Like a familiar friend who stayed away too long, Arsenio Hall’s return to late night was welcomed with open arms on Sept. 9. America and the rest of the entertainment world showed up for the late-night homecoming almost 20 years in the making.
Ironically, not much has changed during that time as Arsenio still remains the only African American host in the late night genre much like he was in the ’90s. Plenty have come and gone during his absence, but none have been able to duplicate the success of the man responsible for taking urban America mainstream.
Many of the stars, who got their initial exposure to Middle America via the original Arsenio Hall show, appeared on the 2013 version to help kick things off. Chris Tucker, Ice Cube, Snoop Lion (formerly known as Snoop Dogg), Magic Johnson, Paula Abdul, Angela Bassett and many others stopped by to give Arsenio some love. As a result, for its premiere, the Arsenio Hall show was the No. 1 talk show in the key 18 to 49 demographic. Even with the show’s strong beginning, Hall doesn’t have any delusions about his return to late night.
“So I’ve got a new show. Nobody knows if it’s going to be good or not. Nobody, you know?” said Hall frankly. “I don’t blame the people—there are people who are watching me and my return with apprehension—agents, publicists, and managers. I’ve got to go out there and I’ve got to turn it out. And it was the same way the first time around.”
He added, “You’ve got to turn it out because a lot of people are just waiting to see how you do. Sure my friends—Magic is coming, sure Eddie is coming. You know, people I put in the mix the first time around, Trisha Yearwood is coming and Mariah is coming. But, there are a lot of people who just want to watch and see what is going to happen. And, I know in that sense I don’t get to come in, ‘Well you know Arsenio Hall is back!’ That don’t mean sh– to nobody.”
While many Hollywood insiders appear skeptical of Hall’s return, fans seem excited about the possibilities.
“I used to always watch his show when I was younger,” said Sherie Baylock of Los Angeles. “I don’t really watch much late night anymore, so it’ll be good to have him back maybe I’ll stay up now.”
“I think with Arsenio, we’ll start to see more of the acts we know,” claimed David Nichols of Los Angeles. “I mean you always see the big stars, the Oprahs, the Jay-Zs, the Beyonces on the other shows but they’re not the only ones out there and I think he’ll give everybody a chance.”
Breaking new acts and providing up-and-coming artists a platform was a part of the recipe that originally made his iconic show, well iconic. As the old adage goes, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” so you can expect that strategy to be included in Hall’s winning formula this time around.
“One of the big differences is I’m not in it so much alone as I used to be back in the day… now we’re in an era where you can turn on Jimmy Kimmel and hear him saying ladies and gentlemen, Rick Ross and, you know, ladies and gentlemen Kobe Bryant. There was a time when Johnny didn’t care about sitting with Danny Ainge and, you know, the present mayor of Sacramento, Kevin Johnson,” Hall said. “I think what happened with my show is it showed the viability of certain African American acts. There was a time in this town where we’d throw mama from the train if you could make money. And once they found out that you can put African Americans on TV of every element of entertainment and people will watch, people noticed.”
Once again, Arsenio is poised to fill a niche and provide for the masses what has for the most part been absent from late night television. Of course, this time around let’s hope it doesn’t cost him his show. For years in the African American community, it has been a widely held belief that Hall’s departure from late night came due to an infamous interview on his previous show with the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan.
“First of all, my letter of resignation was written to a studio executive at that time who ran Paramount, his name is (Carey McCluggage). The letter went to Carey before Farrakhan ever appeared,” Hall insisted. “I had a good relationship with Paramount so even after I resigned, I continued to do shows while they checked with Bill Bellamy and Jon Stewart and different people under the Viacom Paramount MTV banner to decide who would take over for me and take the show. I continued to do the show and during that period there was the Farrakhan booking.”
Hall went on to say, “there was an article written that said the show was cancelled. That confused a lot of people. And, because the article came out around the time of the Farrakhan interview, the black public didn’t get a chance to know the truth about the ending. The bottom line is when I left, there was really no drama. I left to seek some balance in my life as a man. I didn’t know what that was at that time. I didn’t know whether I wanted to do more acting, I didn’t know whether I wanted to go on the road and do standup, I didn’t know whether it meant that I just needed a break. But, I did what I did for personal reasons.”
Regardless of the reason, it’s safe to say that audiences around the country are genuinely excited for the return of one of Cleveland’s favorite sons and so is he.
This article originally appeared in the Oct. 2 print edition.