Dialect Magazine

Arsenio Hall returns to late night TV

The year was 1989. The date, January 3. Homes across America tuned in to watch Arsenio Hall make TV history as the first national African-American late night talk show host.

Pretty soon, no weeknight was complete without hearing his widely used (although, not quite original) catch phrase, “Let’s Get Busy!” Aimed at a young and hip demographic, the show stood out for a plethora of reasons, including its “Dogpound” audience section and the in-house band – “The Posse”. The show featured countless memorable pop culture moments and guests, such as Bill Clinton (playing the saxophone during his 1992 campaign), Madonna (ever so outspoken in a 1990 interview), Magic Johnson, and let’s not forget the “People Who” monologues.

With its increased popularity, the show quickly appealed to young people of all races and began to attract a variety of guests, including spontaneous drop-ins from icons such as Michael Jackson. It became the vehicle for entertainers to use to reach the then fledging MTV Generation.  In addition, his show embraced hip hop like no other.

Sadly, in 1993, ratings started to decline due to undisclosed circumstances.  Things seemingly worsened in February 1994, when Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan appeared on the show. Despite a press release stating that other guests were on the roster, as well, Mr. Farrakhan had more air time that night. The backlash from Minister Farrakhan’s appearance caused an even further ratings drop from which the show never recovered. The Arsenio Hall Show aired its last episode on May 27, 1994.

Back in those days, it seemed easier to stand out in the crowd. Fast forward to 2013, late night TV has an extensive roster that still includes veterans Jay Leno and David Letterman, Conan over at TBS, Comedy Central king Jimmy Kimmel, and SNL alum Jimmy Fallon. With so much domination, one has to wonder…is there room for another?  The answer is a resounding YES, according to the ratings, thus far.

Hall remained relevant throughout the late 90s and early 2000s with other hosting gigs, and reality TV appearances.  On Monday, September 9 – 19 years after his original run, the 57-year-old entertainer hopped back into the late night line-up, with a brand new show, simply titled Arsenio.

In the show‘s opening episode, Hall gave viewers a retrospect of what he plans to do differently this time around for his old fans, and new generation of viewers. The décor of the show’s set is a tad different now, and “The Posse” has changed a bit but is still led by the original drummer Rob DiMaggio.

Despite the visual differences, Hall’s sense of humor hasn’t lost its spark. In true Mr. Hall fashion, he did a skit about how times have drastically changed since his last show, while using an oversized cell phone as a prop.  Some critics felt as if his jokes were both a little “outdated” and “shaky”. It’s only the beginning so he still has time to prove otherwise.  Despite some critics – the audience has spoken, and he is number 1. 

We loved the old, now we embrace the new. Welcome back Mr. Hall!

Ashly is a freelance writer and poet from Baltimore, MD.

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