Larry King drew 2.24 million viewers for his send-off last night, posting a rare time slot victory for his departing primetime talk show. King barely edged the 9 PM’s dominant player, Fox News Channel’s Hannity (2.16 million) in total viewers, but Hannity prevailed in the adults 25-54 demographic (543,000 vs. 530,000 for King). MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow (874,000, 252,000 in 25-54) was third. King’s finale audiCNN Ratings, TV, Cable TVence more than tripled the 700,000 viewers he had been averaging this year. His ratings built throughout the final week with 458,000 total viewers on Monday, 587,000 on Tuesday and 935,000 for his penultimate episode featuring Barbra Streisand.
UPDATE 3PM: I’ve learned more about how CNN’s deal with Piers Morgan transpired. Despite the fact that speculation about Morgan replacing Larry King had been dragging on all summer, it actually took about two weeks to negotiate his deal, two weeks from the moment CNN made the offer to the moment it was done.
But of course there was a lot of groundwork to be laid out before CNN was allowed to make an offer, primarily concerning Morgan’s obligation to NBC’s America’s Got Talent where he serves as a judge. I hear for NBC the main issues were scheduling, as Morgan will have to juggle filming for both shows, as well as competition, as Morgan’s CNN show will air at 9 PM, going against NBC’s primetime, and on occasion during the summer he will go against himself on Talent. With some understanding from NBC brass and the Talent producers, Simon Cowell and FremantleMedia, as well as a new 3-year deal Morgan inked with NBC to continue as a judge on the reality series, that hurdle was overcome. And despite some speculation, the pact doesn’t involve Morgan doing additional duties for NBC. And as if getting two congloms, NBC Universal and CNN parent Time Warner, to work together on the deal was not enough, there was another factor that put negotiations on hold for awhile, Morgan’s late June wedding.
Morgan’s Talent boss and longtime friend Simon Cowell, of course, helped him get the blessing of the show’s producers to go to CNN. But I hear Cowell’s impact might have been much bigger; he was the reason Morgan pursued the gig in the first place. Morgan has interviewed Cowell, including on his British talk show Life Stories early this year. I hear Cowell told Morgan at the end of last year: “You are a good judge but you’re a much better interviewer.”
For someone who has been the face of the network for the past 25 years, you’d think CNN would have handled the departure of veteran Larry King with a little bit more dignity and respect. But a series of CNN blunders have surrounded both King’s exit from his talk show and the search for his successor. First, the network started feeling out potential replacements long before King announced on June 29th that he would be leaving the show in November. In theory, that’s not a bad idea — Larry King Live had been the cornerstone of CNN’s primetime lineup, and management had to secure a strong successor in the 9 PM slot before it let King step down. But it was also a very risky strategy as proven by the June 12th leaks in UK papers that America’ Got Talent judge Piers Morgan, a Brit, was finalizing a deal to replace King. It was a blow to Larry, who had just celebrated his 25th anniversary at CNN and deserved a proper send-off.
But there was more humiliation in store for the veteran talk-show host. Instead of organizing the announcement of King’s exit in the two weeks following the first wave of Piers Morgan/CNN stories, the network waited until June 29th, the day the Q2 ratings come out. CNN knew they wouldn’t be pretty: King already …