Television legend Larry King has a new political talk show, and a new boss.
The Kremlin-funded English-language network RT, formerly known as Russia Today, announced today that it has agreed to air Mr. King's four-times-weekly online public affairs program "Larry King Now," starting in June. The station will also stage a "mold-breaking" new show, "Politics with Larry King," all to be shown on its US affiliate, RT-America.
According to the RT statement, King will mainly focus on US politics, and King will interview leading political personalities, ranging from officials to critics of American foreign and domestic policies.
"Whether a president or an activist or a rock star was sitting across from him, Larry King never shied away from asking the tough questions, which makes him a terrific fit for our network," RT’s Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan is quoted as saying.
King, who has spent 56 years in broadcast journalism and conducted over 50,000 interviews, is the biggest name yet to join the extremely well-funded RT network, which claims to reach over 630 million viewers worldwide through its various English, Spanish, and Arabic language channels.
"I have always been passionate about government and issues that impact the public, and I’m thrilled at the opportunity to talk politics with some of the most influential people in Washington and around the country," the RT statement quoted King as saying.
Ms. Simonyan refused Wednesday to discuss with journalists the terms of King's RT contract, saying that it's standard practice not to reveal financial details without the agreement of both parties.
Last year the network signed WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to do a series of political talk shows with major world newsmakers, which included interviews with Hezbollah leader Sayyid Nasrallah, US radical thinker Noam Chomsky, and Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa.
Since it was founded by the Kremlin in 2005, RT has expanded far beyond its original mandate to correct "misconceptions" about Russia around the world and moved to more aggressive "alternative" coverage of politics in the US, Britain, and other Western countries, where it has gained a wide following. The station claims to have 2 million viewers in Britain, and to have become one of the most widely watched foreign stations in several parts of the US, where it is carried by cable networks.
The network's changing focus, from explaining Russia to the world to mainly hosting critical content about the US and other Western countries, is the subject of a recent in-depth profile of RT by British journalist Oliver Bullough. "Deep into his 14th year in power, [President Vladimir Putin] appears to have given up on improving Russia. Instead, he funds RT to persuade everyone else that their own countries are no better," Mr. Bullough concludes.
There is little transparency about the financing of RT, which comes mainly through the Russian federal budget. But some Russian media have reported that RT's annual funding comes to around $300 million, and that last year Mr. Putin personally ordered his government not to slash financing for the station.
King left CNN in 2010 after 25 years of hosting his signature talk show, "Larry King Live." He's since broadcast about 150 episodes of his online program, produced by Ora.TV, which will now be taken up and broadcast 4 times weekly by RT. It's not clear how the all-new RT program "Politics with Larry King" will differ, but most experts believe it will be well-funded and calculated to showcase RT's growing clout on the global media landscape.
"Russia Today [RT] is making a concerted effort to raise its profile, and it's going about it in a pretty smart way," says Nikolai Svanidze, a famous Russian TV anchorman, journalist and historian.
"Larry King may not be a spring chicken, but he's still a famous name who will add luster to RT's content and attract viewers in the West. Of course, we all know that RT has the money to do this," he adds.