By Brian Steinberg
A news King and Sir Charles are getting ready to mix it up in an unorthodox way.
Gayle King and Charles Barkley are finalizing a deal that would have them jointly lead a primetime hour each week on CNN, according to people familiar with the matter. The pact is not complete and there is always the risk it may not come to fruition, one of these people says. CNN declined to make executives available for comment.
The Wall Street Journal previously reported that a deal involving King was nearing completion, but it has been an open secret in TV-news circles that CNN has been courting both personalities — and others like them — for some time. Puck reported on negotiations with both King and Barkley earlier this year.
CBS News declined to offer immediate comment on expectations it had for King, who is also the center of its “CBS Mornings” on weekdays — a critical generator of ad dolls for the Paramount Global news-and-stations division. A spokesperson for Warner Bros. Discovery Sports, which has relied on Barkley for years as a host of its popular “Inside the NBA,” could not be reached for immediate comment. Warner Bros. Discovery also owns CNN.
The move, if completed, would come as CNN grapples with a severe downturn in viewership as well as a massive overhaul that has in recent months included layoffs and a significant recalibration of its programming. Under CEO Chris Licht, CNN has devoted its 9 p.m. hour to a rotating array of topics and anchors, sometimes presented in the form of town halls, and on other days, in one-on-one interviews with celebrities.
Enlisting King and Barkley could give CNN something approximating one of its best-known success stories: “Larry King Live.” That program, which ran on CNN at 9 p.m. from 1985 to 2010, featured the titular host holding forth in an interview every night with a newsmaker or celebrity, often in less rigorous fashion than a hard-charging traditional journalist. At its height, the show could generate viewership of around one million.
The new CNN program with King and Barkley appears to be coming together just weeks before the TV industry’s annual “upfront” sales session, when U.S. media companies try to sell billions of dollars in advertising ahead of their next cycle of new programming. A King and Barkley duo would certainly give CNN and its corporate parent something to talk about with Madison Avenue.