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Why The Arsenio Hall Show Was Canceled

Arsenio Hall

Arsenio Hall was supposed to spend the week of June 2 in New York City, touting the upcoming second season of his late-night talk show on The View, Howard Stern’s SiriusXM radio show and Late Show with David Letterman. Instead, he was in Los Angeles, packing up boxes, bidding adieu to his staff and sharing via social media his disappointment over his show’s cancellation. “I dreamed that they picked up my show for Season 2, then changed their minds and canceled the show,” he tweeted to Magic Johnson. “Had to be a dream.” Indeed, despite renewing The Arsenio Hall Show in February, CBS Television Distribution surprised Hall and his staff at the end of May by reversing course and canceling the show.

Arsenio was on a scheduled break when the decision came down, which means Hall didn’t get a chance to produce a farewell show. “Most of my team went on vacation after celebrating our 2nd year pick up…and returned to cancellation,” he tweeted. Fans were dismayed, and Hall’s exit strikes a blow for diversity in late night. “In my five years in the cast of a network comedy, Arsenio Hall and George Lopez were the only late night talk shows couches I was welcomed to,” Community star Yvette Nicole Brown tweeted. What happened?

1. Arsenio was losing its time slots. Tribune Broadcasting was a partner in the show, but when even its flagship New York station, WPIX, moved Arsenio from 11 to 11:30, it was clear others would follow. The real blow came when CBS got word that one of the nation’s largest local station operators, Sinclair Broadcast Group, was set to downgrade Arsenio out of the 11pm—midnight period. Insiders say CBS then crunched the numbers and realized advertising revenue would take a huge hit.

2. The audience just wasn’t there. After opening strong, Arsenio dropped 60 percent in the key demo of viewers ages 18-49. “You can’t be the fourth choice out there,” a show insider says. CBS Television Distribution said in a statement, “While there are many loyal fans of the show, the series did not grow its audience enough to continue.”

3. It needed a new showrunner. Executive producer Neal Kendall exited soon after the show premiered and was never replaced; CBS executive Eric Pankowski ran things in the interim. The studio had planned to hire a showrunner with a strong comedy background, but execs opted not to spend the money necessary to bring in a new production team.

4. It was struggling creatively. Insiders always believed it would take at least a year for Hall to get comfortable. Arsenio made big waves with such episodes as the one devoted to Prince, but it struggled to book other big-name guests.

5. Failure is the nature of syndication. Syndicated shows are subject to the whims of stations that want quick results and have itchy trigger fingers. (WPIX wasted no time replacing Arsenio with Seinfeld repeats.) There’s a reason there hasn’t been a major syndicated late-night talk show in years. In a bit of irony, the most recent one that worked was the original Arsenio Hall Show, which was squeezed off the air in 1994, more than five years after its history-making launch. John Ferriter, Hall’s current executive producer, tells us he’s talking to Hall about what the host would like to do next, including whether to pursue a new home for his show. But for now, the Dog Pound is closed.

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