It's official! Arsenio Hall is returning to late night television.
So much has changed in the world since The Arsenio Hall Show went dark on May 27, 1994. Back then, none of us could have imagined a world without Michael and Whitney, or how swiftly social media would one day take over our lives. Surely, we couldn’t have envisioned the Twin Towers falling to the ground or the havoc and destruction that Hurricane Katrina would cause along the Gulf Coast. We certainly wouldn’t have believed that the first Black President would soon be sitting in the Oval Office either. But even with all that has shifted over the last 18 years, one thing has remained exactly the same – that gaping hole in the late-night talk show line-up.
This week, Arsenio announced that he’s staking his claim on late-night once again, but we shouldn’t have been too surprised, right? After all, he has been rather visible recently and just last month, he earned top honors on Celebrity Apprentice. He was back on our radar and we were watching. He was funny and sharp (despite that much-talked-about semi-meltdown – yikes!) and he made us remember why we were once glued to the television each weeknight during the late '80s and early '90s. There’s no denying that he made television history, but what he also did was offer an outlet for Black talent to shine, on prime time, which was not so common when his show ruled the airwaves. Sadly, it’s not so common now either, which makes his return to television so fitting and so timely. “All the stars are aligned,” he told Entertainment Tonight about his upcoming show, which is scheduled to launch in September 2013. “There’s still a void for what I do.”
As a night owl, I’m always up, scrolling through the late-night TV listings. Most of the time, I find myself feeling rather disappointed. Aside from The Roots, who really do put it down on Fallon every night, there’s usually not much variety or color on the tube after 11 o’clock. I should admit, though, that I have been known to laugh-out-loud to Letterman’s monologues (and I just love the Top 10 List!). I also tune in to Leno, on occasion, and Conan, rarely, depending on the line-up. While Chelsea’s "mean girl" shtick is a bit much sometimes, Craig Ferguson can be pretty damn funny, as can Bill Maher, whom I watch on Friday nights. And while I’ve got to shout out Chris Rock for helming his cable talk show back in the late '90s – remember that one? – I’ve really not felt a sense of allegiance to any one show, or host, like I did when Arsenio was on the air.
Between giving props to his executive producer, Sandy, barking it up with The Dog Pound or sharing his often-ridiculous yet hysterical musings via those “Things that make you go, ‘hmmmmm…’” segments, he always had a houseful of guests – from the late Tupac Shakur and the ladies of TLC and Salt n’ Pepa to Eddie Murphy, Mariah Carey, Vanessa Williams, De La Soul, Bill Cosby and everybody in-between. Arsenio Hall was the man and watching his show was like a party, every night. If you missed one episode, you felt like you were completely unplugged. He had his long, skinny index finger of the pulse of pop culture, period. Here’s hoping that he can recapture that magic. Or better yet, create new magic.
There aren’t many details available about the new show yet, but so far, folks are buzzing about it on Facebook and Twitter. That’s a good start. So, who’s he putting at the top of his "dream" guest list? “You can’t go wrong if you get Jay-Z, Beyoncé… and the baby,” he said, with a laugh, during his recent chat with ET. Oh, and he’s also been thinking about switching up the now-infamous “woof, woof, woof” greeting he once shared with his studio audience. “[I might replace the bark] with another animal noise, but I just don’t know what it is yet!”
Arsenio, if you’re listening, do know that we’ve been missing you and can’t wait to see what you’ve got up your sleeve this go’ round. Bring it on!
Regina R. Robertson is West Coast Editor of ESSENCE. Follow her on Twitter @reginarobertson.