The return of Arsenio Hall

34178Bethenny, The Test also make their debuts in syndication today

When Arsenio Hall debuted his late-night show in syndication on January 3, 1989, consider this: Johnny Carson was still the king of late-night at NBC; David Letterman still appealed to a cult audience; CBS was about to debut Pat Sajak as a late night talk show host; and ABC and Cable TV weren’t in the daypart at all.

In syndication, Star Trek: The Next Generation was in its second season, while Small Wonder and The Hollywood Squares (with John Davidson) were still on the air. And Family Feud had a different host (the late Ray Combs, and there were many more hosts since.)

And Arsenio Hall was fist-pumping way before the cast of Jersey Shore did.

Tonight, Hall returns to the daypart that made him famous in a comeback attempt – in an environment far different than he was in on May 27, 1994, the last show he hosted.

Since his departure, late night talkers such as Stephanie Miller, “Vibe”, Keenan Ivory Wayans, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, George Lopez, and Monique have come and gone. Craig Kilbourn wore out his welcome on two shows. ABC got back into the late-night business with Jimmy Kimmel in 2003. Jay Leno left the daypart for prime-time and magically returned. Conan O’Brien gained The Tonight Show gig but lost it back to Leno after seven months in a public spat with NBC and moved to cable.  Joining him on the cord crew were Stephen Colbert, Chelsea Handler, and Andy Cohen.

Even Byron Allen returned to late-night with a show (Comics Unleashed.)

Yep, this is what Arsenio Hall is facing in 2013 as he returns to late-night – a radically changed landscape – with fewer viewers in the daypart than the last time he was around (rising HUT levels in early morning, thus morning news expansion), and a more fragmented landscape. The business has changed as well – Hall’s old distributor (Paramount Domestic Television) closed on December 31, 2005 after owner Viacom split into two companies – with the syndication assets becoming the property of CBS Corporation (whose CBS Television Distribution is syndicating Hall’s latest effort.) The original launch group for Hall’s show (Chris-Craft/United television) was sold to Fox in 2001 after the FCC relaxed station ownership rules.

In fact, Paramount’s “replacement” for The Arsenio Hall Show in the fall of 1994 (The Jon Stewart Show) was canceled on June 24, 1995 – and he became the host of The Daily Show on January 3, 1999, replacing Craig Kilbourn.

This time around, Arsenio has a better clearance in Chicago on WGN-TV at 10 p.m. than he ever had with his old show; the original Arsenio was cleared on CBS-owned WBBM-TV and never aired earlier than 11 p.m. Plus, his show is airing on stations who recently aired off-network sitcoms for the most part – something that could help draw in more advertisers and revenue if successful. Clearances are mainly on Tribune, Sinclair, and CBS-owned stations who aren’t CBS affiliates. In all, Arsenio’s new show is airing on at least 200 stations.

The return of The Arsenio Hall Show is one of three new shows debuting in syndication today, as the other two were daytime entries: Warner Bros. Bethenny, and CTD’s lie-detector show The Test. Also, Twentieth Television debuts Cops Reloaded, reformatting the off-network version of the long-running Fox series.

Can Arsenio recapture the magic that made him a household name in the early 1990’s? Time will tell.

Did You Know? Since Arsenio left in 1994, his old Stage 29 at Paramount Studios has been occupied by talk shows hosted by Marilu Henner, Stephanie Miller, and its current occupant, Dr. Phil McGraw.