FIVE YEARS AGO, WHEN ARSENIO HALL erupted on the talk show circuit, he was a pop culture phenomenon, an uproarious upstart who reinvigorated the late shift. Woof, woof! This week, his numbers in steady decline, his showbiz cachet exhausted, Arsenio closes up the dog pound. His last original show airs Friday (May 27).
The key to Arsenio’s initial success was startlingly simple: He took advantage of the fact that many young adults keep vampire’s hours. He also sensed that they weren’t interested in such traditional sofa staples as Tony Randall and Teri Garr. Arsenio offered this large pool of disenfranchised viewers-in-waiting a selection of younger, hipper guests—and they tuned in, despite Hall’s anemic monologues and unctuous interview style. Yes, Arsenio ran the comfiest couch for celebs since the hail-fellow heydays of Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin. The kid-glove treatment is why, for a time, the A-man was able to attract the A-list.
Of course, everyone coveted the audience Arsenio had tapped into. First NBC with Leno and then CBS with Letterman stole big pieces of his action. And once the mantle of hipness had passed from Arsenio to Letterman, Hall’s nights were numbered. Now they are history.