This past Valentine’s Day “The Arsenio Hall Show” audience was for women-only. They were given bouquets of roses and serenaded by five leading romantic balladeers. It was a gallant gesture and one as demographically targeted as Cupid’s arrow.

Women, specifically 18-34-year-olds, are the key to Hall’s success, ratings and profitability.

“This will give you a perspective on it,” says Steven Goldman, president of Paramount Domestic Television. “In the February Nielsens in the markets where Arsenio competes head-to-head with the ‘Tonight Show,’ we beat them by 25% in women 18-34. That’s the perspective with which the local stations look at Arsenio, because they’re selling advertising time on the basis of how many women 18-34 they deliver.” That’s important if you’re selling Clairol and not Chryslers.

Comparing ratings of a syndicated show like “Arsenio” running at different times in different markets with the NBC network-cleared “Tonight Show” is comparing apples with oranges. Jay Leno may start with a strong lead-in from local

news and gradually lose it; Hall may start with a 1 from an old movie on an indie and build.

“If you look in the rating book, you might see ‘Arsenio doing a 3 household rating, ‘Tonight’s’ doing a 5 household rating, but ‘Arsenio’ beats it in women 18-34,” insists Goldman.

In the current season from September to mid-April, “Tonight” scored a 2.3 in the 18-34 female demographic, edging “Arsenio’s” 2.1. “The bottom line is that ‘Arsenio’ is the only talk show that has successfully launched in the marketplace against the ‘Tonight Show,’ says Goldman.

Paramount Domestic TV’s own Premiere Advertising Sales, based in N.Y., directly sells 7 1/2 minutes of the show just as the networks do. Rather then paying local stations a network fee for carrying the program, Premiere barters another 7 minutes ad time to sell to locals.

Premiere bills more than a quarter of a billion dollars a year with the Paramount-produced “Arsenio,””Maurey Povich Show,””Hard Copy,””Star Trek,””Star Trek–the Next Generation,””Deep Space Nine” and “Untouchables.” Paramount also produces and distributes “Entertainment Tonight,” but the ad time is sold by another partner in the show.

“For all practical purposes Paramount Domestic Television is a mini-network,” Goldman notes. “We have 19 1/2 hours of firstrun programming. That’s more than Fox has on the air.” Paramount also owns and operates six TV stations–three Fox affiliates in Philadelphia, San Antonio and Raleigh and three indies in Washington, Dallas and Houston.

As Arsenio Hall points out, this gives Paramount both muscle and flexibility in the syndication marketplace. “Since I am not with a network, the one upside to syndication is no matter what happens, I’m in a position to go to another station in that town.

“And the prime example is when I premiered, Pat Sajak also premiered. I said I want this station–I think it was D.C. or Baltimore. They said you can’t have it because Pat Sajak is premiering. Now when Pat Sajak didn’t work, when my contract was up with the station that I started with, I made a change. Now I have that CBS affiliate.

“That’s the great thing about syndication. Nothing really is a back-breaker. If I lose my Atlanta station–which I hope I don’t because it is one of my strongest, strongest demographic strongholds–but if I do, I’ll go to ABC or independent.

“That’s how syndication works. I can be independent, NBC, CBS, ABC, as long as they book it. You have options. That’s what I like.”

Will Chevy Chase on Fox and Letterman on CBS cost him stations? “Oh absolutely. I’ve been in a divorce situation with Fox before in my life, so losing Fox stations, the thought of it makes me very sad. When I came here I separated from Fox. Obviously, I can’t predict what’s going to happen.”

But Goldman reads a clue in the demographics. “In markets like Chicago where Arsenio and Letterman are head-to-head, Arsenio wins with the 18-34 women, Letterman with the men. Letterman’s caustic humor appeals more to men. Chevy Chase is still an unknown but more like that ‘Saturday Night Live’ kind of humor. He falls more in the vein of Letterman and Leno, than the appeal that Arsenio has to young women.”

Actually, Chase has quipped about his show, “Basically, it will be an exact copy of David Letterman without the gap between his teeth.”

“What Arsenio does and gives to the audience is different from everyone else and as long as they keep buying into that we’ll be in good shape,” saysGoldman. And Hall will throw another Valentines Day party for women-only next Feb. 14.

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