Arsenio Hall, who’s back in the late-night talk show game after 19 years away, is on a self-appointed mission.
He wants to bring back the phrase “appointment television.”
He knows it won’t be easy. Television — and the way it’s delivered to viewers — has changed exponentially since Hall last had this kind of gig.
Today’s viewer doesn’t have to watch a program as it happens anymore. He doesn’t have to record it either. Highlights of shows, even whole episodes, are available on the Internet.
It’s a different media culture in which the future is now.
“We have made society so convenient,” Hall says. “I can hear that Jimmy Fallon and Brad Pitt were yodeling last night on Late Night and I don’t have to have seen it because it’s easy to catch up. Somebody can tell me it was fly and I’m like, ‘Cool. I’ll find it tomorrow.’”
But Hall hopes to turn back the clock in this regard when The Arsenio Hall Show launches Monday, Sept. 9, in national syndication (10 p.m. weeknights on KDAF/Channel 33).
“My biggest agenda is to try to have a show that feels like, ‘I want to see this show now, so I can be in on the water-cooler talk tomorrow,’” Hall says. “That’s what I’m trying to create.”
Two other noteworthy additions to the talk show landscape this fall are daytime programs: Bethenny (11 a.m. weekdays on KDFW/Channel 4, beginning Monday, Sept. 9) and The Queen Latifah Show (2 p.m. weekdays on KTVT/Channel 11, beginning Sept. 16).
Bethenny, starring Bethenny Frankel, reality TV star and self-help author, had a six-week test run in summer 2012 in a handful of markets, including DFW, and it passed the audition for a full-season pickup.
Frankel’s show, which includes talk show queen Ellen DeGeneres as an executive producer, promises to cover topics ranging from romance and relationships to celebrities and pop culture to beauty and fitness.
Meanwhile, Latifah, the Golden Globe-winning actress/recording artist/author, is promising a show that will feature a mixture of A-list celebrities, real people with inspiring stories, buzz-worthy musical acts and a comedic take on pop culture — a combination that sounds rather Ellen-like as well.
The success or failure of Bethenny and The Queen Latifah Show in an already overstuffed daytime marketplace will be interesting to follow in the coming months.
But Arsenio, whose biggest TV gig in recent years was on the 2012 Celebrity Apprentice, which he won, is where most of the industry eyes will be focused.
Based on Hall’s past success, he’s re-entering the fray as a major player on Day One, at least on paper. The original Arsenio Hall Show, after all, ran for six years, from January 1989 to May 1994, and was a pop-culture phenomenon (remember when Bill Clinton played sax on Arsenio’s show?).
Yet Hall might not find it as easy to carve out an identifiable niche this time around. For starters, other hosts have siphoned off the African-American talent pool that made Hall’s show unique in the 1990s.
“Back in the day,” he remembers, “you could look at my lineup and you could look at Johnny Carson’s lineup and you knew, just from the guests, this one’s Arsenio and that one’s Johnny. This one had Busta Rhymes and that one had Alan King.
“Now we’re in an era where you can turn on Jimmy Kimmel and hear him saying, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, tonight we’ve got Rick Ross and Kobe Bryant.’ Now those big dogs go on Letterman. Now those big dogs go on Leno.”
They go on all the other late-night shows, too, without it being the least bit awkward.
Another thing that will be different, simply because Arsenio, 57, isn’t stuck in the 1990s: “Less hair, no shoulder pads — it’s 2013!”
Actually, it’s entirely possible that a new generation of TV viewers might not really know who Arsenio is. He’s been out of the late-night game that long, after all.
Still, a talk show is a talk show is a talk show.
“At the end of the day, Sigourney Weaver’s dad [Pat Weaver, the 1950s TV pioneer who developed the formats for Today and The Tonight Show] created late night, and it’s the same vehicle today that it was then,” Hall says. “Some guys don’t have a desk, some guys do have a desk, but we all do the same thing and it’s about choosing the personality you like.
“The reality is we’re all going after Matt Damon. Jimmy Kimmel plays a game and gets creative with it. David Letterman takes another approach. Jay Leno has an approach. But we’re all interviewing the same people.”
About a decade ago, Hall didn’t miss late-night television in the slightest.
“I remember a time I had a meeting at Paramount to talk about how to get back into the game,” he recalls. “But something happened with my son at school, like he had an allergic reaction to something on a field trip, and I went to pick him up at the school and I forgot about my Paramount meeting.
“It was that night when I got home and I realized there was a strange amount of emails for me from my lawyer — and it dawned on me. Long story short, what came out of that is I realized that I wasn’t ready, that as a father, as a man, my life wasn’t ready for me to jump back in it.
“Because late night is all-consuming. You’re either reading somebody’s book, watching somebody’s movie or trying to fill a hole for the next day’s show. It goes on 24-7.”
But now he’s ready — and plenty rested.
“I love going out and doing standup,” Hall says. “I love acting. But nothing has ever made me happier and been more appropriate for what I do than the late-night vehicle.
“Whether it’s being the announcer on the old Alan Thicke Show or taking over for Joan Rivers’ late-night show or doing my show at Paramount to this one, I have always managed to end up back in a talk vehicle. It’s what I love.”