The Arsenio Hall Show
|The Arsenio Hall Show|
|Created by||Arsenio Hall
Marla Kell Brown
|Presented by||Arsenio Hall|
|Narrated by||Original series:
|Theme music composer||Arsenio Hall|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||Original Series:
|No. of episodes||Original Series:
100 (as of February 14, 2014)
Hollywood, California (1989–1994)
Sunset Bronson Studios
Hollywood, California (2013–present)
|Running time||60 minutes (with commercials)|
|Distributor||Paramount Domestic Television (1989–1994)
CBS Television Distribution
|Picture format||480i (SDTV)
|Original run||Original series:
January 3, 1989 – May 27, 1994
September 9, 2013 –
|Related shows||The Late Show
There are two separate programs that have been titled The Arsenio Hall Show, both airing in syndication. The first premiered on January 3, 1989, and ran until May 27, 1994. The current Arsenio Hall Show debuted on September 9, 2013.
During its first run, Hall's flashy stage entrance and energetic, groundbreaking shows made it become a pop culture hit. Unlike his competitors, many of whom shared a self-deprecating sense of humor, Hall possessed a personality, swagger and confidence that attracted viewers. His catchphrase, "Let's get busy!" introduced a televised party. Hall's wardrobe consisted of bright, loud colors that reflected the tone of the show. His flat-top haircut was so prevalent in that era, many pro and college athletes adopted the look. The guest lineup and musical acts on the show were more diverse and couldn't be found on other talk shows. Hall also didn't shy away from controversial topics that his competitors tended to avoid, such as Rodney King and the 1992 Los Angeles riots, or race relations in general. The show provided viewers a clear alternative to the tried-and-true formula of late-night TV. The ratings showed there was an audience for what Hall was providing. Until then, late-night had been dominated by The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson on NBC. Arsenio Hall made a dent in Carson's ratings and broadened the genre, resulting in a diversity of personalities on broadcast and cable channels today.
Both Arsenio series were produced by Hall's production company, Arsenio Hall Communications. The original series was co-produced and distributed by Paramount Domestic Television and taped at Paramount's studios in Los Angeles. The current program is produced at Sunset Bronson Studios in Los Angeles, is co-produced by Tribune Broadcasting, Octagon Entertainment, and Eye Productions and is distributed by the successor to PDT, CBS Television Distribution.
Original run (1989–1994)
Hall had been a host on The Late Show, another talk show on Fox, after the dismissal of Joan Rivers. He was given a 13-week run, during which he became unexpectedly popular. During the monologue of his final appearance as host, Hall stated that the reason he had agreed to only do 13 weeks was because that was as long as he was able to stay, as he had plans "to do other things." He subsequently began working on the Eddie Murphy vehicle Coming to America. He ultimately signed with Paramount Television before Fox finally decided, too late, that they wanted to keep him. Hall had a fairly long connection with Paramount before this, having been the in-house comedian on Paramount's weekly music series Solid Gold for several years and serving as a co-host for its final two years.
Recurring features and gags
Burton Richardson's long intro of the show's host (in which he holds the letter "O" in 'Arsenio' for as long as ten seconds right before Hall came out onto the stage, and then in the same breath, finally/immediately announced "HALL!") is a staple of the show. In the intro to the final episode, Richardson held his one-breath introduction for exactly twenty seconds, one of the few times he had done so. While being introduced (and as seen on show titles/promos), Arsenio stood with his head down, hands together and legs apart, in the form/shape of the letter "A".
One of the show's recurrent themes was affixing a humorous label to a section of the studio audience in rows behind/near the band, called the "Dog Pound". Members of the "Dog Pound" jubilantly interacted with Hall, standing up and making a pumping, whirling motion with their raised fists and howling "Wuff, Wuff, Wuff". The labeling was a staple of Hall's opening monologue and almost always began with the phrase "Those are people who...." In one variation of Hall ridiculing the "Dog Pound" with some offbeat statement which simultaneously appeared over the screen, Hall designated the section as "People who are currently in a Witness Protection Program," at which point a camera pans over to that section to reveal a digitally pixilated view of the audience that made it impossible to identify them.
