Arsenio Hall had been the interim host on Fox's The Late Show during the summer of 1987 following Joan Rivers
departure. Although he had started to build an audience, his 13-week contract was not renewed and he moved on to act in the theatrical film Coming To America
with his buddy Eddie Murphy
. By the time Fox decided they wanted him back, Arsenio had been signed by Paramount to host his own syndicated late-night talk show.
When The Arsenio Hall Show premiered early in 1989, one week before CBS' competing The Pat Sajak Show, there was much speculation about whether either show could dent the ratings of Johnny Carson
's Tonight Show
. Arsenio, whose core audience of urban blacks broadened considerably with this series, prospered, while Pat Sajak floundered for fifteen months and went off the air.
Although the basic format was standard talk show - opening monologue, chat with celebrity guests, musical or comedy act performances - The Arsenio Hall Show quickly set itself apart from the competition. Mr. Hall's hip monologues, contemporary attitudes, choice of musical guests, and generally party-like atmosphere drew a sizable and loyal audience of younger viewers. Unlike his competition, he showcased black celebrity guests and rock, soul, and rap musicians. Even the house band (which Arsenio referred to as his "posse"), led by Michael Wolff, had a distinctly upbeat rock 'n' roll look and sound.
By the time Jay Leno
replaced the retiring Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show the ratings for Arsenio Hall were already starting to slide. Arsenio's well publicized feud with Leno over celebrity bookings and his threat to "kick Jay's ass" in the ratings provided more bad publicity than good. When David Letterman
's new show on CBS started off by consistently winning the ratings war, many CBS affiliates that had previously been carrying Arsenio's show either canceled it or moved it to the wee small hours of the morning. In the spring of 1994 Arsenio announced that his show would air its last original episode in May. Among his guests during his last months were controversial black figures including Spike Lee
, and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Reruns of The Arsenio Hall Show continued to air until September.