To the surprise of some since it was renewed for a second season (but not others), CBS Television Distribution canceled The Arsenio Hall Show Friday after nine months on the air, official ending his comeback attempt – twenty years after he departed his original show. This comes after several station groups belonging to Tribune, Sinclair, and LIN were getting ready to downgrade the show to later time periods, where HUT levels are lower.
WPIX in New York recently bumped Arsenio to 11:30 p.m. from its original 11 p.m. time slot, moving Seinfeld reruns in its place.
The cancellation takes effect immediately; the show was in reruns this week. Now, Arsenio will stay in reruns until it goes off the air for good on Sept. 5. The last original segment aired on May 21, the final night of the May sweeps.
In Chicago, Arsenio airs on Tribune-owned flagship WGN-TV at 10 p.m. No replacement was immediately announced, though one possibility is off-network sitcom The Middle, which is losing its 4 p.m. time slot this fall to accommodate another WGN news expansion.
The news comes despite CTD publicly renewing Arsenio for a second season in February, even bringing out Jay Leno to announce the news on his show.
But it was clear that stations had the last say in whether or not Arsenio would stick around, and they were not happy. After debuting to strong numbers in its first week (1.5 HH rating, 1.0 in adults 18-49), Arsenio declined significantly and never recovered. Through most of the season, Arsenio hovered around a 0.7 household rating, showing almost no growth.
Among adults 18-49, Arsenio only drew a 0.3 rating, behind the network late-night shows and even cable’s The Daily Show and The Colbert Report and Family Guy reruns on Adult Swim.
The cancellation also ends CTD’s relationship with Tribune, at least when it comes to co-producing shows. Earlier, CBS and Tribune pulled the plug on daytime talker The Test after one season. Tribune had an equity stake in both shows and each debuted on the same day (Sept. 9)
So, what went wrong?
It’s pretty simple – with a 0.3 rating, Hall’s show was not able to connect to a generation of younger viewers like he did during his 1989-94 heyday. Another problem was the lack of A-list guests the show was unable to attract. Even competing Queen Latifah’s show – in daytime no less – had a easier time booking more well-known guests.
Another problem were the skits – many of them, especially early in the revival’s run, were not funny. Arsenio then started booking reality show guests from Real Housewives of Atlanta and Basketball Wives – “celebrities” most viewers who never watched those shows didn’t care about. Hey Arsenio, not everyone shares your love of reality TV (outside of Survivor, yours truly steers clear of the genre.) Plus, showing clips of those puke shows was an open invitation to turn the dial.
Even worse, much of Hall’s material centered on dated race jokes – and it was dreadful. For example, a recent sketch titled The Arsenio Hall Television Exchange Program, exploiting TV’s racial divide (which actually is less pronounced now than it was in the ’90s when UPN and The WB were around.) It featured two races of people who never watched a TV show – one white and one black (I guess they forgot Asians, Hispanics, and mixed-race people existed.)
The skits were like joking about how black people don’t listen to WGN Radio or The Loop or how white people have no rhythm. These jokes weren’t even funny in 1985. The segment was easily the worst piece of television to air this year.
And it appeared Hall’s interviewing skills had not improved from his last late-night effort. It was no doubt, a fawnfest.
But the main reason Arsenio didn’t succeed was too much competition from other late-night shows, notably on the broadcast networks and on cable where it is a crowded field.
A local late-night effort from Michael Essany called Seven On Ridge in 2012 suffered from some of the same problems Arsenio did, with his Gary, Ind.- produced show lasting just a month on the air (though a clearance on a little-watched Chicago station didn’t exactly help its cause.)
What’s next for stations
The news of Arsenio’s demise may be good news for off-network sitcoms – series such as Raising Hope and Mike & Molly are available to air this fall and 2 Broke Girls in 2015 to help fill vacancies left by Arsenio. This would also make it easier for syndicators to sell off-net sitcoms such as New Girl, which has yet to come to market. But what we won’t see is another first-run syndicated show exclusively targeted for late night, at least for now.
In addition to The Test, the 2013-14 syndication season has been littered with cancellations including talk shows hosted by Trisha Goodard, Katie Couric, Bethenny Frankel (whose show actually drew more viewers than Arsenio did on average), and now Arsenio Hall.