Chilly reaction in an Arsenio hotbed

April 20, 1994|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,Sun Staff Writer

It's not a black thing. It's not a white thing. And pretty soon, it won't be a night thing. But when late-night talk show host Arsenio Hall calls it quits, his loss won't necessarily mean Leno's or Letterman's gain.

At least not in Baltimore where about 55,000 homes are usually tuned in, according to Nielsen ratings.

"I will probably go to sleep now," says Barbara Brown of Barbie's House of Beauty hair salon in East Baltimore. "Those other ones are silly and do not keep my interest," she says of Jay Leno and David Letterman.

"I guess I'll be watching the cable shows. I won't be watching the other ones," says her daughter, Gleniss Wade.

Mrs. Brown, 57, and Mrs. Wade, 34, are serious Arsenio Hall fans who lament the passing of the late-night talk show, which is seen here on WBAL (Channel 11), the CBS affiliate. "I watch it every night. I think it is an excellent show," Mrs. Brown says. "Of course, he can be a little blunt sometimes, but at least he gets to the point."

Mrs. Wade will miss the humor Mr. Hall brings into her life. "I like him because he is funny," she says.

"The Arsenio Hall Show," which debuted in 1989, has plenty of fans in this town. In Baltimore's three-way competition for night owls, Mr. Hall's ratings often top both Mr. Leno's and Mr. Letterman's.

But it's a different story nationwide, where "The Arsenio Hall Show" took a ratings beating when compared to the other two late-night talkers.

Twenty stations dropped the show in January because of low ratings and some shifted it to a later time slot. Currently, the show is carried by about 165 stations.

Mr. Hall's contract expires this December, says Phil Stolz, vice president and general manager of WBAL television. "There had been some conversation in the industry about the show not being continued beyond that. But we were surprised about the timing of the announcement." The final broadcast will be on May 27, according to the show's producer.

Mr. Stolz says WBAL is disappointed the show will go off the air -- but excited about the David Letterman show moving to the station.

Emerson Coleman, director of broadcast operations at WBAL, says the Letterman show will air live at 11:35 weeknights, beginning "sometime the first week of June." The specific date is being firmed up now.

But Meril Reed wishes things could remain the same on WBAL. "They should keep it on," he says. "I catch it about three or four times a week. He's real good. There's never a dull moment," he says.

Count the 40-year-old maintenance mechanic among those who would not think of switching to the competition. "No. With cable, I will probably be a movie man now or watch CNN -- that stuff," Mr. Reed says.

Linda Taylor, 24, likes "The Arsenio Hall Show" but is lukewarm over his selection of celebrities and musicians.

"I watch him. But he needs better guests," says Ms. Taylor, a cashier.

Not all of Baltimore late-night talk show fans tune into Mr. Hall.

"I would rather watch David Letterman," says Margaret Spencer. "Arsenio Hall really kept my interest for the first year, but he's not a very good interviewer. In fact, I think I can do a better job interviewing somebody," says Ms. Spencer, 25, who works for a Baltimore insurance company. Still, Ms. Spencer credits Mr. Hall for breaking barriers by becoming the first successful African-American late-night talk show host. For this reason, she wishes the show would continue.

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