Arsenio Hall returns to late night

Hall stands with members of his new show's band, which he's calling the Posse 2.0.
Hall stands with members of his new show's band, which he's calling the Posse 2.0.
Posted: September 10, 2013

* THE ARSENIO HALL SHOW. 11 p.m. Monday through Friday, PHL17.

IT WOULD be stretching it to say that time's stood still for Arsenio Hall, who returns to late-night TV tonight after an absence nearly as long as Rip Van Winkle's.

But it hasn't left much of a mark, either.

"I have less hair and less shoulder pads" is the way the 57-year-old actor, comedian and once and future late-show host put it in a recent interview in Beverly Hills, Calif. But if you're old enough to have stayed up for "The Arsenio Hall Show" - it aired in syndication from 1989 to 1994 - chances are you're not going to be overwhelmed by those changes.

Especially considering that Jon Stewart, the young upstart from MTV who briefly succeeded Hall in syndication before moving on to Comedy Central stardom, is a graying 50, David Letterman's eligible for Medicare and Jay Leno, who's leaving "The Tonight Show" for the second time early next year to make way for Jimmy Fallon, is 63.

"As stressful as parenting is, keep in mind: What I've been doing is watching TV, taking my kid to school and going to PTA meetings," Hall said of the life he's led in recent years, when work, he said, often took a back seat to helping to raise 13-year-old Arsenio Jr. (He and his son's mother have joint custody.)

"I always tell Leno, 'That gray that you get? That's NBC,' " he said. "I honestly think being in this business is incredibly stressful. And it ages you. You know, Jay Leno gets fired when he's No. 1. . . . What kind of stress is that?"

Still, even before beating Clay Aiken to win NBC's "Celebrity Apprentice" last year, Hall was plotting a return to late night, putting together a syndication deal that involves CBS' distribution arm and the Tribune stations, including Philadelphia PHL17.

"I'm not coming back because my business manager said that I should, but because the second I could get my son to say, 'Dad, drop me off around the corner from the theater,' I'm like, 'I'm coming back to show business because even my son is ready for me to go back,' " said Hall.

Once positioned as a hip young alternative to Johnny Carson - yes, it's been that long - Hall's not in denial about the world to which he's returning.

"There are people that are excited and there are people that think it's a good idea, but I'm the new guy again. Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel - it's their world."

He's also returning to a business that's more about business than ever: "The waste, the games, the borrowing the corporate plane . . . all that bull---- is dead."

Of the handpicked band he calls "Posse 2.0," he said, "There was a moment where I had four members, and I was trying to scrape to get a fifth member just to have a five-piece band like I used to."

He said he also realizes how much time has passed when he thinks of "young artists like Ludacris," he said.

"I'm watching a documentary last night and it mentions some figure like, 'Ludacris has been hot for 15 years,' or something like that, and I realize I've read that Ludacris loves 'Coming to America' [in which Hall co-starred with Eddie Murphy] and I've read complimentary things about Ludacris, but I realize, I don't know Ludacris," he said of the rapper.

"So you realize, it's, wow, you know the last time I sat on the couch, my 'Growing Pains' was with Alan Thicke [whose sidekick he'd been on the short-lived talk show "Thicke of the Night"]. Now I'm about to cross 'Blurred Lines' with Robin Thicke."

The younger Thicke sometimes accompanied his father to the show and asked if he could come back on other nights to hear "certain singers," Hall said.

"He had specific requests," Hall said. "He knew in his heart that he was the white Marvin Gaye then. He knew who he wanted to see," and it wasn't Billy Ray Cyrus. "He said, 'Can I come see Gerald Levert?' 'Can I come see R. Kelly?' These R&B stars. He knew exactly who he was. And it's going to be so exciting to come back and sit and talk to him."

Not that he was sure, in late July, that he could get Thicke.

"I don't know. I mean, this is just a wish in a sense. . . . Drake has a song, 'Started from the bottom, now we're here.' I started from the bottom and now I'm back here at the bottom again.

"You don't get to pop in and say, 'Because I did what I did, I'm jumping in and I want Beyonce first night. That'd be a dream come true, but I'm the new guy, and it's just like the first time around. I'm scraping and hustling to find my guests and get people to commit," he said.

"When I announced [that I was planning to come back], Prince called. And Prince said to me, 'Save me a night.' But if the show sucks, he won't want a night. And a lot of people aren't calling like Prince and saying, 'Save me a night.' Their publicists are saying, 'I'd like to see that first night.' "

Among the guests who've since been announced for this week's shows are Chris Tucker, Mark Harmon, Lisa Kudrow and Magic Johnson, whose foundation Hall was representing when he won "Celebrity Apprentice" and who appeared on Hall's show the day after announcing, in 1991, that he'd tested positive for HIV.

It's also been suggested that there will be "surprise guests."

Robin Thicke isn't necessarily the only second-generation celebrity Hall has his eye on.

"I wanted to come back to CBS, which is Paramount, so I had my own library, so I can show Robin Thicke, Alan Thicke. So I can use a clip in an intro and say, 'The dad [Philadelphia's Will Smith] broke 'Parents Just Don't Understand' here many, many years ago and right now here performing blah-blah-blah is Jaden Smith.' I'll be able to do that because I have my whole library. But I have to come into the situation and scrap as the new guy."

CBS Corp. President Leslie Moonves, now overseeing David Letterman as well as Hall, doesn't see a conflict, saying that the two have "very different" audiences.

"We sat down and we talked about it," Moonves said of the arena to which Hall's returning, saying that he told him, " 'When you were on in the Bill Clinton days, you know you were competing against a couple of guys. Now there's some serious competitors.' It's a syndicated show, the expectations aren't tremendously high - in other words, it doesn't have to go through the roof to be successful. . . . We're confident we've got a good shot here."

Phone: 215-854-5950

On Twitter: @elgray


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