Story By Todd Williams
Photos by Hiltron Bailey for Steed Media Service
Late-night TV is about to be completely shaken up. The most outspoken man on radio has taken his show to the tube. This month, Michael Baisden debuts his talk show, “Baisden After Dark” on TV One, and the timing couldn’t be better. Almost a decade and a half after Arsenio Hall uttered his last ‘woof-woof-woof!’ and 10 years since the less-than-stellar performances of “VIBE” and “The Keenan Ivory Wayans Show.” There were more misses than hits (the less said about “The Magic Hour” the better), and soon, it appeared that Hollywood gave up on the idea of an urban-themed talk show. But Baisden has more than resurrected the idea — he’s reinvented it for the new millennium. He’s joined forces with some powerful friends to change the face of late night, and a few other things as well.
Baisden and television producer Dewayne Corbett happened upon the idea for a latenight show after working together on a project for ABC radio. After procuring a film deal with Screen Gems, Baisden and FarCor partners Ralph Farquhar and Dwayne Corbett spoke about the possibilities for “Baisden After Dark.”
“I told them I had aspirations for a late-night show, [we] sat down and talked about it, [and] TV One came on board as a network,” explains Baisden, on the set of his new show. The seeds were sown for the show, and Baisden readied himself for the jump from radio to television, which was old territory for the most outspoken man on radio.
“I’ve done television before, I had a show in 2001 called ‘Talk or Walk,’ so I had experience doing television and there were no reservations,” he explains. “I’m part owner of the show, not just the host. I utilized some of the talent that we had on the ‘Michael Baisden Show’ and it all came together very naturally.”
“Baisden After Dark” resurrects the urban voice on late-night talk television. Baisden doesn’t underestimate the importance of bringing a show like this to the people — and he feels that it’s long overdue. “There are no African American voices in late night,” he states. “It’s important to have variety, we don’t have variety on television — although we have many networks. I think the presence that [African Americans] have — the flavor that we bring, our swagger, the way we dress, the way we talk, issues that might be important to us or the way we spin a particular issue — is [unique.]”
And late night could use a little more unique, instead of a cavalcade of Leno-and- Letterman wannabes and glorified shock jocks heaping mindless chatter onto the viewing public. “Baisden After Dark” offers a fresh spin on the talk show format, and Baisden himself made sure that his show would be anything but cookie-cutter. “Let’s just talk about the mix of personalities!” the Chicago native says with a laugh. “You’ve got George Willborn, who is actually part of the ‘Michael Baisden’ radio show,’ we go way back to Chicago. He came on board [with] that comedic element — the timing [and] the energy. The fact that we have that great chemistry really works well.”
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Baisden also has an ‘80s funk legend holding court on his set every night. When Morris Day accepted the gig as bandleader, Baisden was ecstatic. “Every late-night show has got to have a bandleader, and when I found out he was coming on board, I said ‘it’s a wrap!’ ” Baisden says, obviously happy to have the Time front man along for the ride. “Morris just has that personality, that really cool, suave personality. Morris and I get along personally, and he and I and George get along really well. It’s going to be a great mix.”
None of this would be possible, of course, without a studio that shared Baisden’s vision. FarCor Studios is working to bring variety back to black television, and “Baisden After Dark” has been the company’s prized project. “Imagine it’s a cross between Bill Maher and Arsenio Hall,” says FarCor co-founder Ralph Farquhar. “We have a lot of fun [with] guests who speak in a roundtable about topical issues, and we feature [a combination] of well-known artists and little-known artists.”
That approach bodes well for the show, as artists who aren’t necessarily household names will get a chance to show their stuff with a little help from one of the best bands in the business. “The ‘After Dark’ Band is a band we put together to surpass any other late-night band ever,” says Corbett. “We assembled the best musicians that we could find — some of these guys have played with Rick James and Earth, Wind & Fire.”
That attention to detail and commitment to excellence makes for an excellent product — but sometimes, even excellence is not enough. You have to have that linchpin that can hold the entire proceedings together. In this case, the linchpin is Mr. Michael Baisden. Long one of the nation’s highest rated syndicated personalities, and with a following that speaks for itself, it was a no-brainer to put the charismatic and outspoken DJ on latenight TV.
“Michael is the top guy in syndicated radio right now,” explains Corbett. “You’re talking about a [guy with a] listening audience of eight million people a week. He’s been able to relate to people in a way that a lot of DJs haven’t, and he talks about a lot of things that aren’t being talked about. We tried to bring that same element to his show.”
Baisden is genuinely appreciative of the work that the studio has put into his show. “Ralph Farquhar and Dwayne Corbett did a good job of pulling together the right people,” he says, understanding how fragile chemistry can be when the project is brand-spanking new.
Another especially sweet aspect for Baisden is working with an African American studio. Crossing cultural lines can sometimes make for miscommunications and misinterpretations; but with “Baisden After Dark,” Baisden knows that the powers-thatbe have a pretty good grasp of who he is and his style as a host. “I worked on ‘Talk or Walk’ and it was a [mainly] white cast except for maybe one Hispanic and two blacks,” he explains. “There was definitely a communication problem — from everything from the prompter and script of the show, to understanding my personality and my creative input into the show.” That led to Baisden deciding to work with like-minded individuals. “I promised myself the next time that I did this that I would own it and that I would have people that understood me.”
Baisden is unafraid to take risks, largely because he believes adamantly in what he’s doing. Long a personality of the people, Baisden knows that his strength comes in his ability to reach the general public — and he doesn’t take it for granted. “I never saw this as something for me,” he explains. “I did this the same way that I did my radio show; it’s just an opportunity to present certain issues and an opportunity to introduce people that you wouldn’t normally see.”
Baisden has had his fair share of disbelievers, but he didn’t get to where he is today doing the expected. “You’ve got to hear your own drum beat,” shares Baisden. “I listened to what was inside of me and [did] not allow other people to influence me. I kept my vision crystal-clear, and it might’ve been fast by some people’s standards, but when you work on something every minute and every day and don’t allow yourself to be distracted, you can definitely get there — and don’t ever let anybody deter you.”
And now, as this hot, new show readies for its close-up, the man in the middle is more than ready for his battle with the Conans, Lettermans and Kimmels of the boob tube. “This is a first-class show and [fans] are going to get first-class talent every day that we turn on those cameras,” he says, smiling broadly. “I [want them to] understand that even in Hollywood there are people who are humble and who put the job first and who want to win.”
And as for his aspirations for his show, Baisden’s humility takes a backseat to his ultimate goal. “The job is to have the best show,” he says, his face steady with determination. “Not the best show today, but the best show ever.”