Arsenio Hall's Long, Expensive Road Back to Late Night

Nearly two decades after his iconic talk show, the comedian says he's not changing for the times: "I'm not smart enough or talented enough to be overhauled or reinvented."

This story first appeared in the Feb. 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

The Dog Pound is coming back to TV. But will viewers want to join? CBS and Tribune are prepping an unprecedented launch for Arsenio Hall's first late-night syndicated talk show in 19 years, set to premiere in the fall. "We're doing more marketing, more promotion, more events than I've ever been involved with this far in advance of the premiere date," says Joseph DiSalvo, president of sales at CBS Television Distribution, which brought Hall, 56, to the NATPE convention in Miami Beach, Fla., on Jan. 28.

The promo push kicked off around Christmas -- a full 10 months in advance -- with spots on local stations featuring Hall's fans shouting "Woof! Woof!," the catchphrase from his show that ran from 1989 to 1994. Next is a social media campaign and PSAs that stations will air in February for Black History Month. In one, Hall talks about pioneering African-American comedians. It's all part of a campaign to reintroduce Hall to fans and distinguish him amid a glut of late-night talkers such as The Daily Show and Jimmy Kimmel Live! that didn't exist during his first run. "I'm the same guy," Hall tells THR. "But the world is different, so the jokes are different, the guest bookings are different. But I'm that guy. I'm not smart enough or talented enough to be overhauled or reinvented."

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Hall's resurgence began in the spring, when manager John Ferriter put him on NBC's The Celebrity Apprentice, which he won (Ferriter client Piers Morgan got a similar profile bump from Apprentice). Talk-show offers came in, but Hall chose to work with CBS, which owns his previous show, giving him access to archives. Tribune, which will co-own the new show with CBS, is spearheading the promo blitz. "When you have your own money in the game," says Tribune's Sean Compton, "you promote the show heavier, put it in the right time periods. You have skin in the game." Oddly, Hall isn't thrilled about calling his new audience the Dog Pound, which originated when he grew up in Cleveland rooting for the Browns: "It's something I'm stuck with. It's not a marketing choice."

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