Aaron Brown on King, Olbermann, O’Reilly, Himself

By Chris Ariens 

Gail Shister
TVNewser Columnist

CNN exile Aaron Brown likes Katie Couric, but he loves Larry King.

If, as is rumored, the embattled CBS anchor has any designs on King’s 9 p.m. real estate at CNN, Brown isn’t buying.

“I love Larry. If Larry wants to work at CNN until he’s 110, I’m there,” says Brown, named Monday as anchor of PBS’s weekly international affairs series, “Wide Angle.” Its seventh season launches July 1.

“Larry has paid his dues for a long time,” Brown says. “This is his moment. He should get to leave the stage any way he wants to leave the stage.”

It may take a crowbar to pry King off CNN’s stage. For starters, the network just extended his contract another two years to June, 2011.

And at 74, despite painful moments of cluelessness with even borderline-hip guests, King still draws some of CNN’s strongest numbers.

According to Brown, 59, erudite master of the long pause, he and King bonded on Brown’s his first day at CNN (on 9/11). He left in November 2005.

“Larry was always gracious and fun,” says Brown. “We’d meet for breakfast in Beverly Hills with his Brooklyn gang. I’d have dinner at his house in L.A. We’d meet in New York whenever he was there. His stories cracked me up.”

Brown has heard the whispers about King “being an old senile guy,” he says. Not true. “Everybody has good nights and bad nights. You can’t do 250 programs a year and go four-for-four in a week.

“I actually think his relationship with his audience is very simple, and more complex than anyone understands. Viewers see him as naturally curious and as the least judgmental person, ever. They just allow him to do his work. That gives him the freedom to ask anything.”

Speaking of freedom, Brown, who knows how to play the angles, has found a good one at PBS.

After collecting his $1.8 million-a-year CNN salary for not working from November 2005 until his contract expired last July, he wasn’t looking for a full-time gig.

With “Angle,” he’ll punch in from May to August in New York, where WNET produces the show. That grooves perfectly with his teaching at Arizona State, in Tempe.

“I didn’t want a big-deal, high-profile job,” he says. “I’m having too much fun in my life. I find the chapter I’m in to be almost perfect. With this show, I expect to do a fair amount of work for a short-ish period of time. It’s not a forever thing.”

The deal began last fall over lunch with WNET’s Neal Shapiro. “He asked if I’d be up for something if the right thing came along,” Brown recalls. It did.

Brown says he never felt like a real cable guy. That doesn’t exclude him from having opinions about it, thankfully.

His take on the battle at 8 p.m. between MSNBC and Fox News Channel, for example:

Keith Olbermann and Bill O’Reilly “are both larger-than-life figures,” he says, but Olbermann is “smarter, funnier, better read and eminently more talented.”

Welcome back, Aaron Brown.