It’s time. We’re a month away from the 15th anniversary of the final Arsenio Hall Show, and with Leno boring as ever, Conan on hiatus and Jimmy Fallon charting just beneath Carson “Bug Eyes” Daly on the douche factor scale, it’s high time we consider giving the man who rewrote the late-night script another chance.
Arsenio Hall’s show ran for just over five years, during which time he set the Obama standard by taking a sharp left turn from the path of predictable old white men with no idea how to speak to the youth of America. Unlike his late-night competition, Arsenio refused to be a studio puppet, opting instead to ask the hard-hitting questions and provide the cutting-edge content that nobody else was producing.
Bill Clinton played sax on his show, back before any of us knew about his fondness for cigars and blue dresses. Michael Jackson would swing by unannounced, just for the hell of it (although those gloves look creepy as hell, given the modern context). From Jim Henson to Eazy-E, Jason Voorhees to Macho Man Randy Savage, you knew that when you tuned in to Arsenio, you were seeing something unique.
Walking the edge certainly has its pitfalls, however. Hall has claimed that his decision to have controversial Nation Of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan appear as a guest was the catalyst for his show ultimately being cancelled. According to him, Farrakhan’s appearance turned affiliates, advertisers and even viewers off the show for good. From then onward, the clock was ticking.
It’s not hard to imagine why the industry power players weren’t swinging for Arsenio’s team. He was on the air when the top 40 charts were saccharine, disposable and safe, just prior to the tipping point that arrived with Smells Like Teen Spirit, a song that grabbed the wheel and forced the trajectory of popular music into a desperately-needed hard left. It was needed, yes, but the industry saw the financial doom that awaited them, and they certainly didn’t like that Arsenio was calling them on their bullshit, refusing to play the gladhand game, cheering the changing of the tide. He spoke for the people, and at the time there was no marketing model designed for honest communication. High-level panic ensued.
Vanilla Ice, the final horseman of the pop-bullshit apocalypse of 1990, appeared on Hall’s show, expecting showers of praise and street cred for days in his tin-foil clown outfit. Instead, this happened:
During a May 1991 taping of the show, Arsenio stepped up to bat with three or four members of Queer Nation, a gay rights group that had apparently been offended that Hall’s producers decided not to book Gus Van Sant during his press tour to promote his gay-themed film My Own Private Idaho. Queer Nation interrupted Hall’s opening monologue to ask why he never had any gay guests on his show, and it was at this point that Arsenio proved exactly why the combined efforts of Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel and Carson Daly couldn’t begin to touch his swagger: Rather than cut to commercial and have security deal with the unruly audience members, Hall confronted them directly, on camera, and didn’t pull any punches.
Arsenio’s final show was an unforgettable moment for anyone tuning in or involved. The biggest, brightest and most badass stars of the rap and hip-hop scene converged to show their support and give television’s most progressive and entertaining show a proper send-off. Among the artists on hand were A Tribe Called Quest, MC Lyte, Das EFX, Wu-Tang Clan, MC Hammer, Naughty By Nature, Fu-Schnickens, Onyx, Gang Starr and the legendary KRS-One. It was a moment to remember.
We should give the man another shot. It wouldn’t be hard to do! Jimmy Fallon’s plateaued, and unless he throws some curveballs real soon, TiVo and The Roots won’t be able to save him once Conan returns to TV land. Why don’t we just trade him out with Arsenio? Who can honestly say that Arsenio & The Roots wouldn’t make an exponentially better team than Jimmy “I laugh at my own jokes on purpose” Fallon? I say it’s worth a shot.