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'Arsenio Hall Show' Given Pink Slip After Low Ratings : Television: Some network affiliates swung away from syndicated program when David Letterman joined CBS.

April 19, 1994|JOHN LIPPMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"The Arsenio Hall Show," once defined as the new model for late-night television, will end production May 27, a victim of declining ratings and an overcrowded talk-show field.

The cancellation comes only weeks after the show's producer, Paramount Domestic Television Distribution, vowed that the show was not in trouble.

In recent weeks, the show had been dogged by rumors that the lower ratings were making it increasingly difficult for producers to book guests. In addition, Hall suffered a backlash for providing an unchallenged forum for controversial Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

The 6-year-old syndicated talk show made Hall a household name and brought him considerable renown--including a 1989 Time magazine cover story that trumpeted Hall as "TV's hip host" who "grabs the post-Carson generation." It also brought Hall considerable fortune; in the show's peak year, he was said to earn more than $20 million.

But the highly competitive late-night talk-show environment of the last couple of years changed even faster than it took for Hall's show to become a hit.

When the show was first launched in 1989, Paramount purposefully went after several key CBS affiliates who were unhappy with their own network's poor record in late-night. Those affiliates gave "The Arsenio Hall Show" valuable placements in late-night time periods on local TV channels.

But after snatching David Letterman away from NBC last year, CBS won back many of its affiliates who were carrying "The Arsenio Hall Show." Partly as a result, the number of stations carrying the Hall show dropped to 160 from 184.

Hall had been in negotiations for a new contract. In a statement, he said those negotiations and his sentiments toward the show and its staff "made this the most complicated decision of my life . . . but everything must change, and it's time."

Although "The Arsenio Hall Show" continued to attract a young audience--President Clinton played his saxophone on the show, one of the indelible images of the 1992 Presidential campaign--and was still the place to watch up-and-coming stars frequently overlooked by David Letterman and Jay Leno, the show's ratings nonetheless slid 24% last year.

Paramount said Hall will develop film and TV projects at the studio, but it gave no indication of its long-term plans for replacing Hall. It said reruns of the show will air until September.

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