of us can remember.”
“Anyone who ever mattered has sat for an interview on Larry’s iconic set,” Klein wrote in a memo to staffers. “They all know the man it is our privilege to call our colleague and friend — tireless and curious, respectful and inquisitive, caring, generous, influential, a citizen of the world.
“We will celebrate his tenure in proper fashion over the coming months.”
In a statement, CNN noted that King had conducted nearly 50,000 interviews during his 50-plus years in broadcasting.
“Just as CNN redefined the news business, Larry King defined the art of the television interview. His candor, curiosity and compassion are legendary, and his ability to interview people from all walks of life — world leaders, celebrities and everyday people — has made him an icon,” the network said. “We are proud and grateful that Larry will continue the next chapter of his storied career at CNN.”