It’s 2014 and we supposedly live in post racial America. Our President is Black, young Black men are being accepted into all of the Ivy League institutions but there is still one place where the land of the free cannot bear to see the face of a Black man: late night TV. For years late night television has been viewed by millions of Americans who enjoy easy jab jokes, a house band, and seeing celebrities viciously plug their latest work. Over the decades the torch of late night hosting gigs has been passed from Johnny Carson to Jay Leno on to Jimmy Fallon, Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Kimmel and now Stephen Colbert. But I’d be remiss to not mention the work of Arsenio Hall, who was a staple in my home growing up as we watched for the first time Black artists and actors get a place to shine. However he has never received the kind of love these other men have and now with the retirement of David Letterman, CBS late night mainstay, I ask, why wasn’t Mr. Hall considered as a replacement?
I can say here that I rarely am up late enough anymore to even catch an episode of any late night show because my years of seeing midnight regularly have long since passed away with my ability to drink heavily sans hangover. Yet on the occasion that I am awake I’m partial to Fallon; the singing, the dancing, and who doesn’t love the Roots? We all remember the drama that unfolded a few years ago when Jay Leno retired and Conan O’Brien was set to take his place, Leno then returned and stole that thing right back. So it is apparent that this spot is a coveted one. Arsenio returned to late night recently to bring that old flavor, but with his break back into the light he still isn’t getting all the love you would think. As Letterman steps down and while I enjoy Colbert, his show was one I’d catch when I could because I like a little politics with my laughs, so I am not among the naysayers or peanut gallery members outraged by the choice in Colbert, in fact I am a fan. My only qualm is, do we really another white man on TV in America?
We’ve had a variety of high-profile Black talk show hosts; Montel Williams, Oprah, now Wendy Williams and Queen Latifah are among the mix. I think any one of them would tell you that having a show of this nature can be difficult. Having to interview guests, maintain a steady ebb and flow with ease, be entertaining enough to lure an audience and have a platform where guests actually vy to come sit with you it isn’t something many can do easily. As we know many have failed Wayne Brady, Kris Jenner, Bethenny Frankel, hell, even Tyra finally got cancelled after years of nothingness finally became too much to keep pouring money into. Yet in his heyday, Arsenio Hall was garnering high views from a young audience with his topics and guests always being relevant and unafraid of controversy. He’s had the likes of Former President Bill Clinton, Minister Louis Farrakhan, Eddie Murphy all grace the studio and the list goes on. His stage was and is one to be on.
The proof is in the pudding that Hall has what it takes as his new show, Arsenio, recently experienced a boost in ratings with the appearance of Prince. But even with the surge Arsenio is still the black sheep of the bunch, never getting the praise he’s deserving of. When Jimmy Fallon made the move to late night NBC pubbed the new show all over their network. The slap in the face came when reporter, Brian Williams, showed photos of all the current late night hosts in a Brady Bunchesque photo and Hall was nowhere to be found. Not so much a mention of his name especially after he touted that there would be two Jimmie’s and a Dave fighting over the original late night man, Johnny Carson’s, long coveted seat. Truth be told, Arsenio was the first to battle head to head with Carson since his first run The Arsenio Hall Show ran during the same era. Hall addressed the slight on his show and even called Brian Williams on the air and urged his audience to do the same. “Call Brian and ask him why they don’t mention me?” he said. Former record label owner, Suge Knight was a guest days later and acknowledged the slip up as well and went so far say that he would be the angry Black man for Arsenio. Over and over Arsenio’s presence is ignored, is it that America doesn’t see Hall’s talent or do they just not want to acknowledge it?
Arsenio did comment on the Colbert/Letterman situation via Twitter with the following message, “Even though David Letterman wants me to replace him, CBS wants Steven Colbert. Oh well! You go Steven Colbert congratz…” He also used his nightly monologue to poke a little fun, “Stephen Colbert is a wonderful, talented guy who will do a great job and don’t you feel weird Stephen, being Dave’s second choice,” Hall said. “Y’all are blinking that sarcasm sign, right?” It is clear that Arsenio feels the snubs and continues to push through and perhaps he didn’t really want the job but the real issue here is that he wasn’t even asked but do we the public get a vote? Where are those polling agencies to do one of those surveys the networks always claim they’ve done but none of us know anyone who has ever actually been asked. Where is the suggestion box for potential fillers located? One thing has proven itself to be true in the wake of Letterman’s departure, as the tide changes once more in late night it seems some things will always stay the same.