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Arsenio Hall’s Return to Late Night Scores Big Ratings

Can one of TV's most underrated talk show hosts really stage a comeback after twenty years?

Kathy Shaidle


September 13, 2013 - 3:00 pm


I’m a genetically programmed contrarian, right down to my pop culture tastes (as regular readers know).

As I’ve written here before, my preference for the “corny, uncool butt-kisser” unabashedly enthusiastic Arsenio Hall over slimy late-night lounge lizard David Letterman marked me as a Gen-X pariah for a very long time.

Sure, Hall probably helped Bill Clinton win the White House, after letting the candidate “play” the sax on his show.

But I admired Hall’s insistence on carrying on with his Los Angeles-based show during the Rodney King riots, and trying to be a peacemaker; it’s a night people still talk about.

Then there was the time obnoxious “Queer Nation” activists tried to hijack his program and he literally got up in their faces, unscripted.

It’s an amazingly timely clip that more of today’s cowardly, politically correct comedians should study closely:

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Arsenio probably didn’t deserve to win Celebrity Apprentice over Clay Aiken (or my man, Adam Carolla, dammit…), but during the show’s run, I noted his strong work ethic, creativity and independence.

(Although I was thrown off by his meltdown over the admittedly irritating Aubrey O’Day.)

(News flash: He’s a touchy celebrity, not to mention just plain human!)

But I’m not just contrarian.

I’m stubborn, too.

I’ve discovered over the years that if I just stand still long enough, other folks eventually catch up to me.

I’m thrilled to see, for instance, that comedian Paul Scheer has been spreading the Arsenio Gospel for some time now, in an albeit wacky way:

(He gets fellow comics like Seth Rogen to reenact famous old Arsenio interviews, which is some real “Rupert Pupkin” stuff right there…)

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Now even has belatedly joined Team Arsenio, touting him as “late night’s best interviewer” just in time to mark Hall’s return to the airwaves after a two-decade break.

The premier episode did gangbuster ratings, but obviously it is way too soon to tell whether or not the new Arsenio Hall show has staying power, or can ever hope to match the originality and influence of the original.

The Hollywood Reporter cleverly got self-described “world’s foremost Arsenio Hall expert” Paul Scheer to render a verdict on the program’s first night:

One of my favorite things about Arsenio is that he’s the only talk show host I know of that doesn’t use index cards to help guide an interview. He seemingly is going off the cuff trying to find something interesting in the moment, which is the most refreshing thing he brings to the table — because there is no guarantee that it’s going to be a solid interview.

But when it’s good it’s great. (…)

Arsenio interviews like a friend trying to catch up at a party. It feels more like Dick Cavett than Jay Leno, and I like it. He also doesn’t overbook, so he can really spend time with his guest.

Hopefully it will stay like that. (…)

He might not win the late-night war, but he might wind up doing something truly different. That means you’re going to have more interviews like the classic ones where Andrew Dice Clay cried or Tupac Shakur told Arsenio why he refuses to take an AIDS test.

Watching Arsenio’s show really makes me think that Arsenio didn’t treat this show like a comeback, he’s treating it like America just forgot what channel he’s been on and now we found him again.

He’s going to keeping doing the show he knows how to do best: his own.

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(KATHY SHAIDLE is a blogging pioneer who runs FiveFeetOfFury, now in its 15th year. She's been called "one of the great virtuoso polemicists of our time," by MARK STEYN. Her NEW book is Confessions of A Failed Slut (Thought Catalog, 2014).

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All Comments   (8)
All Comments   (8)
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Arsenio ... he O.K.
Go for it.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I've always found him annoyingly insincere, and while conducting interviews his manner indicates he couldn't care less about the answers to his questions, he's just waiting (and sometimes not) to pose the next question.

Oh yeah... and Arsenio is starting to look like the mid-point of the climatic Nazi melt-down sequence at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Somebody give that man a box of Krispy Kremes.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I had a liberal wannabee-hipster friend who came into the office once circa 1988 and walked around with his finger in the air. He seemed shocked that I didn't know he was pretending to be Arsenio Hall. I don't think I ever even watched his show.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Never liked his show. I just don't find him entertaining.
He looks ill, by the way.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Does he look ill or simply older? I cannot quite decide.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
He will come out of the closet as being gay when his ratings start to decline. Lots of rumors among basketball junkies back in the day when he ran around with Magic Johnson and Eddie Murphy.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Arsenio Hall won Celebrity Apprentice over Clay Aiken? See, he really does hate gays! Queer Nation rock on!

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Given how popular Jay Leno's show has become lately maybe somebody realizes the value of someone who wont butt kiss the more extreme far left PC crowd?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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