Friday, April 13, 2007

Lookin' back with Larry King

Larry King Live - The Greatest Interviews: It's hard not to compare Larry King's new DVD set (out April 17) with Edward R. Murrow - The Best of Person to Person, which we reviewed just recently in this space in our review of "The Johnny Carson Show."
Both men were famous for one-on-one direct interviews with famous people, both in entertainment and politics.
The difference, however, is their style. Where Murrow was the consumnate journalist, with little emotion and dedicated to asking the questions that need to be asked, King has always been the neighborly guy who just wants to ask some questions, not all of them hard-nosed.
That's quite evident in this new three-disc set, celebrating King's 50 years in broadcasting, that features highlights from his CNN show. The names on the box really don't begin to cover all of it, since, unlike the Murrow and other sets, the discs aren't chaptered and the interviews, featuring over 300 celebrities from entertainment and politics, are all too brief moments with each one.
That's not to say that the helter-skelter format of the set doesn't work. Surprisingly, it does. On the first disc, Hollywood legends, there's everyone from Marlon Brando to Paul McCartney to Ringo Starr to Lauren Bacall to Bette Davis. Disc 2 features interviews with all the presidents from Nixon to George W., with most of the First Ladies also on board. That disc also includes coverage of various news events from 9/11 and the O.J. trial to the revealing of the identity of Watergate's Deep Throat. Disc 3 features entertainers, comedians and newscasters such as Oprah, Dan Rather, the cast of "Friends" and Regis Philbin.
It's too bad the set is weighted so heavily with entertainers. The political interviews on disc 2 are King really at his best. His moments with Ronald Reagan bring out the best of both men.
This set won't have the impact or staying power of the Murrow set (which is superb). King's relaxed charm (he reportedly does no preparation for interviews) makes him a welcome visitor in millions of American homes now, though. He's no Murrow. But King does get his guests to open up, even if, at times, he seems just a bit too friendly. Maybe it's because he's in the right place at the right time.
Or maybe he does what Murrow did -- ask the right questions.
SHORT TAKES: Two great Quinn Martin shows recently debuted on DVD and we recommend them highly. First is the classic The Untouchables - Season One, Vol. 1 with stone-faced Robert Stack superb as Elliot Ness. Adding to the atmosphere is the back-alley tones of newspaper columnist Walter Winchell as narrator. Also out is The Streets of San Francisco - Season 1, Vol. 1 in which veteran cop Karl Malden guided rookie cop (and rookie actor at the time) Michael Douglas. Both shows are well-acted and well-written. Well worth grabbing.

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