As the world continues to discuss all things related to the recent start of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, some fellow Late Night talk show hosts have been feeling a little left out. Some have even felt a little discriminated against.
As many are aware, comedian Arsenio Hall returned to the airwaves with Arsenio, a popular-amongst-the-youth program originally titled The Arsenio Hall Show running from 1989-1994, last September. When it originally premiered in the 80s, the show was seen as a cool, edgy alternative to the similarly formatted Late Night programs featuring Johnny Carson. Some of Hall’s guests included Ice Cube, Hulk Hogan, Vanilla Ice, Tupac and, perhaps most famously, Bill Clinton in the summer of 1992 (Clinton’s appearance on the show helped the presidential candidate appeal to younger voters). Hall has garnered a lot of good will over the past few years and, upon the announcement that his show would be returning after a nineteen year hiatus, was clearly excited to be back doing what he loves.
The new program hasn’t been a complete success. The times have changed, Hall has gotten older and the “hip” factor that defined the show has softened somewhat. Still, one hundred episodes in, it’s clear that Hall feels blessed and is clearly having a good time chatting it up with old friends; Eddie Murphy, Magic Johnson and Ice Cube have been just a few of the guests who have appeared on the program’s second incarnation so far. Nowhere near as popular as he once was, Hall nonetheless provides a refreshing, if familiar, breath of fresh air.
Last night, Hall seemed a little ticked off, however, and for good reason. As everyone obsessed over every nook and cranny of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon debut, some media commentators and news broadcasters took some liberties in their reporting of the event. Basically, they described Jimmy Fallon’s Late Night competition without accurately listing all of his competitors. Who was left off the list? Arsenio Hall.
Hall mentioned this oversight on his program last night, directing audiences to an article in The New York Times and a clip featuring Brian Williams of NBC News. The Times piece provided photos of Fallon’s Late Night competition: those featured were exclusively Caucasian comedians (David Letterman, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel, Chelsea Handler, Seth Meyers, Jon Stewart and Conan O’Brien). Hall seemed saddened but not overly angry at his snub in the piece (“Maybe they don’t have enough room. You know, brown ink is more expensive maybe……”).
Hall then moved onto a clip from NBC news which covered the same topic: “The time slot will now be fought over by two Jimmies and a Dave, along with all the other media out there slugging it out for the turf Johnny Carson used to own outright,” Brian Williams noted. Williams’s segment then provided nine screen-grabs of current late night comedians, in box-like shapes a la Hollywood Squares, who are “slugging it out” for that desired turf. Again, they were all Caucasian: Craig Ferguson, Carson Daly and Andy Cohen were featured alongside Letterman, Colbert, Kimmel, Handler, Stewart and O’Brien.
Hall’s in-studio audience was shocked. “If you’re doing a story about Late Night, all I ask is that you mention me,” Hall said, “you don’t even have to use a photo. You don’t even have to use a photo! I know how journalism is these days. Use Samuel Jackson’s! Don’t have to be my photo! I’ll vote for anything. Use Lawrence Fishburne’s!”This last bit was, of course, in reference to the much covered new story a few weeks ago in which Samuel L. Jackson was mistaken by a news reporter for being in a 2014 Super Bowl commercial (the reporter mistook Jackson for Lawrence Fishburne).
Hall then made a pretty worthwhile point that provided an interesting hook that NBC’s Late Night segment could have run with… had they done the necessary research. Of all the Late Night hosts they chronicled, NBC forgot that Hall is the only current Late Night host to have gone up against Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show on a weekly basis (Hall’s program began in 1989, while Carson’s ended in 1992). Hall did fight for that very turf over twenty years ago. Now the media is marginalizing him for other, more lighter-skinned talent.
“This is not about them,” Hall was quick to note, “this is about journalism.”
Hall then made the very ballsy move of calling Brian Williams’s phone number (most likely an NBC work number) live for everyone to hear. He was amped up and ready to voice his disapproval. Since no one picked up, Hall provided his viewers with the number to try again later (212-6644-4971, for those interested). “Call Brian,” Hall pleaded, “and ask him why they don’t mention me.”
Hall proceeded to go into a skit with Suge Knight, the evening’s featured guest, of the once prolific Death Row Records. “I don’t want to come off as the angry black man,” Hall began, “so I’m taking it in the spirit that I should. But I’ve got a friend in my dressing room. He said ‘I’ll be the angry black man.’” Knight then came out to a round of applause for what was admittedly a soft closer to Hall’s very provocative argument. And while it softened the impact of the monologue, it luckily didn’t diminish it.
What to make of Hall’s exclusion from all these zeitgeisty, buzz-worthy articles on the battle for Late Night? Is not everyone on board with Hall’s return to television? Are Hall’s lower ratings the reason he is being treated like an insignificant aside? Does the public not feel that he’s relevant anymore? This is hard to believe. The Late Night hosting community features a pretty small, tight knit group of comedians who all become famous for their nightly one or less hours behind a desk chatting with celebrities.
Perhaps the media isn’t interested in Hall because mentioning him would complicate or shift the direction of the story they are trying to tell. One’s thing’s for certain: The New York Times and NBC News emerge from this debacle quite poorly.
Watch video or Hall’s lament from last night, below: