Tuesday, June 19, 2012

ARSENIO'S BACK ON LATE NIGHT, BUT IS THERE ANY ROOM FOR HIM?



Maybe I missed a clue or two beforehand, but when I read on all the entertainment wires that Arsenio Hall was coming back to do a late night talk show, I nearly fell out of my chair. Maybe the only hypothetically bigger shock I could've heard was if Carson came from the dead, and he was going back. I want to sorta explain the equivalency of this, so lets compare this to Rock'n'roll for a second. If this is Rock'n'roll, than Carson is The Beatles, long after he's gone, still the best, nobody's ever gonna top them. Letterman is The Rolling Stones, almost as great, hanging around longer than anybody expected sure, but more dangerous, not as classy, but can still do it. Now Arsenio, came on, late '80s-early '90s, and their had been a lot of pretenders to Carson's throne at that point, they'd all come and gone, Dick Cavett, Merv Griffin, eh, Joey Bishop, are probably the most notable of these names, who were all good, and they have each eeked out there own importance in TV history, a little niche, per se, but none of them ever seriously competed with Carson, until Arsenio came along. Now, here's where Arsenio differed though, 'cause this is kinda what makes Arsenio key, he competed with Carson, but he never took any of Carson's ratings or viewers. This was the weird place where Arsenio came in. First off, you have to remember, Letterman is still doing Late Night after Carson on NBC at this point, and there's some tension building as to the "Who will replace him?", but more importantly, they were it. There was no other legitimate competitors of any note whatsoever, if anything talk shows, were starting to oversaturate daytime TV more than anything. Carson had everybody, middle America primarily, Letterman still had the kids. Now, "The Arsenio Hall Show," was not on a network, it was actually syndicated, which hadn't really been done before up 'til then. I watched him, I believe on FOX stations, and he was on many CBS affiliates, as well as some UHF stations, so he wasn't always one-on-one competing against Carson, but he ended up getting, a little bit of the kids from Letterman, who watched both Arsenio and Letterman, 'cause Arsenio was usually on either earlier or later, but he got a completely separate market altogether, this urban youth market. That was the big light bulb thing, that Arsenio did. He found a market that every other show had basically been ignoring up until then, and that made him an unbelievably critical person at that point, he basically represented an entire demographic. Because of this, he actually was well-respected at "The Tonight Show," with Carson, and even with Leno, who's used him on and off on his show periodically.

