Bursting onto the late-night scene in 1989, The Arsenio Hall Show quickly shot to fame and became a pop culture phenomenon, but by the mid '90s, Arsenio had already faded into obscurity, joining Max Headroom and Joe Piscopo on the pile of discarded flash-in-the-pan television personalities.
This fall, Hall returns to late night with a new syndicated talk show, 19 years after he last hosted his own program. While promoting his new show, slated to premiere on September 9, Hall sat down to discuss his past, present, and future.
Traveling back in time to 1994, Hall clarified that his show wasn't canceled, despite a drop in ratings. "It wasn't canceled. I resigned," he insisted. "Sure, there was an erosion of the numbers as shows tend to do in year five or six. You are a little lower this year than last year. But the show never stopped making money, never stopped being profitable for Paramount."
If it's true that he walked away, why would he leave his own show? "I actually thought I needed changes in my life and I need to try other things. I wanted to do things professionally, like stand-up, and try some acting," explained Hall. "I felt my whole life needed broadening. I didn't have a family. Everything I had done was a gamble because I felt if I missed it at some point, I could get back in. I could still walk into a comedy club and make people laugh every night. That's what I do. And I could be home in the morning to make breakfast and take my kid to school. What I was confused about was that when you go from being on every night to just being a stand-up, your visibility is on a whole different level."
Arsenio's visibility had increased exponentially when he co-starred with Eddie Murphy in 1988's Coming To America, but a career as an actor was not in the cards. Regrettably, he passed up a major movie role that eventually went to Will Smith. "It was one of those things I tried to pursue after I left late-night. I wanted to study and take it seriously and not just be the talk show host who is popular so he gets a role," Hall said. "But I wasn't able to crack that nut the way I wanted. It's a tough racket. Sometimes I made bad choices. I remember there was a time I decided not to do more stand-up or go on the road. I turned down a movie called Bad Boys where it would have been me and Martin [Lawrence] instead of Will [Smith] and Martin. You look back and say, 'It wasn't a bad decision because I'm happy with my life.' I'm a daddy or whatever. But then you realize, that's not where I'm supposed to be. One day you really miss it."
The college-aged audience that watched The Arsenio Hall Show in its prime is now 40 years old and they likely have kids of their own. Arsenio hopes that his new show will attract young and old alike, but promises that it won't be a retread of what he did before. "I think a lot of people are curious about who I am now," he acknowledged. "The bottom line is, trust me, this is not about a CBS boardroom where Leslie Moonves says, 'The word is energy.' It's like every talk show host is an engine and you put them all in a similar bod and see how they run. I think people will see that they like the flow of our engine. Muhammad Ali had a quote. When [Howard] Cosell said to him, 'You aren't the man you used to be,' he said, 'The man who is who he used to be is a fool.'"
Will you be revisiting Arsenio Hall in September?