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Arsenio Hall inks latenight pact with CBS, Tribune

Launch of syndie yakker set for fall 2013

Arsenio Hall’s return to latenight TV is another sign of broadcast TV’s shifting demographic targets.

The move by CBS Television Distribution and Tribune Broadcasting to launch a Hall-hosted latenight talkshow strip in fall 2013 was driven by Hall’s appeal to a distinct demo, the 35-54 set, who still watch a lot of broadcast TV the old-fashioned way, namely live as opposed to via DVR or VOD or online.

In his first go-round in latenight, from 1989-1994, Hall became a syndie hit in part because he appealed to a younger audience than Johnny Carson, David Letterman and Jay Leno. Now those first-wave “Arsenio Hall Show” viewers are in their 40s and 50s, and CBS TV Distribution and Tribune are banking on them being game to check him out again.

Sean Compton, Tribune Broadcasting’s prexy of programming and entertainment, said broadcasters have to recognize the need to program to the auds that are most available.

“We can’t shy away from it,” he said. “Forty, 45 and 50 – those are the sweet spot of our demos. We can get so caught up in trying to be hip and fresh, when in reality 45 is not old. And these are the people who still watch traditional TV and have traditional viewing habits. These viewers have fond memories of (‘Arsenio’) and of him as a personality. Why wouldn’t we try to bring him back?”

For Tribune, it’s also been a goal to secure exclusive programming for a key daypart. At present its stations program sitcom reruns, but most of them are available on cable and other platforms. Hall’s show will be exclusive to its station partners. It won’t run on Tribune’s WGN America cabler even though Tribune has a significant ownership stake in the show, to be produced out of Los Angeles and distribbed by CTD.

Shari Anne Brill, longtime TV programming analyst and prexy of Shari Anne Brill Media, sees an opening for a reconstituted Hall to click with urban and multicultural auds in a bigger way than network and cable latenight fare. “There’s opportunity there,” she said of the latenight landscape. “He’s someone who can appeal to a multicultural audience and can give just a different flavor to latenight.”

Tribune has cleared Hall’s untitled hourlong series on 17 of its 23 stations, including its outlets in New York, L.A. and Chicago. CBS will carry the show on its CW affiliates in key markets such as Boston, San Francisco, Atlanta, Detroit, Tampa and Pittsburgh. To date, the show has been sold to stations covering 52% of U.S. TV households.

CTD is targeting 11 p.m. timeslots on Fox, CW and indie stations in most markets (10 p.m. in central time zones) to put it a half-hour ahead of its Big Three network competition.

Hall’s deal with CTD marks a homecoming for the host, as CTD is the successor to Paramount Domestic TV, which distribbed his previous show. CTD prexy John Nogawski was a top Par syndie salesman during the “Arsenio Hall Show” run. Hall’s past experience gave CTD confidence that they were betting on the right talent, Nogawski said.

Hall’s show marks the first attempt to launch a Monday-Friday first-run talkshow in more than a decade, since Magic Johnson had his famous flop with Twentieth TV’s “The Magic Hour” in 1998.

The original “Arsenio Hall Show” was a hit almost out of the gate in its January 1989 premiere. Par pounced on him as a syndie host after he scored as a fill-in host on Fox’s “The Late Show” after Joan Rivers’ departure, and Fox affils.

In its prime, “Arsenio Hall” was competitive in younger demos with NBC’s “The Tonight Show,” but its ratings took a tumble in 1993 and 1994 when a number of key Fox affils downgraded the show’s time period to make room for the network’s return to the daypart with Chevy Chase. CBS affils who had been pillars of the “Arsenio” lineup also downgraded the show in 1993 to make room for the arrival of “The Late Show With David Letterman.” By April 1994, Hall decided to bow out of his Par contract early rather than suffer through the cancellation of the show.

Hall began laying the groundwork for his comeback by taking part in the most recent season of NBC’s “Celebrity Apprentice,” which he wound up winning. Nogawski sees that as a good omen.

“He knows how hard you have to work to be successful,” Nogawski said. “We’ve thought over the years about doing this with a lot of different people, but every time we’d compare it to the Arsenio experience, and now that he’s ready to come back, we’re ready to do it with him.”

In a serendipitous twist, Tribune and CTD execs had separately been pursuing Hall for a latenight syndie venture. Compton had been meeting with Hall on and off for the past four years as the host considered his options for a new TV showcase. He referred to it internally with other Tribune execs as “Project Dog Pound,” a reference to Hall’s previous show, in order to keep the talks quiet.

CTD more recently began talking to Hall’s new manager, Octagon Entertainment’s John Ferriter, about formalizing a deal. Compton couldn’t believe his ears when he ran into Nogawski at the National Assn. of Broadcasters confab in April and Nogawski suggested they talk about partnering on a latenight show.

“I told him, ‘It would have to be with Arsenio,’ ” Compton said. “He said, ‘I don’t believe it – that’s exactly what I want to do.’ I said, ‘This should be pretty easy then.’ ”

The sides finalized the deals last Thursday.

Arsenio Hall Communications and Octagon Entertainment Prods. will co-produce with CTD, with Hall and Ferriter serving as exec producers.

(Andrew Wallenstein contributed to this report.)

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