Long before Jerry Springer’s “Jerry! Jerry!” chant secured its place in pop culture, late night talk show host Arsenio Hall was greeted nightly by his fans, aptly named the “Dog Pound,” with their signature “arm pump” and accompanying bark of “woof woof woof!” This ensured that each of Arsenio’s entrances was spirited, fun and youthful. Guests like Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson pumped their arms along with them. It was an unstoppable force. It was Arsenioooooooo Hall!
See, the late ’80s brought a lot of drama to the “late night” genre. Joan Rivers had left the Tonight Show in order to pursue her own talk show on Fox, The Late Show starring Joan Rivers, in a rivaling time slot. This new job caused long time friend Johnny Carson to allegedly never speak to Joan again (so sad!). Even worse for Ms. Rivers, her show didn’t do so great. After a year or so of bumpy reviews, Fox found that guest host Arsenio Hall was a better fit than Joan Rivers. Joan was dismissed in 1987 and Hall took over hosting duties for a 13 week trial period. As the Late Show deteriorated around him and Fox scrambled to better fill the time slot, Hall found himself with a job offer for his own program. Sorry, Joan.
In January 1989, the Arsenio Hall Show made its television debut from Paramount Studios in Hollywood, CA. As a fresh-faced young comedian with a down-to-Earth appeal and a whole lot of swagger, Hall was able to win the hearts and minds of America’s 20-somethings almost instantly. Unlike many of his late night competitors, Hall appealed to a younger crowd. He booked bands and actors that were younger and newer. He tackled serious subjects, like the AIDS epidemic and racial inequality. He was adored by fans and celebrities alike. He was edgy. And then, after an ill-advised, nearly 60 minute interview with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and subsequent ratings drop, he was gone. After 5 years as host of a super-popular late night variety show, Arsenio Hall took a big step back.
Now, after nearly 20 years out of the limelight, Hall plans to give late night another go on CBS in September of 2013. Though it’s difficult to determine if the new show will live up to his previous late night success, Hall told the Hollywood Reporter, “People have moved on in society. Maybe there is some nostalgia: “I used to watch Arsenio when I was in college.” But we’re doing a show for people who have moved on, and now they can sit around with their kid who can stay up late, and there will be a lot of stuff they can both dig.” Let’s hope his predictions are accurate.
Whether his new show is a success or not, there’s no denying the impact Arsenio Hall has had on popular culture thus far. Sure, it happened long ago, but, without Arsenio pushing the envelope as he did, late night entertainment would be a total snooze-fest. Here are a few of Arsenio’s most pivotal television moments. Take notes!
1. Arsenio Hall Is the First Person to Put Snoop Dogg on TV
The early ’90s provided lots of riveting, real-life hop-hop drama and a boatload of excellent music. Hall was the first person on television to recognize the greatness of Snoop and introduce him to America by having him as a guest and performer on his show. Nearly 20 years later, Hall was hanging with his buddy George Lopez on the set of Lopez Tonight and was asked to introduce guest Snoop Dogg once again. It was this guest introduction of his old pal that triggered Arsenio’s desire to get back to the late night talk show circuit.
2. Bill Clinton Plays “Heartbreak Hotel” on the Sax
Part of “Slick Willie’s” appeal to youth and minority voters in the 1992 election is credited to this late night appearance. The first of its kind, this performance showed a more “human” side to our political figures and secured Clinton’s “cool” factor.
3. The Magic Johnson Interview
When NBA star Magic Johnson was shockingly diagnosed as HIV+, he chose the Arsenio Hall Show to have his first candid discussion about the diagnosis. His interview reached millions of viewers and exposed them to the truth and myths about the illness. After the airing of this show, Hall lent his celebrity to the Safer Sex/AIDS Awareness campaigns and, when he won Celebrity Apprentice in 2012, he donated $250,000 to the Magic Johnson Foundation.
4. Arsenio Hall Interviews Jason Voorhees
In anticipation of his latest film Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, everyone’s favorite camp cook/mass murder sat down for an interview with Arsenio. Jason never uttered a word for the full 5 minute interview, he just stared blankly at Arsenio. It’s creepy and funny.
5. Michael Jackson Just Shows Up Like It Ain’t No Thing
At the pinnacle of the King of Pop’s popularity, Michael Jackson spontaneously and unexpectedly emerged from backstage to hand Arsenio’s guest, Eddie Murphy, an award for being the best comedian ever. With two stars at the height of their fame engaged in a “No, I love you more” moment, Jackson’s random appearance on the Arsenio Hall Show goes down in television infamy. Just beautiful.
6. Arsenio Calls Out Vanilla Ice “I’m Vanilla Ice! I’m not no Elvis Presley.”
It’s no secret that “rap star” Vanilla Ice made a lot of people angry in the ’90s. His wardrobe alone left him open to public mockery, but it was his attitude and flapping gums that really got him into trouble. As a guest on the Arsenio Hall Show, Vanilla was forced to address all of his actions, quotes and media representations. Hall refused to let him get off easy, making direct reference to Ice’s perceived phoniness. He even questioned Vanilla’s reasoning for bringing pal Flava Flav on stage for an awkward and unnecessary hug suggesting that Ice did this only to prove he had a black supporter. While the recording of this clip is not the best (hey man, it’s vintage!), watching the “Ice Man” squirm in the hot seat is well worth it. It’s Arsenio’s own brand of entertainment journalism.
Welcome back, Arsenio, and keep up the good work!