3-9-07 Staff mug shot of Bill Zwecker. photo by Jean Lachat/Sun-Times
Updated: October 7, 2013 1:13PM
He’s baaack! Arsenio Hall, who made a groundbreaking leap into TV talk in 1989, is returning to the late-night chatfest scene with the new, nationally syndicated “Arsenio Hall Show,” debuting at 10 p.m. Monday (WGN-Channel 9).
Since his old program was canceled back in 1994, Hall largely slipped out of the popular consciousness — until his recent triumph, becoming the winning contestant on Donald Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice.”
During a recent Chicago visit, I sat down with Hall, 57, over breakfast where he expounded on the crowded late-night talk show scene, how he’s changed, and what he thinks he can bring to the TV game today.
Q. Since you left late night in ’94, a lot has changed. How will you adjust to that?
A. You have to, no question. First of all, reality TV has had a huge impact on the whole scene, including who you might want to get as guests. Also, when I left, there were no cellphones. Google was usually a mispronunciation by somebody with a speech impediment or something. And Twitter! When I went off the air, everybody was trying to be pretentious — and they were big Hollywood stars.
Now, you wake up in the morning and you say hello to your followers! It is no longer at a distance, waving at a parade once a year. Social media has totally changed the relationship between entertainers and fans.
But I will try to find a balance between my old show and doing new things. At the end of the day, I’m a standup [comic] and the great thing is it is so much easier to do what I do, because now the boundaries are stretched a lot more than they were in the early ’90s.
You were the first African American to host a national late-night talk show. Today that isn’t a big deal. How do you see it?
So, happily, today, you turn on Letterman and he’s got rappers on. Or Leno’s got Kobe [Bryant] or a black comic doing standup — and it all feels natural. That’s good.
Q. How have you changed over the past two decades?
A. I hope I’m a little smarter. I think the best possible thing in the world is for a man to have a child. I have a 13-year-old, and nothing can take some of that selfishness — like you get so much of in Hollywood — and put it in check, than to have a son.
Q. Will you get political