Larry King, whose nightly CNN talk show was long a required stomping ground for striving politicians and contrite celebrities, announced Tuesday that he is going to step down from the program in the fall.

The 76-year-old will not be leaving CNN altogether: He signed a new contract to host quarterly specials on the cable news channel.

But his departure from prime time marks a major turning point for CNN, which has built its schedule around “Larry King Live” for 25 of the network’s 30 years on the air. This year, however, the program has seen a sharp fall-off in audience. An average of 677,000 viewers tuned in during the second quarter of 2010, down 37% from the same period last year, according to Nielsen.

In a nod to how much the medium has changed since King began broadcasting in 1957, he broke the news himself on Twitter, writing:  “Announcing tonight: I’m ending my nightly show this fall but continuing at CNN.”

King has long called himself an interviewer, not a journalist, logging more than 40,000 sit-downs with newsmakers since he began broadcasting in 1957, according to CNN.

It remains unclear who will replace him. CNN has not confirmed recent reports that it is in talks with Piers Morgan, a British journalist who judges NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.” CBS anchor Katie Couric’s name has been frequently floated as a possible successor, and King himself has volunteered that he thinks “American Idol” host Ryan Seacrest would be a worthy contender.

The end of King’s nightly show comes as CNN is working to refashion its low-rated prime-time schedule. Last week, the network announced a new roundtable show hosted by former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and conservative columnist Kathleen Parker will debut in the 8 p.m. ET time slot this fall, replacing the newscast anchored Campbell Brown. The hiring of Spitzer, who resigned from office after revelations that he solicited prostitutes, disappointed many CNN employees and drew external criticism that the network was abandoning its news mission.

King explained in a statement, which he linked on his Twitter page, that he asked his network to let him “hang up his suspenders.”

“Twenty-five years ago, I sat across this table from New York Governor Mario Cuomo for the first broadcast of Larry King Live. Now, decades later, I talked to the guys here at CNN and I told them I would like to end Larry King Live, the nightly show, this fall and CNN has graciously accepted, giving me more time for my wife and I to get to the kids’ little league games.”

Larry King Ending His CNN Show

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