When Arsenio Hall returns tonight to late-night television, he knows he has a lot to prove.
“I understand that I don't come back into the game being the Arsenio of the '90s,” the 57-year-old comic told reporters during a conference call. “I come back into the game as the new small guy, and I'll probably have to earn my way back into the game again by maybe being the person who looks for the new or tries to get ahead of the curve.”
Nearly two decades after signing off his first eponymous talk show, Hall is back with “The Arsenio Hall Show,” airing tonight at 11 on WTOG, Channel 44.
Hall is confident he can recapture the magic from his original Emmy Award-winning talk show, which debuted in 1989 and captivated viewers with its cool, hip, party atmosphere with musical guests such as Snoop Dogg, Mariah Carey, Madonna and Will Smith.
Two memorable appearances: then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton in 1992 sporting shades and blowing “Heartbreak Hotel” on his sax; and basketball great Magic Johnson, who talked to Hall the day after he announced he was HIV-positive and retired from the Los Angeles Lakers.
But by 1994, Hall says he needed a break and made the decision to leave the show.
During the press teleconference, he addressed long-standing rumors that his show ended because he had as a guest Louis Farrakhan, the controversial leader of the Nation of Islam.
“When I left, there was really no drama,” Hall said. “I left to seek some balance in my life as a man. I didn't know what that was at the time. I didn't know whether I wanted to do more acting. I didn't know whether I wanted to go on the road and do stand-up. I didn't know whether it meant that I just needed a break. But I did what I did for personal reasons.”
After his exit, Hall kept a low profile while raising his son, Arsenio Jr. He starred in a sitcom, took on some hosting gigs and returned to stand-up.
But he said he longed to return to late night, and in 2012 announced he was coming back. To help get his name out, he appeared on season 5 of Donald Trump's “Celebrity Apprentice” and won.
“It was the most memorable moment in my life,” he said.
Now, he'll try to win another battle — for viewers. He's up to the challenge.
I've got to go grind and get my hustle on,” Hall said. “I don't fake the funk. I don't have any reality about coming back and being the Arsenio of old. I'm the new guy and I'm coming to get mine.”