The new ‘Arsenio Hall Show’ is full of ’90s nostalgia, but is he still hip?


After 19 years, the “Arsenio Hall Show” returned to late nights last night (Sept. 9), and the 90s nostalgia was in full swing.

Whether or not that is a good thing remains to be seen.

The now 57-year old host is no longer the young[ish], hip upstart that he was when he originally debuted in 1989–but he’s still quick-witted and cavalier. Ever the affable persona, Hall retained a bit of the charisma he had in his heyday. It’s slightly regrettable that the night was full of guests and references that wallowed in Clinton-era reminiscing.

Arsenio’s musical guest was Snoop Lion, whose classic debut album was released 20 years ago this year. His first interview was with Chris Tucker, who spent most of the interview talking about his popular movies Rush Hour and Friday. The former was released in 1998. The latter was released in 1995. The only non-Rush Hour film Tucker has appeared in since 1998, the acclaimed Silver Linings Playbook, was virtually an afterthought. Snoop performed hits from yesteryear, before briefly discussing his latest single “Red Light”–a collaboration with Hall’s longtime buddy, actor Eddie Murphy.

There was also a Paula Abdul appearance.

The obvious truth is that the late night television landscape has changed vastly since 1994. Hall returns to a very crowded field. When his show was at it’s peak in the early 1990s, his only real competitors were David Letterman and Johnny Carson. Letterman was the snarky, anarchic voice of the baby boomers and Carson was the elder statesmen who was beginning to wind down but was still very revered as a television institution unto himself. What made Arsenio so formidable was the fact that no one in late night was speaking to a young, urban audience. Black people and white kids too young to relate to Letterman or especially Carson found their hero in the edgy host with the distinctive “Wooh-wooh” fist-pump trademark.

Now, Hall has to compete with mainstays like Jimmy Kimmel, Conan O’BrienJon Stewart and arguably his most formidable competitor, Jimmy Fallon. Letterman is still there and Jay is close to stepping down, but Fallon has emerged as the young, hip voice of late night. His hip-hop-heavy show is uber-popular amongst the type of viewers that Arsenio used to routinely court.

For Hall to make a dent in the Kimmel/Conan/Fallon audience, he can’t rely on “Remember when?” There’s an entire generation of young adults that have no firsthand memories of his classic show’s original run; and as its hard to imagine his current approach would ever yield the kind of landmark moments (Bill Clinton playing the saxophone, Magic Johnson discussing his HIV announcement, etc.) that routinely made that  show must-see TV.

So, going forward, Arsenio Hall fans should hope that the late night veteran leans more on current and hot guests and artists, as opposed to Paula Abdul jokes and Zima references.

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