A frequent joke in Hall's opening monologue suggested that he still lives in Cleveland and drives himself to Los Angeles every day to host the show. While on these alleged long drives, Hall ponders certain thoughts, referring to them as "things that make you go hmmm...." The running gag inspired a 1991 C+C Music Factory song by the same title. "Things That Make You Go Hmmm..." reached #1 on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play chart and #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
The Arsenio Hall Show was aimed primarily at, although not limited to, the younger urban audience. Eddie Murphy (a personal friend of Hall's), George Lopez and other performers were often featured, such as semi-regular guests including Andrew "Dice" Clay and Paula Abdul. The show quickly appealed to young people of all races and began to attract a wide variety of guests not common on other talk shows (although this popularity with audiences was short-lived and ultimately led to the show's cancellation). It became the show for entertainers to go to in order to reach the "MTV Generation." The show was commonly dubbed a "Night Thing" and reflected a party or nightclub theme.
Hall's friend M.C. Hammer was also a frequent interview and musical guest. Additionally, Hall interviewed "Jason Voorhees", the main character from the popular Friday the 13th series of films around the time of the release of Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan. Muppets creator Jim Henson also appeared on the show 12 days before his death in May 1990, marking one of Henson's last public appearances. Hall often featured World Wrestling Federation wrestlers, like Hulk Hogan (who first denied using steroids on the program), Ravishing Rick Rude (who made a special set of tights with Hall's face on the back) with Bobby Heenan, Randy Savage, Bad News Brown, the Big Bossman, and Akeem with Slick and The Ultimate Warrior.
The show was known for the audience's chant of "Woof! Woof! Woof!" while pumping their fists in a circular motion. According to TV Acres, the "Wuff, Wuff" sound was based on howlings used at Cleveland Browns (aka "The Dogs") football games, in Hall's hometown. Others[who?] have speculated that it came from the chant of Black Greek Letter Organization Omega Psi Phi fraternity. It quickly became associated with the show and with Hall himself (as well as a pop culture reference). The signature move was mimicked by Julia Roberts in the 1990 film Pretty Woman.
Arsenio was also well known for his long fingers, which he would often use to point at the audience and his house band he called his "Posse," and was spoofed by Keenen Ivory Wayans on In Living Color. Rob Lowe also parodied Hall on Saturday Night Live in 1990, as did Paul Scheer in 2013 on the web series The ArScheerio Paul Show.
In 1990, Hall decided to develop a companion program to his own as what he termed to be his show's "afterparty". This idea became The Party Machine, a 30-minute late night music show in the same vein as shows like Club MTV or Soul Train. Hall co-produced the series with its host, singer/actress Nia Peeples, and it debuted on January 7, 1991, in syndication (usually following its parent series). Although initial ratings were high, especially in its larger markets, The Party Machine began sliding in the ratings quickly and the program was cancelled five months after its debut. Its final episode aired on September 15, 1991.
Queer Nation incident
During a May 1991 taping, three or four members of Queer Nation, seated in the back row in different sections of the audience, interrupted Hall's opening monologue demanding to know why he never had any gay guests on the show. Hall's initial answer was that since most of the guests were not open about their sexuality, neither Hall nor the producers knew whether they were gay or not.
When the protesters voiced their offense because the show failed to book filmmaker Gus Van Sant (whose My Own Private Idaho was in production at the time) or actor Harvey Fierstein, Hall defended the show by saying that Elton John had been a guest. Increasingly infuriated, Hall added that he booked guests due to his interest in what they were working on at the time, not because of their sexual preference (specifically, in the case of Fierstein, saying that if he was doing something that Hall found interesting, he would definitely book him as a guest). The heated exchange went on for several minutes, and Hall continued to defend himself as both a comedian and a host, pointing out that he also had gay friends, and that a person's sexual preference was really nobody else's business. Fierstein eventually did become a guest on the show months later.
Then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton was a guest on the show in June 1992, playing "Heartbreak Hotel" on the saxophone (causing Arsenio to quip, "It's nice to see a Democrat blow something besides the election"). The appearance is often considered an important moment in Clinton's political career, helping build his popularity among minority and young voters. Clinton went on to win the election in November 1992.
The popularity of the former president's appearance on the show was rekindled on June 6, 2012, when a mashup of his iconic sax solo, set to the tune of M83's "Midnight City", was uploaded to YouTube. The video went viral and instantly created a buzz.
