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The Woof! Is Back:
The Arsenio Hall Show Returns But Can It Survive?

by Cory Dennard - OPINION

"Woof, Woof, Woof, Woof!" This chant was popular in many settings in the early 90s as a result of the popularity of the ground-breaking late-night talk show The Arsenio Hall Show. This exclamation accompanied with a pumping of the fist in a circular fashion quickly became synonymous with show. In September, Hall's talk show returned to television after a 19-year hiatus. Although I am happy that he has returned I can't help but wonder who is watching and who his target audience is. I can remember being around 4 years old struggling to stay awake to watch the Arsenio Hall Show with my sister on her 19" non-cable TV. His show seemed to be a lot more relaxed in comparison with other late-night competitors at the time. With all of the advancements in technology and changes in entertainment and the way people consume media television programs, books, music, etc. what can Arsenio do to remain competitive in this day in age?

The first thing I asked myself after watching his return is do the viewers of his show's original run still care for the brand of late night television he offers? There seems to be a disconnect between them and Hall. I recently had a conversation with my cousin who vividly remembers the original show. She spoke of the show with such adoration and passion. From this conversation I was reminded why the show was so important. Arsenio offered a late-night alternative to Johnny Carson and David Letterman. His show was more fun and youthful. Remember then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton's saxophone exhibition? Fast-forward 19 years and many of the viewers who were intrigued by his show then just aren't as interested in the current guests on the show. Also, many of them might even be more interested in watching Letterman or Jay Leno at this juncture in their lives.

There is another disconnect which exists between Hall and the younger adult demographic. After watching the show since its return, it appears that he is still interested in appealing to a younger audience which he did so successfully in the past. This is evident through the show featuring guests like current popular Hip Hop artists ScHoolboy Q, Kendrick Lamar, Nas and 2 Chainz. In the age of the internet and social media, late-night talk shows just aren't as relevant to the younger audience as they may have been in the past. In today's society, young adults and teens are much more interested in watching their favorite athletes and TV, film and music entertainers on YouTube, social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and through online bloggers. If I polled 20 people under 30 I am willing to bet they would tell you the same. Currently, one of the most popular and important forums for a younger audience interested in urban popular culture and Hip Hop is the New York-based radio morning show the Breakfast Club. The show's co-hosts DJ Envy, Angela Yee and Charlamagne the God have a knack for asking guests the burning questions that the public really cares about and getting them to offer honest and candid responses. This show is accessible to anyone, anywhere by downloading the iHeartRadio app on your smart phone. Also, longer versions of the morning show's free flowing-style interviews are posted on its website, available to watch at your convenience. With so many young adults connected to shows like the Breakfast Club, is it possible for Arsenio to connect with young audience as he once did?

At Arsenio's peak in late-night, his show was known as a place where performers like Tupac and NWA were more than welcome to appear and perform. In the time since Hall's show ended in 1994, other late night talk shows such as Late Night with Jimmy Fallon began regularly featuring hip hop and R&B performers, which is something Arsenio specialized in during his heyday. Last year, Def Jam recording artist Frank Ocean made his first nationally televised performance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. More recently, hip hop artist Drake appeared on Late Night in support of his newly released album "Nothing Was the Same." Also, since Fallon succeeded Conan O'Brien as the host of Late Night, the show's house band has been legendary Hip Hop act The Roots. This furthermore underscores the fact that what Arsenio did was special and important during that time period but is now a lot more common.

In a recent issue of Jet magazine Arsenio spoke about realizing the need to find his own niche among a new generation of viewers: "Back then, I was the guy Will Smith could say, 'Hey I want to come on your show and do 'Parents Don't Understand," because I was the only game in town. Now we're in a time when you can see Rick Ross on Jimmy Kimmel Live any night. I don't get to step into this as that guy from the '90s." He understands that he must continue to evolve if he wants to regain his former place in late-night glory.

I have enjoyed seeing Arsenio on television again. Over the couple months that he has been back on-air I have already noticed improvements in featured guests, comedy bits, etc. since the beginning of his return. I hope the show can find its footing and be as successful this time around as it was during its original run. Considering the changing times, it is reasonable to wonder how he can remain relevant with the existence of so much competition that he didn't have to worry about during his last go-round. In order for him to be competitive it is important for him to remain visible on Twitter and YouTube as he has been which is extremely important if he wants to make an impact on the new generation. After a strong first week and being rated the number 1late-night talk show among adults in the 18-49 demographic, the show has experienced a drop in ratings. Considering this fact, it is imperative that he finds where he fits in the current landscape of late night TV to recapture his late-night supremacy.


Wright, Kweli. "Who Let The Dogs Out?" Jet. 23 Sept 2013: 36-37. Print


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Arsenio Hall