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Larry King’s heir apparent

CNN is mum on who will succeed at yakker

ATLANTA, HELLO

CNN execs remain tight-lipped as “Who’s Going to Replace Larry King?” has temporarily replaced the long-running “Who’s Going to Replace Simon Cowell?” as TV’s favorite parlor game. (Get ready for “Who’s Going to Replace Steve Carell?” — coming next spring).

It’s not an easy decision for CNN. The choice to replace King will have to be as comfortable interviewing politicians as they are interviewing hip-hop stars or ordinary folks who have been thrust into extraordinary situations.

King has thrown his support behind Ryan Seacrest, who could add King to the list of notables (Casey Kasem, Dick Clark, Rick Dees) he’s replaced on TV and radio. Joy Behar, who has grown her audience on CNN sister HLN, appears to be another front-runner.

And the British tabloids are convinced that Piers Morgan hasalready snapped on King’s signature suspenders.

But so far, CNN’s not commenting — well, sort of.

As the net continues to refuse to say anything officially, CNN U.S. prexy Jon Klein appears to be slowly telling the world who it isn’t going to be.

LONDON, HELLO

According to an email exchange between Klein and TV trade pub Broadcasting & Cable, it’s looking like all that noise about Morgan (much of it coming from the U.K.) is unfounded.

“We have never negotiated with Piers,” which, in the twilight zone of corporate PR speak, doesn’t necessarily rule out CNN negotiating with Morgan in the future. But Klein’s willingness to make that statement suggests that Morgan is truly a longshot — and not the shoo-in that those Brit tabloids have suggested.

(Later, Klein also told online journal Mediaite, when posed a hypothetical scenario regarding Morgan, that “it’s such a big ‘if’ it’s not worth talking about.”)

Morgan has the chops: He hosted interview shows in the U.K. And he’s turning into a known commodity in the U.S., having served as a judge on “America’s Got Talent” and as winner of “Celebrity Apprentice.”

On the flip side, Morgan’s journo career ended with a black eye: The news and entertainment personality was fired for ethics breaches from notorious tabloid the Mirror.

NEW YORK, HELLO

Among the frontrunners, “The View’s” Behar, who moonlights as a host for CNN sister HLN, might make for an easy transition. Behar’s already a part of the organization and familiar to viewers.

In the second quarter of 2010, “The Joy Behar Show” was up 39% among total viewers, and in June was up 23% with target adults 25-54 aud.

Moving Behar to CNN would be a blow to HLN’s more femme-centric lineup, however. And her lengthy stint at ABC’s “The View” is seen as polarizing by some. It’s also unclear whether Behar would still be able to juggle both “View” and the King gig if she slid from the current HLN into the higher-profile CNN 9 p.m. slot.

LOS ANGELES, HELLO

Don’t discount Seacrest. The “American Idol” host doesn’t have the news-interviewing experience, but King didn’t come from the journalism world either, and still eventually interviewed top newsmakers. Seacrest, like King, got his start on the radio.

As the King job becomes available, Seacrest has already made much noise about altering his job mix, and with his deal with Clear Channel up, he may be plotting a move out of morning drivetime radio.

“I’d have Ryan Seacrest do it,” King himself told CBS News shortly after announcing his decision to end “Larry King Live” in the fall.

Seacrest has admitted that he’d be interested in the gig. He made a point of telling Forbes that he stays current on news.

“What (King) does is a radio show on television with newsmakers,” Seacrest told the magazine for its “Celebrity 100” issue. “It’s a great show and a format that’s comfortable.”

Seacrest would come to CNN with a Rolodex bursting with a who’s who in pop culture. (In other words, the next time Lady Gaga did something ridiculous, Seacrest could easily grab her first.) He’d also perhaps age the 9 p.m. hour down for CNN, as his show would presumably be more entertainment than news-driven.

CNN, however, prides itself on being the network most focused on news. That’s why “CBS Evening News” anchor Katie Couric would have been a great choice, but Couric reportedly turned the gig down in order to remain with the Eye (her contract expires next year).

Others in the media have floated Anderson Cooper, perhaps just for kicks.

CNN could always end up going with the unexpected for the slot, just as it has done with former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who will debate the day’s issues opposite conservative columnist Kathleen Parker in a new 8 p.m. roundtable debate show bowing in the fall.

NATE ‘N AL’S, HELLO

Meanwhile, if you want to know what King thinks of the battle to fill his shoes, head down to the famed Beverly Hills deli this morning.

One thing’s for certain: Even after King ends his nightly show, the format will live on.

“We will continue to do a provocative, topical, intelligent newsmaker interview show every night,” Klein told the Associated Press. “But the format and the style is going to depend a lot on the host — their interests, their style, their approach. Step one is get a host and build the show around them.”

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