Every year, new hosts enter the talk show game with the highest of hopes. And every year, most of those fail. The latest victims of viewer uninterest: Jeff Probst, who didn’t turn out to be a daytime survivor, and Ricki Lake, whose comeback attempt pooped out.
That won’t keep others from trying. This fall, a talk legend, an Oscar nominee and a former Real Housewife all give the genre their best shot. Here, during panels and set visits with TV critics last month in Los Angeles, they talk about their hopes for their shows and what viewers should expect.
• Arsenio, beginning Monday: “I was actually down at the courthouse today,” Arsenio Hall jokes. “I’m trying to change my name to Jimmy.”
Hall will find himself competing with ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel and NBC’s incoming Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon when he returns to late night with a show with a familiar title: Arsenio.
Clearly, the field — including CBS’ David Letterman and NBC’s exiting Jay Leno, plus Conan O’Brien on TBS and Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central — is a lot more crowded than it was when he last whooped it up after hours.
That was 1994. “There’s a lot of competition,” Hall acknowledges. “Obviously, back in the day, I was trying to take anything that was left over on (Johnny) Carson’s plate.”
At the time, only NBC had its own late-night show. The original “Arsenio Hall Show,” in syndication from 1988-94, aired on stations affiliated with ABC, CBS and Fox and was a big deal, until suddenly it wasn’t. (The debut of “Late Show With David Letterman” on CBS in the fall of 1993 cost Hall many of his stations.)
He’s back, again in syndication, but this time he has to grab viewers not just from network TV but also from hundreds of cable channels, plus whatever is on the DVR and streaming online.
“It’s a huge challenge this time to bring people to the television,” Hall says. “But I know that everybody doesn’t have a (preferred) late night host. One of the biggest challenges for all of us as late night hosts is to get people to even make an appointment to watch TV” and not Google the highlights the next day. “The challenges are gigantic now.”
No matter how good your show is, “statistics say that your biggest fans, the people who come up to you in the mall and say, ‘I watch you every night, man,’ that’s not true. Your biggest fan doesn’t watch you every night. You hope for three nights. … Sometimes you’ll get one night. But you hope you do a good, funny show and you assert a unique personality that’s not there, so that you can just be in the game. I’m trying to be in the game.”
Neal Kendall, Hall’s executive producer, calls this “a golden age of late night TV” and says “everybody who is doing a show right now has carved out a niche.” So what does Hall have?
“He’s different,” Kendall says. “That’s the best answer to how our show will be different — he is just unique and different.”
Plus, says executive producer John Ferriter, “There are 290 million Americans who don’t watch late night. So there are people out there” for the picking.