The late-night TV schedule is already jam-packed with veterans (Jay Leno, David Letterman, Conan O’Brien), a few (relative) newbies (Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel) and real night owls (Craig Ferguson, Carson Daly). But there’s always room for one more, especially when that name is Arsenio Hall.
The former talk show host and recent “Celebrity Apprentice” winner will be back on the air with a new show in September 2013, nearly 20 years after the 56-year-old comic flamed out. According to the Los Angeles Times, Hall will take a shot at a TV comeback with another syndicated program. The show will be broadcast at 11 p.m. through syndicator CBS Television Distribution and the Tribune Co., which will put it on the air on its 17 TV stations, including such powerhouses as WGN-TV in Chicago and KTLA-TV in Los Angeles.
“In the end I’m a comic, and nothing fits the talk-show mode like a stand-up comic,” Hall said. Acknowledging that in addition to the network talk shows there are other potential rivals in Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” Hall said, “I know there are a lot of shows, but I think there’s a space for my show.”
When he took to the air on January 2, 1989 with “The Arsenio Hall Show,” the stand-up comedian/actor (“Coming to America,” “Harlem Nights”) quickly transformed the face of late night TV with a show that brought a previously unseen swagger to the genre. Appealing to a younger audience than the more staid “Tonight Show” with the late Johnny Carson, Hall greeted his audience — the Dog Pound — with a signature fist-pumping “wuff, wuff, wuff.”
As the only black host in late night TV, Hall made a point of booking pals such as “America” star Eddie Murphy, Cicely Tyson, boxers Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield, as well as rappers including MC Hammer, Eazy-E, Heavy D and Kool Moe Dee, professional wrestlers Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage and comedian Bill Cosby.
But it was a show 20 years ago this month that forever put Hall on the map. On that night, then-candidate Bill Clinton dropped by the program, slipped on some Wayfarer shades and sat in with the band on saxophone for a cover of Elvis’ “Heartbreak Hotel.” The June 1992 appearance boosted both men’s profiles and is credited with helping to boost Clinton’s appeal to young and minority voters.
Ratings began to tail off a bit by 1994 and after Hall devoted an entire hour to controversial Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan in February of that year, tension with his syndicator rose and the Emmy Award-winning show was canceled that May. Hall attempted a comeback in 1997 with a self-titled sitcom and hosted a revival of “Star Search” in 2003, but his star faded as he concentrated on being a dad to his son, Arsenio Jr.
The attention generated by his “Apprentice” win raised interest in Hall and helped land him the new TV deal.