Eventual decline and cancellation
The program remained popular into 1993, but as the year went on, Hall and Paramount began having ratings problems due in large part to the premiere of three late-night series before the year was out. At the end of the 1992–93 season one of Hall's strongest bases consisted of CBS affiliates. At the time, CBS did not offer much in the way of late night programming other than its nightly crime drama rerun block and its overnight newscast CBS News Nightwatch (later replaced by Up to the Minute). Among the CBS stations that aired Arsenio at the time were WJW-TV, then the network's affiliate in Hall's hometown of Cleveland; WUSA-TV in Washington, D.C., a station owned by Gannett Company; and WBBM-TV in Chicago, one of the network's owned-and-operated stations. Another prominent group of stations that carried the program were affiliates of the still-young Fox, many of which picked up Arsenio to fill the gaps left when The Late Show, which never was able to find an audience, was finally canceled in 1988. One of the stations that picked up Arsenio was WTXF-TV in Philadelphia, which in 1993 was actually owned by Paramount through its Paramount Stations Group.
In the summer of 1993, David Letterman, who had spent over 13 years at NBC and the previous 11 as the host of the popular post-Tonight Show program Late Night, left the network due to his dissatisfaction with being passed over for The Tonight Show hosting gig after the retirement of Johnny Carson in favor of Jay Leno. Letterman signed with CBS to do a late-night program which would compete head-to-head with The Tonight Show. This caused a problem for Hall, who had found himself in a similar situation before when his program first premiered. At the time, Carson's program was the only network program airing in the post-local-news time-slots nationwide.
While Paramount was set to launch Arsenio in syndication, CBS was ready to premiere The Pat Sajak Show, which was to have Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak preside over a 90-minute-long program similar to Carson's. However, Hall had two things working in his favor; his prior late-night hosting experience when compared with Sajak's lack of emceeing outside of his Wheel duties, and the fact that his show was to premiere exactly one week before Sajak's to give him a head start. Many CBS affiliates—including WBBM, WUSA, and WJW—picked up Hall's show when The Pat Sajak Show was canceled within 12 months of its debut. This time however, instead of facing an unproven entity, Hall was facing one of the most popular hosts in late night, with the new Late Show with David Letterman becoming an instant hit. Hall lost several CBS stations, including WBBM, when Letterman's new show debuted. Most, if not all, of the rest dropped Hall when Letterman's show became a runaway hit (WUSA was one of the exceptions, having rebuffed an edict by CBS for all of its affiliates to clear the Late Show at the normal time for their time zone). Arsenio also found itself losing some of its audience to cable as MTV launched a daily thirty minute late-night program that was hosted by comedian Jon Stewart. The new Jon Stewart Show was an instant success, quickly becoming the second most popular show on MTV behind Beavis and Butt-head shortly after its summer 1993 premiere.
Subsequently, Fox decided to get back into the late night television battle after several years, despite Arsenio drawing solid ratings on many of its affiliates. In September 1993, the network premiered The Chevy Chase Show running directly against Leno and Letterman. Fox demanded that all of its affiliates air Chase's show, leading the Fox stations airing Arsenio to either drop the series or relocate it on the schedule to a less desirable time slot. Although The Chevy Chase Show was a critical and ratings flop and left the air after only five weeks, Arsenio still saw its ratings as those stations that had dropped Hall in favor of Chase were not necessarily inclined to either return the show to their lineups (for those that dropped Arsenio) or move it back to the timeslot it previously occupied (for those that moved it). Although the show's sharp ratings decline in 1993 was due largely to circumstances beyond Hall's control, Paramount was not happy with losing any ratings ground and as 1994 began, the company was beginning to consider ending production of Arsenio after five years once Hall's contract was up.
Then, on February 7, 1994, Hall announced that he would be featuring controversial Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. He had also booked gospel singer Kirk Franklin and his singing group The Family for the show as well and promised that he would give them both equal time on the show, which was to air eighteen days following the announcement, as he had drawn criticism for even considering booking Farrakhan as a guest. Instead, nearly the entire show was devoted to Hall interviewing Farrakhan and he received widespread criticism for conducting what was considered too "soft" of an interview. Another ratings slide ensued, with the Los Angeles Times citing a twenty-four percent drop from 1992-93 to 1993-94. Although Paramount did say publicly that there was no imminent danger for the show's cancellation, Hall announced on April 18, 1994 that he was not going to continue the show, simply saying "it's time". The final episode aired on May 29, 1994.
