AC and I were talking politics one day over dinner. During the course of our discussion the Arsenio Hall show appearance of Brother Bill came up. I smiled when I remembered the nights I used to eagerly tune in to watch Arsenio.
Through 1,284 shows aired from January 3, 1989 to May 27, 1994 Cleveland-born Arsenio Hall gave Johnny Carson, David Letterman and Jay Leno major competition in the late night talk show arena. His show pulled a 3.9 rating at its peak which was remarkable considering it was syndicated and it varied in the times that it aired in various markets.
Some of the elements of Arsenio's show were timeless. He had a band led by Michael Wolff and he opened his show with a monologue. But it was a hip and cool talk show geared to my generation, the MTV generation and my culture.
It was groundbreaking as well. Before the end of the year people were barking and pumping their fists in the air mimicking Arsenio's shout outs to the 'Dog Pound' section of his studio.
He didn't have a sidekick or an anchor desk. He did have couches to give the guests the feeling as if they were sitting in his living room. He put a multiethnic cross section of artists, musicians athletes, comedians and other personalities on his stage who weren't normally invited to other late night shows.
To realize just how groundbreaking The Arsenio Hall Show was you have to see old videotapes of it (or just check out the TransGriot Video). Every major act of the 90's from MC Hammer to TLC to Mariah Carey performed on that stage. The rap world got a major boost from various artists being spotlighted on his show. Even old school artists like James Brown and Prince came on Arsenio to perform.
He also used the show as an education platform as well. Magic Johnson made his first public appearance on Arsenio's show after disclosing he'd contracted HIV. He did one commemorating Dr. King and his legacy. Jesse Jackson, Sr. made an appearance. Nation of Islam leader Minister Louis Farrakhan was one guest that caused controversy along with Andrew 'Dice' Clay. Then presidential candidate Bill Clinton came on Arsenio in a surprise appearance that many pundits agree probably won the 1992 election for him.
Hall received two NAACP Image Awards in 1991 and a Key of Life Award for his work as “a crusader in the fight of human rights."
Since 1994 the late night talk show world hasn't been the same without Arsenio around. Here's hoping that one day he'll grace our late night TV screens again with his presence.