‘Arsenio Hall Show’ flogs the dog for control

It’s no news that the “The Arsenio Hall Show” in its new iteration is struggling. Some might be surprised that it was renewed by CBS. Arsenio no longer has the kind of colorful edge that differentiated him from the other late night entries and the dog pound is gone but the production flogs the dog with the kind of control that belongs in military obedience school and not on a talk show.

Every TV geek should see a TV show taping, but not all taping experiences are equal.

First, I am not part of the target audience of “Arsenio.” I am a geek, and I guess geeks are still not cool despite the success of “The Big Bang Theory” (been in that audience). Although Arsenio Hall does tell his live audience that he loves us all, the production assistants let us know that he doesn’t love us all the same. I dressed according to the instructions (colorful shirt, no writing or logos), but being there alone, being East Asian, wearing glasses and having my hair back in a bun might have made the production assistants think I was more Marian the Librarian than a wanna-be bunhead or dancer of any sort. Dressed in my nice jeans, deck shoes, a fuschia cardigan and a bright floral top (thank you GAP), I was relegated to the section nearest the entrance. Beside me sat other women and a few men, most of them in basic black. The black woman to my right  also had her graying hair pulled back and was in a black cardigan. Do not wear a cardigan and women don’t wear your hair back.

The black couple who were standing in front of me in line had been taken to a more central location, even though the husband and I were having a friendly chat about how we’d be the first people up dancing. When we left, after the show finished taping,  they mentioned that I should have been seated with them because they saw I was dancing through the whole show. The rest of my section, perhaps dejected after being so rejected, only stood occasionally, but as our orphaned status became more apparent, did so less and less throughout the taping.

In my previous experiences as a live audience member, seating hadn’t taken so long. I have just filed in and was seated next to the people I had met while standing and waiting in line. My husband and dance partner, who is also East Asian and likes Arsenio Hall, had a last-minute meeting that he couldn’t miss. He had last gone to see Dennis Miller as part of a group so he was seated as a group.

At “The Arsenio Hall Show,” the kind of audience profiling and arranging the audience in desirable and less desirable categories certainly stings. This is my second experience being looked over by production assistants who decided I didn’t fit the profile of the audience member. The first was in a park for Ellen Degeneres, but I was off of work and had a fever and double-ear infection. My companion was decidedly into herself. She spent her whole day at the park thinking of herself and talking to her brother and sister on her cellphone until she needed a ride home when she remembered me. At least I got a T-shirt. I even got one for her, but realized she had gotten one for herself and her siblings.

On the “The Arsenio Hall Show,”  when it came time to have the the special musical guest Danny Brown perform “Dip,” certain rows were invited to get down on stage. Our section, naturally, wasn’t asked. We were like the background actors of the background actors. I’ve actually been on stage when a band at UCLA’s Royce Hall invited people up and that wasn’t so long ago.

Trying to distill the chemistry of crowds might help the harried and very casually dressed production team to control the crowd, but a little chaos or the suggestion of chaos adds excitement. The subdued, control and so very safe attitude of the production team of the “The Arsenio Hall Show” spills over to the interviews.

Of course, some of it is rehearsed. How else would the crew have a still from Dulé Hill’s favorite episode of “Psych” ready to display?  The show was taped on the Tuesday afternoon, the day before “Psych” was broadcasting its last episode. Hill had also been on “The West Wing,” but before that he was dancing on Broadway.  Hill’s favorite episode in the eight seasons of “Psych” was the one where he came on as the Jeri-curled Michael Jackson and performed the moon walk, “American Duo.”

You think that might have called out for a Hill special live performance of a moon walk or a bit of tap dancing. Hill had a starring role in “Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk” on Broadway and had been Savion Glover’s understudy on Broadway for “The Tap Dance Kid.”

Dancing had already been mentioned in Hall’s monologue about “Dancing with the Stars” and Billy Dee Williams. Another missed opportunity when Hall didn’t ask Hill about DWTS, Billy Dee Williams or Hall’s ballroom potential.

Hill is currently appearing in a musical revue on Broadway called “After Midnight.” Hill is the host, and the show has received favorable reviews, but we saw no segments of that and Hill wasn’t asked to perform at all. How is that possible?

Talk about lost opportunities.

Hill got to play “Where you going?” Basically, someone goes out and films a person and we get to know a little bit about them and then the visiting celebrity is asked to pick from three possible destinations. Is it funny? It does get the audience involved, but the segment is dull.

And the segment also isn’t interesting enough to justify the grammatical mistake. If you need a hint, then there’s no verb in that sentence. (“Where are you going?” is often said as “Where’re you going?” but where’re isn’t listed in Merriam-Webster online). Maybe it’s eubonics, but by limiting your audience aren’t you also limiting your appeal?  Somewhere I can hear my friends say, “There, their, they’re” in mock sympathy.

Why not quiz Dulé Hill on something related to hills (think “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me”), something about pineapples or something related to psychics or psychos.   In this segment, if Hill got the answers right, a chosen audience member got $50.

The audience also got to participate in the strangers kissing segment. Two members of the audience came out with paper bags on their heads. This didn’t have the same kind of gentle hesitancy of the viral video which makes the black and white video more touching. There were no real surprises. No comedic twists.

Three audience members also got to participate in a food eating contest with the band members, Posse 2.0. You could tell that the first band member, Victoria Theodore (keyboard) lacked enthusiasm for eating chicken wings. She wasn’t interested in getting mussed up. I can understand that–what woman can’t?

This was dull. And it is true that the wings had different sauces.  Can’t say that I wanted to eat hotdogs or Twinkies.

Hall did get Brown to do a kindergarten rap.  That perhaps was the best fun moment of the show taping.

Arsenio is no longer the youngest or hippest guy on late night, but if he wants to survive, he might invite a little chaos in. He doesn’t need to try something dangerous, but something that has the potential to go wrong or surprise might bring audiences to view the show. As for the live audience, a bit of personal treatment might go a long way toward making the experience better. I recall seeing Jay Leno out shaking hands with the fans while they are lined up. It could not have hurt for Arsenio to do the same or to have the featured guests also get out, press the flesh and sign autographs. Hill did that at Comic-Con in San Diego last year.

If the live experience coupled with the undoubtable rejection as the target audience was a disappointment for me and the show was dull so I wonder then how much lackluster the show must have been for the TV viewer? Reading about Jay Leno, it seems that first in line gets front row seats and that jives with my other audience experiences. The last three seats on my left were given to the last three guys in line. They came together wearing hats and T-shirts with logos. I was toward the head of the line, behind a church group.

The Arsenio Hall Show” is filmed at the Sunset Bronson Studios” in Hollywood. There is no on-site parking. Street parking only but you can find 4-hour street parking. Tickets are available free. Preferred audience members did break the rules of T-shirts, hats, writing and logos on shirts and white tops.  You can check out the guest list and dates as well as request tickets by going to this website. 



Nice, colorful upscale attire is mandatory. Solid colors are encouraged. It is very important that you dress nicely, as you will be on camera. When you look great, the show looks great! Absolutely NO t-shirts, shorts, or flip flops. NO HATS. Please do NOT wear white tops or clothing with logos or writing. We suggest dressing warmly as the studio can be cold.



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