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'Arsenio' Will Mix New With Nostalgia in Fall Return

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Arsenio Hall has a plan to show viewers how hot his new late-night show can be—and it includes reminding them how hot his old late-night show once was. Nearly 20 years after the May 1994 finale of the original, the popular personality will return this fall to host an all-new The Arsenio Hall Show, which will include bits of nostalgia sprinkled throughout.

“I didn’t want to come back without having a connection to the library that I could bring out and use. That was the only way I wanted to do it,” Hall says. Clips from his old show will include early TV appearances by Will Smith and Mariah Carey, and a duet by Gloria Loring and Alan Thicke, with their son, now-popular soul singer Robin Thicke, “grooving out in the background,” Hall says.

That’s what makes CBS Television Distribution—successor to Paramount, which produced Arsenio 1.0—the logical place for him to have landed.

Several forces are driving Hall’s resurgence. The biggest may be Sean Compton, Tribune Broadcasting president of programming and distribution, who is moving his stations in late night away from expensive sitcoms and toward first-run shows. Tribune and the CBS Television Stations will air the new Arsenio Hall Show in the country’s biggest markets. The show is cleared in 95% of the country.

“We believe that the current viewer of late-night television is someone who loved The Arsenio Hall Show 19 years ago when he went off the air,” Compton says. “If you were watching him then and you were 25, you’re 44 now. I believe we’ll have a show that lands right in that adults 18-49 sweet spot.”

Compton began the process of wooing Hall to return almost as soon as he was hired as Tribune programming chief in 2008. Meanwhile, Hall and his agent, Octagon Entertainment’s John Ferriter, began pumping up Hall’s public profile, booking him on NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice, HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher and ABC’s The View.

Celebrity Apprentice
proved a spark, with Hall beating out runner-up Clay Aiken (who also finished second on American Idol) for the win. “My mission was to get back in front of America as a talking head,” Hall says.

Now, nine months out from his coming premiere, Hall is deep into day-to-day show planning. He has hired Paul Raff from ABC as supervising producer to help launch the digital and social-media campaigns. Over the holidays, CTD sent affiliates a trailer, which also ran online, alerting viewers of The Arsenio Hall Show’s return.

While the new Arsenio will bear only a passing resemblance to the production of the early ’90s, it will still feature some enduring Hall passions: music, sports and comedy. And it will still aim for the woof-woof party atmosphere that helped propel sax-playing candidate Bill Clinton toward the presidency.

“You can’t be around [Hall] and not feel like it’s a party,” says Maureen Fitzpatrick, CTD senior VP of programming and development. “He’s so upbeat and fun that it will be a party no matter what we do.”

Hall has no illusions about late night’s talent-packed, knives-drawn landscape. Though in a way, the challenge is as basic as they come. “You have to find an audience,” he says, “that wants to go to bed with you.”