For those of you who were happy about Arsenio Hall coming back to late-night TV this year, you were probably alternatively pleased and a little disappointed. There isn’t a doubt that Hall is one of the most likeable late-night hosts since the days of Johnny Carson. He’s still that way, though with writers who have to deal with the usual problem of new late-night writers: Finding material with a style and some relevance.
“Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” managed to find that above stream faster than some have in the past. Many people forget that even Johnny Carson’s brand didn’t really fully bloom on “The Tonight Show” until at least five or more years after his debut.
But it’s more than just finding your comedy footing. It’s also about creating a memorable moment that finally takes the show to a special place in the audience’s hearts. Such a moment happened on Carson’s show when Tiny Tim married on the show to record audiences. Both Letterman and Leno have had numerous moments that are now burned into our minds and still replayed constantly. We also know about Arsenio Hall’s famous show with Bill Clinton playing the saxophone during the 1992 Presidential campaign.
The fact that Bill Clinton has refused to come on Hall’s new show to attempt to recreate the magic (as of this article) tells you how much Hall needs one of those moments again. This time, it has to come from someone else rather than Bill Clinton. Even the former President probably realizes this and basically made it a point by so far refusing to come on.
So how can a late-night host find one of those moments to take him or her into a ratings bracket the producers and distributors want to see?
It all has to come down to timing and putting together a task force to stay on top of the news on an hourly basis. Nowadays, the late-night landscape works much differently where those going to do damage control head to the big guns first. With the small numbers Arsenio Hall’s show now gets and not being on a major network, the chances of someone controversial heading to his show seems nil in the immediate term. The only thing that shouldn’t be done is staging a moment just for the publicity.
Would such a thing ever happen and bring on a wave of scorn like the 1950s game show scandals? If Arsenio can’t get his moment before the end of the year, he may not be on the air when the late-night landscape changes in 2014. It’ll already be tough enough competing with Jimmy Fallon on the new “Tonight Show”, plus enough late-night choices to keep everyone up guffawing in their pillows.
If you had to define exactly what Arsenio Hall’s original late-night show was, it was more about celebrating events than real comedy. Clearly, Hall’s comedy material isn’t going to make you bowl over with laughter as you get with Letterman, Fallon or (especially) Craig Ferguson. And if Hall tries too hard there, it’ll get even worse.
That special moment a late-night show needs sometimes takes a few years before it happens. Yet with the world full of potential moments on an hourly basis, let’s hope Hall can find a perfect opportunity to create it without manufacturing one out of desperation. With his noted desire to bring more politicians onto the show, it could go back to what the original show almost became: A charmingly hip Charlie Rose.