He’s baaack! Arsenio Hall, who once reigned supreme over ’90s late-night TV’s younger audience, is getting a second shot at fame, fortune and millions of woofing fans. And he’s damned scared.
After all, Hall is no stranger to the exhilarating highs and stomach-dropping lows of show biz. “There’s a fear, and I think that’s what makes me not come back lazy; I failed in this town,” says the 57-year-old entertainer and father. Smacking the conference table in his L.A. production office, he says, “I know what failure feels like.”
On the other hand, he knows that success is oh-so-sweet since stepping back into the bright lights in September, to now host the 21st-century version of his Arsenio Hall Show. Eyeing a stack of promotional posters bearing his name in big block letters, Hall grins. “It’s incredible to be back.” The CBS hourlong nationally syndicated talk show [check local listings for air time] feels like home for the comedic vet who is plotting to get Beyoncé and daughter Blue Ivy on his stage, perhaps as the New Age version of Bill Clinton and his sax. “I’ll even take Matthew [Knowles],” he jokes.
For his second act, Hall is taking the best of his previous talk show’s format and remixing it with current affairs and musical acts, including The Posse, his newly formed house band. Once known for having his finger on the pulse of young America, Hall 2.0 aims at an older demographic, ages 35 to 55, which he considers the grown-up version of the rump-shaking college kids he used to target. He’s ditched the flattop, shoulder pads and baggy suits but, at press time, Hall is still debating whether to bring back his ultimate fan section, the Dog Pound.
Not to worry. He has not tired of the woofing and hopes his audience will continue the nostalgic show of love. “When I go to the mall or when me and my son go to Disneyland, people bark. That’s how they say hello to me,” says Hall. With a quick snap of his fingers, he spontaneously launches into a story about his son, Arsenio Jr., 14 (whose mother is Hall’s former manager Cheryl Bonacci), who has been trying to bargain with his dad to stay up late so he can attend the nightly tapings. “I’m like, ‘How about Fridays?’ but he’s like, ‘Dad, you keep telling me this is history,’ ” Hall says, laughing. “He got me.”
Fatherhood, Hall admits, was what lured him away from Hollywood after his first taste of fame—that along with the complacency that often accompanies stardom. “I approached [the business] like a fat, rich, lazy Hollywood artist who really wanted to be with his son,” he says recalling a canned DreamWorks sitcom deal. “All I wanted was some semblance of a family.”
Soon after, parenting became first priority, and carpooling and homework replaced 24/7 working hours and late-night partying with the likes of Magic Johnson and Eddie Murphy. Hall is better at juggling daddy duties this time around: “Part of being a dad is getting a call at 10:30 a.m. [from my son saying,] ‘I forgot my lunch card, my locker key’ and all of that.” But raising a teenager has its perks. “He’s my consultant,” says the proud papa, beaming as he recounts Junior’s suggestion that he book Macklemore to perform on the show. “It was so cool that he could say, ‘Dad, I think this guy is cool, and up in Seattle, they love him.’ ” It reminds Hall of the slam-dunk debut of Snoop Lion (then Snoop Doggy Dogg) on the show in 1994. Clearly, an eye for talent runs in the family.
Next year will mark 20 years since the original Arsenio Hall Show went dark. Throwback nostalgia, however, has its limits. “Everybody thinks you come back and, ‘It’s Arsenio, so give him a show,’ but it wasn’t like that,” says Hall, admitting it took him five years to convince network executives to gamble on him again. “I talked to one [executive,] and she looked at me like I farted,” he says, eyebrows raised. “She had no understanding of why I would want to come back after all this time.”
Read the rest in the October-dated issue of EBONY magazine!