Njs4ever first started its online petition for a re-release of The Arsenio Hall Show in the fall of 2006. Our thinking behind this was relatively simple: like the anti-Ashanti/Soul Train Music Awards and Behind The Music: New Edition petitions before it, our hope is to bring make a tangible, "real world" impact with the hosted petition service. During its five year run (which happened to almost perfectly coincide with the New Jack Swing Era), The Arsenio Hall Show featured nearly countless instances of classic moments that capture the essence and cultural optimism that permeated the time period, much like today - current economics excluded.
Unfortunately, The Arsenio Hall Show was only a North American phenomenon, despite the fact that the musical artists and guests he featured were globally recognized, such as Muhammad Ali, Madonna, Sammy Davis Jr., Prince, and Jim Henson. In 1989, the show started, and was immediately impactful on the music industry, providing for the very first time a nationally televised platform for artists who would not fit the more "mainstream" formats of a Johnny Carson or Jay Leno. Musical guests during this period included Guy, Bobby Brown, New Edition, Troop, and Wrecks N Effect. By the fall of that year, Arsenio's impact on popular music was recognized by MTV when he began his three year stint as host of their annual Video Music Awards.
By 1990, Arsenio was riding high and was undisputely the most popular talk show host among America's youth. His show would introduce or feature more hip-hop and R&B to national television, such as Bell Biv Devoe, Johnny Gill, Mariah Carey, Candyman, En Vogue, Big Daddy Kane, and of course MC Hammer. But Arsenio was also known to feature guests from a wide/crossover variety of backgrounds - it would not be uncommon (at all) to see David Bowie, Harrison Ford, Robert DeNiro, Kirk Cameron, Dennis Franz, or Sandra Bernhard on the show. The idea behind Arsenio Hall was that this was a "new America" he was introducing. A "new America" that was certainly appealing to younger, more idealistic audiences. 1990 was the plateau most likely for his show, before things began to get a bit more serious the following year. An article published by Entertainment Weekly in December 1990 illustrates this clearly.
By 1991, the leadership that New Jack culture had established in North American culture had started to lose steam as overtly corporate interests began to co-opt urban America's creativity while sacrificing authenticity. This began to draw the ire of the artists, musicians and personalities of the day, and one of its most famous manifestations was the rise of Miami-based rap star Vanilla Ice. Upon making his appearance on the Arsenio Hall Show, Vanilla Ice found himself confronted by a talk show host who while normally genial, made no attempt "go easy" with his questions. It was a tense interview, and perhaps the beginning of the end for Arsenio. Perhaps he sensed that whatever progress that seemed to be achieved sociologically between the years 1988 through 1990, was about to be undone - and he was going to fight those forces tooth and nail. Which made for a more serious, and less "crossover appeal" talk show experience.
By 1992, Entertainment Weekly did a cover story on Arsenio, which featured a more militant-sounding Arsenio claiming that he would "kick Jay (Leno)'s ass" upon his debut as Johnny Carson's replacement. You can read the entire article here. This controversial statement, coupled with the schism between rock and urban music kickstarted by the rise of Nirvana and Pearl Jam divided the youth culture base that supported both New Jack Swing, and The Arsenio Hall Show. This caused both New Jack Swing music and the Arsenio Hall Show to naturally move to an even more urban place than they were before, with NJS becoming Hip-Hop/Soul, and Arsenio featuring even more Hip-Hop acts, culminating in the famous (and still controversial appearance to this day) of Nation Of Islam leader, Louis Farrakhan. It seemed that the goodwill that must have been generated as the result of Bill Clinton's famous campaign appearance playing the saxophone had all but irreversibly evaporated.
By 1994, the plug had been pulled on Arsenio Hall due to lower ratings, attributable to David Letterman on CBS, Jay Leno on NBC, and young mainstream America's shunning of all things urban save gangsta rap. His final show featured a memorable cavalcade of hip-hop stars extolling their praise for the show, and it was truly the end of an era.
It is the opinion of this website that brief periods in history, such as America's own post Civil War Reconstruction Era deserve to be highlighted. Like Reconstruction, the New Jack Era (and the Arsenio Hall Show) were perhaps anomalies in the sociological timeline of race relations in pop culture. It was a time when, as Arsenio mentions in his EW cover story, "everyone was invited to the party." And not in the self-conscious "token-like" manner that all too often permeates attempts at inclusion. But The Arsenio Hall Show never absent mindedly ignored inclusion either, the way television shows in the 90s tended to do (Friends, anyone?).
At any rate, the show should not be forgotten. If anything, it should be exposed to a wider audience than it was the first time around. It was, and always will be a perfect time capsule of what it was like to be young, or "plugged in" while living in North America during the late 80s and early 90s. And for fans of New Jack Swing music - the show is simply priceless.
We hope you will support the petition (click here).
Presidential candidate Bill Clinton reaches out to "young America" via The Arsenio Hall Show in 1992
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