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19 Years Later, 'Arsenio'Early Success Feels Timeless | @PaigeA

It’s a unique moment in television when peers and competitors alike agree, but syndicators and TV station executives last week all seemed equally surprised and pleased by the debut ratings of CBS Television Distribution’s The Arsenio Hall Show.

“When we did this deal a year and a half ago, we sat in a conference room—me, [CTD’s head of broadcast sales] Joe DiSalvo and some TV representatives—and we wrote down what we thought would be the best-case scenario, ratings-wise, for the premiere of this show. We wrote down our numbers and tucked them into our folders,” says Sean Compton, Tribune Broadcasting president of programming and entertainment, who has been championing Arsenio’s return for years. “All of us underestimated these ratings. We thought the numbers would be great, but we did not know they would be excellent. Arsenio took 19 years off and came back and performed like he took a weekend off.”

After working for years to prep the new Arsenio show, Compton has reason to be excited about its strong debut, and he’s not exaggerating its early success.

On its first night, Monday, Sept. 9, The Arsenio Hall Show returned to late night after 19 years off the air to a 1.9 rating/5 share primary- run household average in the weighted metered markets, and a 1.2/5 in late night’s key demographic of adults 25-54, good enough to beat all other late-night shows, including NBC’s storied Tonight Show.

Things Are Looking Up

A peek behind the numbers shows that in households, Arsenio was up 90% from yearago time periods, and 19% from its lead-ins, the two most important measures that syndicators and TV stations use to determine a show’s success. In the demo, Arsenio was up compared to its lead-ins by more than 70% and up compared to last September by 100%.

By day two, those numbers had dropped to earth a bit, but they were still strong. On Tuesday, Sept. 10, Arsenio averaged a 1.5/3, even with its lead-ins but still up 50% compared to the show’s year-ago time period averages, which are a 1.0.

“You can’t be doing anything after the first couple of days but high-fiving everyone with those results. We certainly would be,” says an executive for a station group that does not air the show.

Arsenio opened,” adds one rival syndicator. “They did a great job of getting the word out there.”

Syndication is a hard enough business that everyone’s willing to acknowledge success when it happens. Now the crew behind Arsenio wants to see that pattern continue.

“We have a long road ahead, but we’re certainly off to a great start,” says Compton. “Expectations are now high that we will continue to perform and I think we will. HUT [households using television] levels are going to start going up. More shows are premiering so there will be more viewing. It’s not like we’re airing all our best Arsenio shows right now—we’ve got a guest list that just gets better and better each week.”

“We’re very pleased that Arsenio premiered to such great numbers, but we’re very aware that it’s a marathon not a sprint,” says CTD’s DiSalvo. “As long as we continue to help our station partners grow their late-night time slots and reach key demos, we’ll be happy.”

Frankel Talk

Meanwhile, Warner Bros.’ Bethenny premiered to a two-day average 1.1/3, down 8% from its year-ago time period average and 13% from its lead-ins. Among daytime’s key female demographic of women 25-54, Bethenny averaged a .7/5 in its first two days, up 16% from both its lead-ins and year-ago time period averages.

While that’s not a dead-in-the-water start— as Twentieth’s Ricki Lake and CTD’s Jeff Probst were one year ago—expectations around Bethenny, which aired in a successful test on six Fox stations last summer, were somewhat higher. Still, TV audiences tend to grow as days become colder and darker so time will tell whether audiences seek out and find the former Real Housewife and Skinnygirl.

Finally, CTD’s new conflict talker, The Test, starring comedian Kirk Fox, opened to a steady 0.7/2 over its first two days, down 22% from its lead-in and even with year-ago time periods. Tribune partnered with CTD on The Test, as it did with Arsenio. The show, which is executive produced by Jay Mc- Graw, airs on Tribune-owned stations in major markets, and is surrounded by veteran conflict talkers, such as NBCUniversal’s Maury and Jerry Springer.

The Test did exactly what we expected it to do,” says Compton, “and it had a nice performance in a handful of our markets. We’ll see how it does in the continuing weeks and months.”

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.