There are more important things in life than hosting a talk show, Gayle King decided long ago. Which is why she originally turned down an offer to headline her own.

A year ago, executives at Eyemark Entertainment - the syndication arm of CBS - was looking for a companion show to schedule with "Martha Stewart Living." And they came knocking on King's door.She was a natural choice. Not only is she a veteran TV newswoman, not only is she smart and funny and glib, not only is her style somewhat reminiscent of Oprah Winfrey's - but she's also Oprah's best friend.

But she wasn't interested in leaving her job as the co-anchor of the 5:30 p.m. news at station WFSB in Hartford, Conn.

"I said, `Thanks, but no thanks,' " King said in a recent telephone interview. "I'm divorced, and it's important to me that my two children see their dad as often as possible. He's here, and I won't leave for that reason."

But the folks at Eyemark wanted King badly enough that they were willing to accomodate her. "The Gayle King Show" tapes in a studio built right next door to the WSVB studio.

"It's exactly 169 steps - my 10-year-old son counted," King said with a laugh.

As it turns out, however, even staying in Hartford didn't make doing a daily talk show easy. As she's chatting on the phone, she's fighting the flu, complete with an earache and a fever.

And her schedule isn't easy. On talk-show taping days, King actually does two of the half-hour programs - one at 10:30 a.m. and one at 1:30 p.m. By 3:30 p.m., she has to be next door to get ready for the 5:30 p.m. newscast.

"On paper it looked do-able," King said. "But you never know what's going to happen - a plane is late, there are technical problems. Nothing runs according to schedule so my days are a blur."

Even having Oprah Winfrey for a best friend didn't completely prepare King for what life as a talk-show host would be like.

"It's always different when you do it yourself," she said. "Now I understand just how hard it is and just how hard she works. I had no idea.

"She's so good she makes it look easy."

And it isn't just the schedule that makes doing a five-days-a-week talk show difficult.

"The hardest part is coming up with good ideas. And when you have a great one and the show goes the way you want it to, you can't even savor it because you have to come up with another good idea," King said.

And a lot of ideas that come her way are rejected by King and her staff. You aren't going to see any fistfights breaking out or shows about lesbian strippers on "The Gayle King Show."

"Spectacle television doesn't work for me. I'm just not interested," she said. "My hat's off to you if you can do that and make it work. It's a big enough pie out there for all of us."

Instead, her show tends to deal with topics like relationships, child-rearing, pets and fashion.

"I hate that `news you can use' cliche, but we found that for us it works," King said. "Everything's been done before. The challenge in a talk show - especially being the new kid - is doing things in a way that viewers end up saying, `Hey, I didn't know about that.'

"And I want to have fun and make the show fun for viewers. I'm a fun girl - I love to laugh and have a good time."

Which is what keeps her going despite the long hours and the struggle to gain viewers.

"I think that we're a work in progress, but I feel that we're getting there," King said. "We're getting a feel for the audience and we're trying to respect what they want to see. The audience decides and I'm very respectful of that."

And win, lose or draw, King is fully aware there are more important things in life than winning the talk-show wars.

"Nothing compares to being a parent," she said. "It wasn't until I had my own that I felt the tremendous amount of love and responsibility that goes with that. Ultimately, I am responsible for them, and that's more important than anything else I do.

This is, after all, a woman who turned down an opportunity to succeed Oprah. Winfrey suggested to King that she come to Chicago and start doing segments on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" to gain national exposure.

Then, if and when Winfrey decided to step down, King would step up and take over her show.

"Which was really nice of her to do," King said. "And it's not like Oprah has any plans to step down. She will wear the talk-show crown as long as she wants to.

"It was an incredible offer, except for my kids. Otherwise, I would have been gone yesterday."