When Johnny Carson walked away from The Tonight Show in 1992, he did so of his own accord after 30 years in the chair, but that doesn't mean that there wasn't pressure behind the scenes and apprehension about Carson's ability to stand in against the far hipper Arsenio Hall when it came to courting younger viewers.
Carson was 66 years old at the time, but now Hall, at age 58, is one of late night's elder-statesmen, and his time on the air is ending - at least for now.
Launched 19 years after the last iteration of his show went off the air, The Arsenio Hall Show has been canceled after just one season in syndication. It seems that the TV Gods have a vicious sense of humor - one could, at least partially, pin some of Hall's more recent troubles to the gravitational pull of The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon's success.
Here's CBS' statement on the cancellation:
“Unfortunately, ‘The Arsenio Hall Show’ will not return for a second season; while there are many loyal fans of the show, the series did not grow its audience enough to continue. Arsenio is a tremendous talent and we’d like to thank him for all the hard work and energy he put into the show. We’d also like to thank Tribune and all our station group partners for their support of the show.”
According to Variety, the show was "facing significant downgrades from stations and the Eye determined that the show would not be financially viable."
Originally given the go-ahead for season 2 in February with an announcement on Hall's show by Jay Leno in his first post-Tonight Show appearance, Hall now departs without getting a chance to record a send-off episode since the last original episode aired on May 21st.
At this point, it's hard to forecast where Hall goes from here. Right now, there are high profile late night vacancies on CBS and TBS for the 12:35 and midnight timeslots, but people rarely fail upwards and a big part of Hall's appeal when he returned to late night stemmed from the pull of nostalgia for his original series. It seems unlikely that that would help him out this time.
Despite this failure, though, Hall did show that he still has something left in the tank, but it seems obvious that he would have to adapt his style (perhaps to something a bit more intimate that pushes his skills as an interviewer to the fore) to secure another chance in late night. It's doubtful that someone will come along with an interest in funding the edgiest show in late night (circa 1993) for a third time.
As for the future of late night comedy syndication, one wonders if this experience will re-open the doors a bit. Book-ended by Hall's two shows, a parade of splashy late night entries with intriguing hosts popped up in syndication in the '90s with shows hosted by Dennis Miller (who later went on to host the far superior Dennis Miller Live on HBO), Whoopi Goldberg, a pre-Daily Show Jon Stewart, and less renowned late night hosts and comic minds like Lauren Hutton and Magic Johnson.
Is there a big name out there who could inspire Tribune or CBS to convince affiliates to once again delve into the late night waters and abandon the stability of late night sitcom re-runs? Possibly, but with Fallon topping the charts on NBC, Kimmel standing strong, Colbert nearing his start date with CBS and a whole host of other options in the very crowded cable arena, that would have to be a really big name.
The Arsenio Hall Show ran from September 2013 to May 2014 on local affiliates across the country.