Arsenio Hall admits booking guests won’t be easy when he returns to late night next week.
“If Hillary Clinton would show up with a saxophone, we wouldn’t have to have to do any other promotion],” he joked during an impromptu interview in Los Angeles last month.
But the reality for Arsenio, 57, is that he now faces much tougher competition than when he last ruled the airwaves 15 years ago.
“Because I have done this before there is a bit of a misconception that I have some kind of a cachet like Johnny Carson had,” he admits. “But this is a business. Sure I would love Beyonce there the first night. But I have been away and Fallon and Letterman and Leno have all developed a certain type of cachet. So I gotta come back in and be good and work my way into it.”
The talk show host, 57, says he chose to sit on the sidelines for much of the past two decades and spend time instead raising his son Arsenio Jr., 14.
Why was putting your personal life ahead of your professional life the right choice for you?
I was a latchkey kid in Cleveland. My mother has never seen me play little league baseball. And it is not because she didn’t want to. She would go from one job to the next. I didn’t have the sort of life my son has. My brother was in jail all of my life. I saw my brother twice. My brother was more comfortable in jail than out of jail. When he would get out, he would do something on purpose to go back. So I understand fathering. I am one of those people who believes that one of the most important things in the world — especially for minority men — is fathering. I want to be there. I want to do it.
What kind of a dad are you?
I am a mean dad. [laughs]. I am kind of an old school dad. I was raised by a baptist preacher from Georgia. Yeah, I am a little conservative. My son looks at me and says, “Dad, when do I get two earrings?”
What does your son think of you returning to TV?
The coolest thing was when I wanted to do CELEBRITY APPRENTICE. I told him “This is not Daddy missing a basketball game. I might be there for two months.” And he said, “Dad, we can win this!” When he said “We” I would go through a brick wall. So [with the talk show], I knew the time was right.
Speaking of late night — do you think Jay Leno is getting screwed by NBC? And is he capable of retiring?
I won’t say he is being screwed because that might make people think that I don’t believe in Jimmy. And Jimmy Fallon is a good friend of mine. What I wish is that NBC could anoint one guy without fucking the other. Jay is number one. He clearly has a lot of juice left in him. It is funny how a guy is getting fired at number one. That is bizarre. The other thing is I understand you don’t want to lose Fallon. He is amazing. I watch Fallon. I see my style more in Fallon than in anyone. But it is mostly because both [of us] are stand ups. Both have tremendous loves of music. Fallon reminds me of the guy who would host it if there wasn’t a check involved. He seems to have a vivacity and a love for what he is doing. When you watch me work, you know I am not coming back for the money. I am coming back because I love it. I love fatherhood more than anything and I am still trying to get back to this late night show.
Is he capable of walking away?
I don’t know if he could walk away from late night TV or not but jay is a comic. He will never walk away from funny. He will find a way whether it is next to Larry King on the internet or on Fox. Jay is not going to stop making people laugh. This is a guy who goes to a club when he doesn’t have to. Jay loves to make people laugh and for him it is more about laughter than a talk show.
If he went to Fox wouldn’t that spell big trouble for you?
I don’t think anything spells big trouble because I am another guy looking for an audience. It spells big trouble if I am trying to seduce Leno fans. There are so many people in America who don’t have a late night host. I just want to be that guy. I don’t want to take anything from anybody, but I believe that the people who love a Kimmel often check it out the next day [online]. I think there is a way that I can get in the mix without anybody getting hurt.
But it would be a problem because most of your stations are Fox stations…
That is a complicated business thing. I am on CBS [in some markets] and people come up to me and say “Are you replacing Ferguson?” I am sure there are ways that Fox could put Jay on and I wouldn’t lose my syndicate Fox branches. By the way, one of my biggest stations was WBBM in Chicago. There was a point where Letterman went from NBC to CBS and I had to give up that stations. It eroded some of my power base. Letterman made it complicated for me because he took some of my strong CBS syndicated spots that I was able to take because they didn’t have a show when I started. But the bottom line is you figure it out. You find another station and you try to chug along.
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