Most Important Black TV Shows – #13 The Arsenio Hall Show



With all due respect to Johnny Carson (who in my opinion has no peer), it was The Arsenio Hall Show that really brought cool back to late night.  Running in the mid 90s, the late night show became the stop for many musicians and speakers who had NO chance to appear on The Tonight Show or Late Night. 

On to the tale of the tape…

Relevance:  On a national level, Arsenio Hall was only known for one thing really: being Eddie Murphy’s sidekick in Coming to America.  But he was a decent comedian on his own right, which he got to show off every night in his monologues.  Did he ever have leading man ambitions?  Things that make you go hmm…

Legacy:  With all due respect to the Magic Hour, there hasn’t been a talk show since that catered so directly to the urban, hip hop audience.  As popular as hip hop has become in the mainstream, I still question if a show like this would be as marketable today.  It’s definitely part of this show’s legacy that the Roots can back Jimmy Fallon, and any mainstream rapper/actor can get onto the Tonight Show now.

Craft:  A talk show has something of an unfair disadvantage in this category.  But if this show was before your time, here’s a good example of the type of show it was.  Jean Claude Van Damme was promoting one of his movies, and Arsenio said “That’s great, let’s go to the clip.”  And they cut to the scene where Dolemite roundhouse kicks the two cops trying to arrest him.  Poor Jean-Claude was lost, but Arsenio (and everybody at home) fell out laughing…

Crossover:  Oh yeah.  At his peak, Arsenio dabbled in rapping (Chunky A), by all accounts he had Paula Abdul at her peak.  He was the Man for a good few years.  His show was so cool, a young Southern governor running for President sat in with the band right now to play sax.  That one PR move didn’t win the election, but it sure as hell didn’t hurt making him look cool to both young people AND black people.

Apollo:  Can’t pick one event here.  The nature of the show was pretty loose.  A lot is made of how Arsenio had Farrahkhan on his show, then a few months later the show was cancelled.  (It’s true, look it up).  I can pick out certain things (Shaq rapping with the Fu-Schnikens, the Dogg Pound and whatever caption they got that night), but the whole concept of a young black comedian hosting a talk show on one of the major networks is pretty ‘Apollo-ish’ to me.  Just my opinion as always.


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