Arsenio Hall is a solid comedian who can put out a sharp monologue (a skill that was intermittently on display during his first week back on the air), but he is not a gifted sketch comic. There is no shame in that, but nestled in between the monologue and the time capsule bit during the debut episode was a collection of unremarkable sketches that were unleashed on the audience in jarring succession. This was Hall’s attempt to showcase his ability to relate to the here and now – and it mostly failed.

This trend has continued on the show, with occasional hits but far too many misses. If Arsenio wants to reach the YouTube generation, he has to think outside-of-the-box, perhaps going so far as to hire a sketch group to work in-house and create bite-sized clips that can have a second-life as viral videos. Conan found (pre-viral) success when he brought in the Upright Citizens Brigade for Late Night, and doing something along those lines could be a win for Arsenio as well.

Stick with Your Strengths 

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Arsenio Hall was the Ed Sullivan of hip-hop and a curator of cool, championing several unheralded acts in music and comedy back in the day. There’s certainly an opening if he wants to be that again, but his interview skills are his biggest strength. Hall was never afraid to park the politeness and ask tough questions.

Hall got Tupac to talk about drugs and being “too hard”, he talked about the HIV virus with Magic Johnson just after he revealed his diagnosis and left basketball; he probed Vanilla Ice – at the time one of the largest stars in music – about rap music and race.

People remember Arsenio Hall for Bill Clinton’s saxophone solo, but in truth, his frank and real conversations are a more important part of his legacy. Hall shined a magnifying glass on celebrities and musicians in a way that was a refreshing contrast to the choreographed and empty interviews that were and still are commonplace in late night.

With Hall, it wasn’t abundantly clear that people were on his show as a part of a promotional tour. There was no free press, you had to give him and his audience something of yourself, but it wasn’t done in a seamy way that was aimed at feeding the tabloids. Arsenio was interested and so were we.

The sad thing is, that may be something that Arsenio can’t go back to. Dissecting celebrities has become a sport. There is no privacy anymore, and everyone is exceptionally careful about their “brand”. Hall understands this, and told TV Guide, ”

“We’re in this world now where publicists control this so much, I don’t know if I can have conversations like that.”

After watching Arsenio’s interviews last week with Chris Tucker, Ice Cube, Magic Johnson, and many others with whom he has a personal connection, it’s hard to tell if he’s resigned himself to that disappointing reality or if he’s just taking it easy on his friends. In his second week – though faults were acknowledged – Arsenio hasn’t done much to make the changes needed to trump his competition.

Regardless, Arsenio is going to eventually run out of buddies and fall out of his comfort zone. At that point, will he rise to the occasion and work to combat the notion that true on-air intimacy between a talk show host and a guest can’t exist anymore, or will he simply play it safe?

That’s just one of many questions that are facing Arsenio Hall as he tries to walk the line between being fresh and being familiar while trying to also find success in a strange new land that he helped create.

The Arsenio Hall Show airs weeknights. Check local listings.

Source: TV Guide

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