Comedian, talk show host, writer and producer Arsenio Hall is back in the spotlight again after basically disappearing from the Hollywood scene for years. Hall has revived his “Coming To America” role in the Eddie Murphy sequel of the 1980s hit movie. The film was released Dec. 18.
During the 1990s, Hall was a Hollywood favorite, especially after his late-night, nationally syndicated talk show “The Arsenio Hall Show” started. The show ran on CBS from 1989 to 1994 and seemed like a cool party full of Hollywood stars every episode. From hip-hop artists to sports stars to Hollywood celebs, it seemed like everyone was stopping by to chat with Hall. So when the show got canceled, it seemed out of the blue and came suspiciously soon after Hall invited Nation of Islam leader Minister Louis Farrakhan on the show.
CBS said in a statement that the cancellation was due to decreased ratings, but there has long been speculation that it was the Farrakhan interview that did the show in.
During Hall’s nearly hour-long interview with Farrakhan on Feb. 25, 1994, they talked about racism and anti-Semitism.
″Are you a Black Hitler?″ Hall asked Farrakhan.
″I have never desired to put another human being in an oven. I have never taught that Jews should be exterminated,″ Farrakhan said. ″If I am righteous, I can never hate another person because of their faith.″
But critics later attacked Hall, claiming he fawned over Farrakhan and that Hall had no real interview skills.
The Los Angeles Times’ Howard Rosenberg wrote at the time, “It was a typical evening for Hall. As a worshipful patsy, he was brilliant. As an interviewer, he stunk.”
The Chicago Tribune’s Ken Parish Perkins said that Hall, “once the prince of late night and now its pauper — did himself in by being a lousy interviewer, a world-class fawner and by letting Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan yak along without so much as a rebuttal.”
Gregory P. Kane of the Baltimore Sun reviewed the interview by writing that “Hall — an infuriatingly uninquisitive man — asked few questions, while the good minister expressed his love for humanity and insisted he had no ill will toward Jews, whites or anyone else.”
Farrakhan has never been a favorite with the mainstream media, so the Hall appearance was considered a huge deal. Hall’s show was watched by millions nationwide.
Farrakhan was already getting heat from the mainstream media and it continued after Hall’s interview. He had organized a Man’s Only meeting in Manhattan called “Let Us Make Man” on Jan. 24, 1994, Medium reported. This meeting was the precursor to the Million Man March on Oct. 16, 1995.
The press went on attack over the “Let Us Make Man” gathering. Time Magazine ran the headline “Ministry of Rage” for its Feb. 28, 1994 profile on Farrakhan. But this was after Hall’s interview with the NOI leader.
Farrakhan also appeared in an ABC-TV “20/20” interview with Barbara Walters on April 22, 1994, and in an interview with BET’s Ed Gordon, Medium reported. Neither Walter nor Gordon received major network backlash for their interviews with Farrakhan.
Yet Hall’s show ended May 27, 1994.
Even Hall was shocked at the attention around his Farrakhan interview. He told the Vlad radio show on June 22, 1994, that the controversy started when Farrakhan was booked as a guest.
“Before he (Farrakhan) came on, just the fact that it was booked, I noticed that the day was announced and it was kind of interesting. My producing partner was a Jewish woman Marla Kel Brown…we were shocked … the attention that it got on the day the booking was announced but we knew our audience were interested in him and the coming Million Man March,” Hall said.
He added, “I’m not exactly sure why booking him caused people to deal with me differently than Barbara Walters or anybody else that interviewed him.”
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But according to Hall, it was not the Farrakhan interview that sealed his show’s fate. He did that himself.
He had already resigned, he said, prior to booking Farrakhan.
“My resignation letter was long before the Farrakhan booking. That’s on record. I was still trying to do great shows but the bottom line is at the time I had resigned.”
Hall did revive “The Arsenio Hall Show” 19 years after the original series stopped airing. It came back on air Sept. 9, 2013 but was canceled after one season.