In what amounts to an end-of-the-road obituary for CNN’s Larry King Live, and particularly the demise of King’s amiable, live-and-let-live, just-asking-questions style as a news-discussion host, N.Y. Times reporter Brian Stelter reports that “there is a growing feeling at [CNN] that a succession plan should be put in place.

“CNN executives will not say whether they will renew Mr. King’s contract when it ends next year” and “there is no evidence that CNN is actually preparing such a plan,” Stelter reports. “[But] King was noticeably absent during a presentation for advertisers last month, which heavily featured CNN stars like Anderson Cooper and Soledad O’Brien, but only fleetingly included Mr. King in a video clip.

Larry King Live is the last trace of an earlier age of cable TV, one that had little interest in the opinions of its hosts.

“‘They have this iconic personality who is going to disappear in the not-too-distant future, and they don’t have any clue what they’re going to do,’ one senior employee said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he did not have permission from the channel to speak publicly.

“Mr. King has shown no desire to retire, and he continues to work almost year-round, even coming in to host on weekends when news breaks.

“But Mr. King’s contract is up in June 2011, and there has long been speculation that the CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric could slide into his chair. Her contract is up in May 2011, and she sees CNN’s 9 pm time slot as a possible new job, according to four of her friends and colleagues.

“Next week will be Mr. King’s 25th year on CNN, but these are hard days for the host, and not just because he is being beaten in ratings and bookings.

“Although still the linchpin of CNN’s lineup, he has come to embody an enormous problem facing the cable news channel. How can he and CNN compete in prime time when viewers seem to crave partisan political programs and when prominent guests — the lifeblood of Mr. King’s show — would rather burnish their images on other channels?

So far, CNN cannot compete. Larry King Live is now struggling in the ratings, as is CNN as a whole. The ratings for the new John King, USA political show at 7 p.m. have been disappointing, and Campbell Brown announced last week that she was quitting her 8 p.m. show after concluding that her newscast could not compete with the bombastic opinion-oriented shows on Fox News and MSNBC.

“Ratings for Mr. King, 76, are about 20 percent better than those of Brown, but he ranks a distant third behind the conservative Sean Hannity on Fox and the liberal Ms. Maddow.”