Arsenio is also in many ways, the biggest casualty of Carson's retirement. His show was syndicated to a lot of CBS stations, who pushed him off after they signed Letterman and he immediately became a smash, and FOX eventually did the same with "The Chevy Chase Show," which lasted about a week or two, but it cost Arsenio high-profile affiliates that he couldn't get back, and eventually, as the new crop on the main stage of Late Night took over, Arsenio started losing ratings and getting relegated to very late night slots, sometimes at two in the morning or later, and that was also when Cable started getting into the mix, when "The Jon Stewart Show," (Not, "The Daily Show..." "The Jon Stewart Show") became a surprise brief hit for MTV, it wasn't a hit for a long period of time, but it was, at just the wrong time for Arsenio, and the show got cancelled shortly after it's 1000th episode.  He was still great, he came in just at the right time to find a create a new market, and then got swallowed up when the market shifted and started going after his audience too. So here's this amazing multi-talented, innovator, who hit his peaked, but kinda left a little too soon, but still talented, well-liked and remembered enough that, if ever he came back, he could be one of the few people who could still be the best at his profession, and big as big a hit as he once was. Basically, if we're continuing the rock'n'roll analogy, Arsenio is The Police, before they got back together, and the hypothetical is that, he could've been the king of Late Night had he hung around, and not Jay Leno. (Who, I guess would have to be U2 in this comparison.) Now that, was my original reaction to hearing this news. I'd digging the idea of him coming back, I'm doing the fist pump and all that. On the same token however, this isn't the late night landscape that it was when he came aboard. Yes, for all-intensive purposes, Leno is the ratings leader/winner, and he basically controls most of the landscape, but he's not the runaway king that Carson is, and culturally, he's nowhere near in the lead, which "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," is way more influential a TV show right now. On top of him, George Lopez got cancelled, 'cause of Conan, moving to cable, there's Jimmy Fallon and Craig Ferguson, really carving out some amazing late night work, they're both doing amazing work critically, Fallon's winning the ratings, but not by a lot, Jimmy Kimmel's got a cult group of fans and devotees on ABC, Bill Maher on HBO, still around, still consistent, still controversial, there's Chelsea Handler with her niche audience, I might be wrong, but I believe BET still has Mo'Nique... Basically here's what I'm getting at... is there a place for Arsenio Hall right now? I'm not sure there is. That's what really brought him on with "The Arsenio Hall Show," was that he had a marketplace out there that hadn't really been tapped until then. Nowadays, you can go, up and down the demographics, and there's a talk show for you. Carson Daly of all people, has carved out a little space for his late late night market, it took awhile for him to find a format that he comfortable, and now, he's become quite a good interviewer too. Frankly, he's not of his old's show demographic either. In fact, if you go on youtube and happen to watch some old "Arsenio..." clips, it's like a trip in a time machine now. The look of the set, the clothes, hell Arsenio himself. He's so associated with that era, him, MC Hammer, Eddie Murphy during his "Raw" pretty, he's very much the epitome of that time. One of the first recommendations I see when I pop in Arsenio on youtube, is his interview with Vanilla Ice, for Christ's sake. (Don't get me wrong, the Bill Clinton one is way more recommended, but still.) That old audience has long grown up with kids who are now adults with kids themselves, who have no real idea who Arsenio Hall is, unless they happened to catch "Celebrity Apprentice" last season. Mr. Hall is wait too smart to try and recreate 1989 all over again, but what is he gonna try to do? He must still have things to say and talk about since he's pushed forward this talk show enough to get a deal. Interesting, as I look through some of these old clips of "The Arsenio Hall Show," the most unique single element that he brings now is his interview style. It's not more relaxed and layed-back like most of the others. He's very deliberate in his interviews, even with the more stereotypical celebrity guests, you can always tell he's being very careful of what words to use. Occasionally he jokes, but he's more interested usually in making a serious point or asking a tough question, and drawing some thoughtful and sometimes brutally honest thoughts out of his guests. Jon Stewart is somewhat similar, although I think Arsenio probably borrowed more from Dick Cavett or even Larry King in that regards, and that is a little bit lacking right now in Late Night.

I wish him luck and success in this endeavor, but with some reservations. We won't find out how successful he'll be, until 2013 when his show debuts, but it's gonna be interesting nonetheless. Are people still gonna care about him and hear what he has to say, or are they just gonna turn in to see what he looks like now. He is the most unique and interesting test case to see what succeeds in this overpopulated Late Night market,  ever. I can't even think of anybody else offhand who went from having a late-night show, to going back to having a late night show, much less, from having a successful and important one. He's got experience on his side, something that very few of the contenders really had much of beforehand. He was the first African-American to ever host a Late-Night talk show, and even with Mo'Nique, he's still gonna walk back in, easily the biggest and most successful name in that regard. (I don't now Mo'Nique's ratings, but I had to look up BET.com to find out if she was still on the air, so I'm presuming they're fairly low, but even if they aren't Hall's gonna be on network television, granted, in syndication-form, but still, it's a more widely-available and more-profitable market.) There's too many uncertainties and firsts that are occurring here. I can't even claim that I'm gonna watch him when he airs. Well, I can't. I can't tell who I'm gonna watch tonight, if I watch anybody. At the most, I might watch a clip of "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," on youtube tomorrow 'cause I subscribe to FB updates from them, and maybe tonight listen to either Leno or Letterman as it's left on in the living room, then maybe Fallon or Ferguson if I'm still up. It's weird, we used to think that nobody could ever touch Johnny Carson because he spoke to so many of us, but after Arsenio, it showed that he didn't speak to everybody, and now, all the talk shows speak to different demographics, and frankly we're lucky that so many of them are very good. They're all different, but with few exceptions, they're pretty good. Arsenio Hall's coming back into a completely different Late Night world, that might not have room for him, but in many ways, it's actually a Late Night universe that he, arguable more than anybody else, created.
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