So Long, Arsenio

April 20, 1994

Arsenio Hall, the frenetic talk host who brought a younger, hipper audience to late-night TV when his show premiered in 1989, has announced he is calling it quits. No more "whoof, whoof, whoof." No more "things that make you go hmmmm." Mr. Hall's somewhat jejune brand of party humor, which seemed fresh while his only competitors were Johnny Carson and Pat Sajak, fell victim to the rating wars ignited when Jay Leno and David Letterman locked horns last year.

Mr. Hall was the first successful black late-night host, and he used his clout to showcase a variety of cutting-edge soul and rap musicians, which had rarely been done on talk shows. In one memorable episode, candidate Bill Clinton donned shades and blew saxophone riffs during a 1992 appearance. Basketball star Magic Johnson came on to discuss his illness, and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan turned the guest chair into a pulpit when Mr. Hall let him ramble on for much of an evening.

But hip is relative. With competition from Messrs. Leno and Letterman for younger viewers, Mr. Hall's ratings were bound to fall, though he remained a favorite in Baltimore. By then, however, he had taken his light fare about as far as it could go.

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