Shortly before The Arsenio Hall Show was cancelled, Paramount's merger with Viacom was finalized. Since this now meant that Paramount and MTV were corporate siblings, there now was a talk show ready to replace Hall's and, after some reworking and an expansion to sixty minutes, The Jon Stewart Show became that replacement for fall 1994. Although Stewart was able to gain spots on many of the same stations that were airing Arsenio at the time, the syndicated Jon Stewart Show did not carry over the popularity from MTV and was cancelled in 1995 for poor ratings. Paramount's 1998 attempt at a daily variety show, The Howie Mandel Show, also failed and the company did not try again before its TV operations were merged with CBS' in 2006.
In May 2012, Hall was said to be shopping around an idea for a new late-night program and had garnered interest from Fox and TBS as to picking the show up. On June 18, 2012, Hall announced that he had brokered a deal with CBS Television Distribution and Tribune Broadcasting to bring his late-night talk show back to television. Although the show was agreed upon in time for the 2012–13 season, the agreement was to see Arsenio return at the beginning of the next season.
The revived Arsenio debuted on September 9, 2013. Stations that also carried Hall's original program, such as CBS-owned station KBCW in the San Francisco Bay Area and CFMT-DT in Toronto, have picked up the revived series as well. Tribune-owned stations airing Arsenio include KTLA in Los Angeles, KDAF in Dallas-Fort Worth, WPIX in New York City, WGN-TV in Chicago, KCPQ in Seattle and WDCW in Washington, D.C.. The show is also airing on CBS-owned stations.
Unlike Hall's previous show, this version is taped at the Sunset Bronson Studios in Hollywood, whose lot houses KTLA. As with the original series, Hall now refers to his house band as "The Posse 2.0" which consists of Robin DiMaggio as the music leader/director and drummer, Alex Al on bass, Rob Bacon on guitar, Sean Holt on saxophone and Victoria Theodore on keyboards. Additionally, Hall's open-monologue still mostly consists of jokes about current events. Hall ends each show by saying "I'll see you in 23 hours".
In another notable difference from Hall's previous show, Diana Steele's intro to the show's host (which she holds the "O" in 'Arsenio' for a long as five seconds right before Hall comes out onto the stage, and then in the same breath, finally/immediately announces, "HALL!") is also a staple of the show.
The debut episode beat out all late night shows in viewership that evening. However, after its premiere week in September 2013, the show's record-setting ratings dropped 40% (falling from an average 1.5 rating to 0.4 with 18–49 target audiences). While ratings spiraled downward, show executives were optimistic. In mid-October, executive producer Neal Kendeall stepped down due to creative differences. The senior VP of programming and development, Eric Pankowski, took over while Hall conducted a search for a new show-runner, in an effort to revamp the show and boost ratings. Reruns were aired during the transition. New shows resumed the week of October 28, 2013.
During an interview with Oprah Winfrey in October 2013, Hall and Winfrey discussed a "feud" between the two based on jokes he told nearly 20 years earlier about her weight and Oprah's partner, Stedman Graham. During their talk on Oprah's Next Chapter, Hall also mentioned his long-time friendship with Jay Leno, how David Letterman was an influence on him and the late-night talk show competition in general, including the 2010 Tonight Show conflict between Leno and Conan O'Brien.
Critical reaction to the updated show were mixed since its premiere week. According to Media Life Magazine, Hall's flashy, edgy and laid-back approach to late-night talk shows in the early 1990s was having little effect on audiences after its reincarnation, due in part to the dated racial jokes and cultural references, as well as problematic interviewing which caused uncomfortable moments. The New York Times reported the show had much familiarity and that "Mr. Hall’s return to the screen was mostly a little sad... He is better than this and deserved a more convincing comeback". While also reporting Hall's talk show is similar to his original series, Variety gave a better review/reception of the revived show, stating "while he might not be the hippest guy in late-night anymore, Arsenio 2.0 can still emerge as a survivor".
- 1993: "Outstanding Technical Direction/Camera/Video for a Series", for episode "The 1000th show" — won
- 1990: "Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Variety or Music Series or a Special" — won
- 1995: "Outstanding Variety Series" — won
- 1993: "Outstanding Variety Series/Special" — won
- 2014: "Outstanding Talk Series" — pending
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- [dead link]
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- Official website
- The Arsenio Hall Show (1989) at the Internet Movie Database
- The Arsenio Hall Show (2013) at the Internet Movie Database
- The Arsenio Hall Show at TV.com
- The Museum of Broadcast Communications