Less hair, fewer shoulder pads — that's how Arsenio Hall describes his resurrected The Arsenio Hall Show. For those legions of fans who watched his popular late-night talk show during its 1989-1994 run, the native Clevelander assures viewers that he's still the same guy who got then-President Bill Clinton to play saxophone on TV and had the first public discussion about AIDS with Los Angeles Lakers star Magic Johnson.
"This time I'll be inserted into ... a whole different culture that's out there from politics to music to comedy," says the 57-year-old comedian. "They met me in an Alan Thicke generation. I'm coming back in a Robin Thicke generation."
The syndicated, live chat-fest, which will air at 11:30 p.m. weeknights starting Sept. 9 on Fox 8, is the result of Hall's five-year campaign to return to late night, one launched after eight years of working flexible jobs, such as hosting MyNetworkTV's World's Funniest Moments, so he could focus on raising his only child, Arsenio Jr.
To help introduce himself to a new generation, Hall competed on last year's Celebrity Apprentice, which he won.
Interest in Hall's show is strong. At press time, CBS Television Distribution had sold the program in 99 percent of the country.
"The day that I announced I was coming back, [one of the] first calls I got at the crib was Prince," he says. "The first thing out of his mouth was, 'Save me a night.' " Bill Cosby is considering doing a stand-up routine, a feature Hall hopes to bring back with comedic vets such as Dave Chappelle, George Lopez and Chris Rock.
But Hall acknowledges that Jimmy Kimmel, David Letterman and Jimmy Fallon, who will replace Jay Leno as host of The Tonight Show in February, provide stiff competition for high-profile guests. Excellent ratings, he adds, aren't always enough to keep a late-night talk show host on the air. He points to Leno as an example.
"Every time he becomes No. 1, [NBC] fires him," he observes. "That doesn't make any sense to me."
But Hall's greatest challenge may be matching his previous success. He concedes there are some moments from the original Arsenio Hall Show, both on air and off, that will be difficult to top. He still remembers watching a tear roll from under Stevie Wonder's sunglasses during a commercial break nearing the end of the show's first run.
"He said to me that night, 'There were people who would have me sing and not let me sit on their couch. You changed that.' "