Arsenio Hall is baaack! And this time he’s got an internationally syndicated talk show, catering to a different type of audience.
Looking slimmer with less hair and smaller shoulder pads than when he was one of the new dogs of late-night couch potatoes at the end of the ’80s. But the big difference between last time and now, Arsenio says, “I didn’t have one of these (cell phone) in my pocket. I’m a total slave to it. I’m tweeting all the time.” And so is the young audience that tunes in The Arsenio Hall Show at 11 p.m. on LA’s Channel 5, the CW station.
Appearing at the semi-annual press tour for the Television Critics organization, the naturally cool Arsenio told the gathering of journalists that he was returning to TV “because I love to make people laugh. There’s a lot of competition, but I know that everybody doesn’t have a late-night host. One of the biggest challenges for all of us as late-night hosts is to get people to make an appointment to watch TV and not say, ‘I’ll watch Fallon yodel tomorrow,’ because you have that ability to Google anything and find anything that’s been on.”
He says the challenges to build a large audience are gigantic now. “Statistics have some interesting to say about your biggest fan — people who come up to you in the mall and say, ‘I watch you every night, man.’ And that’s not true. Your biggest fan doesn’t watch you every night. You hope to get a guy three nights a week to check you out, and two nights they’ll be watching other people. Sometimes you’ll get one night. But you hope if you do a good, funny show, and you assert a unique personality, that will just get you in the game.”
Inserting himself into the culture of current music and what’s happening now with social media is how he’ll get attention nowadays. He acknowledged that television has changed drastically since he departed the late night scene some years ago. “It’s a digital world, but I still want to write jokes and do comedy.” And he will be careful about who his guests will be, because his show depends on featuring the right guests that make people want to tune in. He wants to cater to the younger crowd and include more musicians and comedians, who will entertain and exchange ideas.
Arsenio is at ease drawing people into conversations, and can pull off the celebrity interviews as sharp as any late night host, be they Jay Leno, Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, Dave Letterman, etc. But he doesn’t anticipate taking viewers away from them, explaining, “I’m not going to take people from Jay, or Kimmel. My audience is going to come from iPads, from people who don’t have a talk show host.”
Still fun-loving, but it’s a more mature Arsenio that we see now, and he revealed that he’s proud that his teenage son can see his dad work on television now.
Talking about the highlights of his late night career’s first edition, he says, “I’m most proud of the night Magic Johnson made his announcement [revealing he was HIV positive], mostly because he’s my friend and it was the most important night of his life, and I kind of didn’t want to mess it up. I was emotionally a basket case and had told him I didn’t think we should do it. He said, ‘No, dog, we gotta do it.’” That appearance on Arsenio had a ripple effect, helping with funding for HIV/Aids research, helping motivate people to get tested and use protection, and much more.
But Arsenio’s main goal is to entertain. “If you’re looking for a message, you can go to Western Union, but I’m not really that guy. I’m about sending you to bed with a smile on your face. That kind of daunting task with Magic was rough. But I’m also very proud of the Bill Clinton situation [playing his saxophone on the show]because of the way it’s lived on, and the way it’s forced people [politicians]to talk to Leno, etc. It kind of changed the way people campaign. So I’m proud of anything that left a small mark or changed something.”
He’s not sitting behind a desk. Arsenio is doing intimate interviews on a comfortable couch. The budget, he told the critics “is nowhere what the original money was, but I still want to make a living and survive.”
With Arsenio’s likable personality and drive to entertain people and make them laugh, we’re betting that he’ll not only survive, he’ll thrive.