CNN’s Klein: “We’ve Never Negotiated with Piers”

Now that Larry King has officially announced his widely-anticipated retirement from nightly television, the clock is ticking for CNN to anoint his replacement. But CNN/U.S. president Jon Klein has already thrown cold water on the speculation surrounding one name in particular.

British TV personality and America’s Got Talent judge Piers Morgan raced to the top of a list of presumed candidates that includes Katie Couric and Ryan Seacrest  after British media reports had Morgan thisclose to signing a deal to replace King. The buzz gained amazing traction within CNN, with several insiders convinced the deal was already signed.

But in an email message to B&C, Klein completely disavowed the rumors, writing, “We never have negotiated with Piers.” He declined to elaborate in response to follow-up requests.

Asked by Mediaite’s Steve Krakauer if he was bothered by leaks from CNN staffers, Klein said: “It’s a big organization with a lot of moving parts. People can speculate away. Usually the people who don’t know …are doing the speculating. It’s a reflection on the place CNN holds in pop culture. A lot of people care what we’re doing.”

Last night, Keith Olbermann said, via Twitter, that King had lobbied CNN executives “for eight years” to hire Olbermann as King’s 8 p.m. lead-in.

Klein chalked that one up to one of King’s myriad, and ultimately, unrealistic ideas.

Couric’s friends and colleagues say she is not interested in replacing King; her experience on the third-ranked CBS Evening News having soured her on the challenge of turning around foundering ratings. 

 King himself threw Seacrest’s hat into the ring last night on Larry King Live, saying he’d like the American Idol host to replace him, “although I don’t know how he feels about politics,” said King.

Other reported scenarios have included moving Anderson Cooper to an earlier hour or recruiting Joy Behar from sister network HLN.

Klein said CNN would make an announcement about the 9 p.m. hour in “the weeks ahead.”

Whoever the name in that announcement is, here’s betting they won’t be able to keep their mouth shut.