BY KIMBERLY BAILEY-TUREAUD
Nothing is given, everything is earned!
Arsenio Hall is poised to reclaim his throne in the realm of late-night television.
Arsenio Hall revolutionized television when his eponymous syndicated talk show debuted in 1989, and his imminent return to the airwaves is being met with considerable enthusiasm from an audience that has felt a void since it left the air 19 years ago.
On Sept. 9, “The Arsenio Hall Show” returns to rule late night. Set to air weeknights at 10 p.m. on The CW Las Vegas, the show (and the 21st century edition of its legendary “Dog Pound”) is poised to again make history — with a host who was among the first to give exposure to Black leaders, hip-hop artists and other African-Americans who previously lacked a national platform.
Hall recently sat down with Las Vegas Black Image to discuss reclaiming the late-night throne, why he left the air in 1994 and how things might be different this time around.
What can we expect from the new version of “The Arsenio Hall Show”?
The first week is already booked and there will be a cavalcade of surprises. We have been keeping a little of it under wraps because it will be more exciting. Eventually, I will release one of our names and the rest of the week is looking incredible.
Do you have President Barack Obama in your lineup?
I do have a few spaces opening up (laugh). And if Hillary (Clinton) showed up, I would stick her in there as well. I am not sure if there is anything else President Obama can do that he hasn’t already done on late-night television. Even Michelle has done the Dougie. I don’t know what else to ask him to do instead of going back to a basic interview. But, I might have him sing (laugh). It would be great to have him and 50 Cent do some kind of rap together — that would be great.
Is it like riding a bike with your return to late-night talk?
Yes, it’s like riding a bike. One thing about riding a bike is that it is much more complicated to ride with the Hollywood philosophies toward making television. It’s really changed a lot, and as the executive producer I see how the industry is more particular when it comes to business and the fat has been cut. The game that has been played in the past with money is over. There is no more, “I need a corporate plane.” If it doesn’t make dollars, it doesn’t make sense. This is what I have found out about getting back on this
bike. The business of television is more logical and efficient. I remember when I first met Quincy Jones and he told me that in the phrase “show business” the word “business” is bigger than the word “show.”
How will the new “The Arsenio Hall Show” be different than the 1990s version?
That is an easy question to answer — there will be less hair and less shoulder pads (laughs).
Will you bring back the Dog Pound and the ‘Whoop, Whoop?’
I am from Cleveland, and growing up we were always privately known as “the dogs.” That is something that I have always tried to take with me nationally. My friends from New York were always proud to say that they were from Queens, and the people from Cleveland only heard jokes about the city. I am proud to be from Cleveland and the ‘Whoop, Whoop’ is something that caught on as a Cleveland pride chant. I have a feeling when I walk out on the stage for the first show, the Dog Pound will ring with a fist in air from the audience.
Will your show serve as a platform for African-American entertainers and musicians as it did in 1990s?
We are in a new era now, when you can turn on Jimmy Kimmel’s show and see hip-hop stars like Rick Ross. Jay Leno one told me when I first started in this business that you could tell which latenight show you were watching by the guests that appeared. When I first hosted “The Arsenio Hall Show,” I believe that it showed the viability of African-American entertainers and Hollywood will throw momma from the train if it will make money. Maybe I am the guy who, instead of getting those big stars you see on Letterman, gives the new talent a platform that becomes legendary. I remember when Dr. Dre asked me to meet a young brother from Long Beach named Calvin. I soon had him debut on my show, and that same guy became Snoop Doggy Dogg. I got to go and find mine. I know I have to get my hustle on. I don’t fake the funk about the reality of coming back to late-night talk. I know that I am the new guy, and I am going to get mine.
What inspired you to return to late-night television?
There was another time when I wanted to come back to television, and I had a meeting set up with Paramount Studios to talk about it. The day of the meeting something happened with my son at his school, and I forgot about this important Paramount meeting and went to my son’s school instead to pick him up. It wasn’t until I got home and saw strange emails from my attorney did I realize that I missed the meeting. I realized that I wasn’t ready as a father and as a man to jump into hosting late-night television again. I wasn’t ready. Late-night is all-consuming. You are either researching your guest or somebody’s music or movie and then go back to production. It is a 24-hour job. So I kept waiting, but it was in my heart to do it. When George Lopez had me on his show and asked me to introduce one of his guests, I knew I needed to get back to what I love. I love doing stand-up comedy, I love acting, but nothing has ever made me happier than a late-night talk show vehicle. This is what I love — and now my mother and grandmother and everyone around me have helped me make this happen, and I am back.
Many people believe that you were fired from your first show when you had Minister Louis Farrakhan on. Why did you leave the airwaves in 1994?
First, my letter of resignation that I wrote to the executive chair of Paramount television was written before I had Minister Farrakhan on my show. I had a good relationship with Paramount and even after I resigned from the show, I kept doing the show while they searched for a replacement and during that time Minister Farrakhan was on the show. This is one thing that is frustrating. I know that there are members of the black news media that took this lead from an article that was done by the L.A. Times that read, “Arsenio Hall Show Cancelled.” This confused a lot of people. And because the article came out during the same time Minister Farrakhan was on, people thought that was the reason for my departure.
The black public didn’t really get a chance to know the truth about how and why the show ended. The truth is, when I left the show, there was no drama. I left the show to seek some balance in my life. I didn’t know what that was at the time, and if I wanted to do more acting, go on the road and do stand-up comedy or I just needed a break. But I did what I did for personal reasons. It turned out to be a personal pursuit of a man to change his family life and his love life. I was soul searching, and it had nothing to do with business. I left because I had done it.
I have missed a lot of things, and I missed having my show and now I am coming back to it. I want to apologize to the black media for the journalistic lies and misunderstanding. There are a lot of young children out there that need to know that it was a lie that was told. Men win and men lose — but I won that. I want black men and women to go after their dreams. The truth is that it was beautiful, and I was blessed to have had my first talk show and it is a blessing to have another one. The biggest lesson from my experiences is that, “Nothing is given and everything is earned.” This is what I live by.