Ray Richmond contributes to Deadline’s TCA coverage.
An extremely chatty and ebullient Arsenio Hall proved he’s ready to leap back into the late-night talk fray at TCA this afternoon, holding court onstage and showing a certain reluctance to leave during a session that ran nearly 15 minutes overtime. Hall’s new CBS Television Distribution syndie effort premieres September 9 and is cleared in all of the major markets. It’s been 19 years since Hall departed the late-night air with his Paramount talker and 16 years since both short-lived The Keenan Ivory Wayans Show and Vibe premiered in fall 1997. Hall was positively giddy while chattering about his plans for the new show. When he left the nightly air nearly two decades ago, the Internet was still more or less in its infancy and social media was non-existent. Consequently, he’s planning for social media to be a big part of the new show. “It can drive people from the computer to the TV screen,” he said. “But it’s not necessarily essential. [Jay] Leno isn’t really into it, and yet he’s No. 1…I’m excited to jump back into it. When you write a joke and you’re able to use Google (for you’re research)…I can’t wait to write jokes and do comedy and prepare interviews in this digital world.” When asked how the look and the feel of The Arsenio Hall Show will be, he indicated that it’s not really going to be so different from any other show. “Basically, what I’ll do is just assert my personality and hope people will hang with me…But the challenges are gigantic now. What I’ve got to be is better than one guy that’s there already. You don’t have to go after Chelsea’s fans or Leno’s fans to be in the game.”
Executive producer Neal Kendall asserted that compared to 1994 it’s a virtual Golden Age of Late Night. “I think everything’s working incredibly well, and we’re just happy to be the new kid on the block”, Kendall said. “What’s new and different about the show? Well, Arsenio himself is new and different. That’s what we’re bringing to the table.” Added exec producer John Ferriter: “There are 290 million Americans who don’t watch late-night. So there are people out there we hope will come in. The good news is, Arsenio’s done this before, so he knows the work that’s required.” He said that the show has been in the works for some three years. “My goal was to help Arsenio kind of finish the job. He did six seasons and then he just kind of went away. Now he gets a chance to finish what he started”.
When asked what he remains proudest of from the first incarnation of his talk show, Hall cited the night Magic Johnson revealed that he had AIDS as well as the iconic appearance by Bill Clinton when he played the saxophone. Several questioners also tried to goad Hall into bashing his longtime competitor Leno, but he wouldn’t take the bait. Instead, he noted that Leno — as well as other future late-night competitors — have been nothing but nice to him as he preps his comeback. He even praised Leno for steering him to a writer whom he had to lay off — and whom Hall wound up hiring. “The bottom line is everyone’s been real nice to me,” he said. “Maybe everyone’s just setting me up top knock me out.”