Arsenio Hall is getting ready for the launch of his own late night show in syndication Sept. 9, but that didn't stop him from taking time to talk to press about how his friend Jay Leno is being dealt with by NBC. Following the panel for the 2013 version of the "Arsenio Hall Show" at the current Television Critics Association summer press tour, Hall chatted with a handful of reporters about Jay.
"I won't say he's being screwed, because that might make people think I don't believe in Jimmy (Fallon), and Jimmy Fallon is a good friend of mine. What I wish," said Hall, "is that NBC could anoint one guy without @#!!ing the other, because Jay is No. 1. He clearly has a lot of juice in him. It's funny — a guy is getting fired at No. 1. That's bizarre. But I understand they don't want to lose Fallon — he's amazing."
Earlier, Arsenio had referred to Muhammad Ali and Joe Frasier to explain his relationship with Leno. He said the fighters "didn't get along back during the heat of battle," but years later, they spent time together and had interesting conversations. Nowadays, he and Leno will go down to the Comedy and Magic Club in Huntington Beach, Calif., hang out and talk comedy and late night.
Can he imagine Leno just walking away from late night?
"I don't know if he can walk away from late night TV or not. Jay is a comic — he'll never walk away from funny. Whether it's next to Larry King on the Internet or he goes to Fox, Jay is not going to stop making people laugh. This is a guy who goes to a club when he doesn't have to."
That's the same kind of passion he finds in Fallon, he said. And, "You know I'm not coming back for the money, I'm coming back because I love it."
Arsenio put his career on low for years while focusing on fatherhood, something he's proud of. "I love fatherhood more than anything," he declared.
"I was a latchkey kid. My mother has never seen me play little league baseball, and it's not that she didn't want to. She would go from one job to the next. I didn't have the life my son had," he said. "My brother was in jail all my life. I saw my brother twice. My brother was more comfortable in jail than out of jail. When he got out, he would do something on purpose to get back into jail because he was more comfortable there. I'm one of those people that believe one of the most important things in this country is fatherhood. I wanted to be there. I wanted to do it."
As for what kind of a dad he is, Arsenio described himself as "kind of an old school dad. I was raised by a Baptist preacher from Georgia. It's like, my son looks at me and says, 'Dad, when do I get two earrings? And I go, 'OK, let's go in and watch Joel Osteen.'" He laughed.
Now that his son is 14, and having gotten back into the forefront of viewers' minds via his victorious journey on "The Celebrity Apprentice," Arsenio said he can't wait to jump back into nightly TV. He also can't wait to use all the social media tools now at his disposal.
He contends that he's not out to lure viewers away from Jimmy Fallen, Jimmy Kimmel, Chelsea Handler, et. al. "There are so many people in America who don't have a late night host. I just want to be that guy," he said. "People who love Kimmel often check it out the next day. It's a different world, and I think I can get in the mix without anyone getting hurt."
But if Leno did move to Fox, it certainly wouldn't be helpful to Arsenio, who has a lot of Fox stations in his syndication lineup.
Hall is just one of the former TV giants who are making newsworthy returns to the tube this fall — a group that includes Robin Williams on CBS's "The Crazy Ones," and Michael J. Fox's return to series TV with his self-titled sitcom on NBC. Former "Alice" star Linda Lavin is back as well, playing Sean Hayes' mom on "Sean Saves the World."
THRILLS AND AGONY: Also at press tour, NBC's panel for the Sochi Winter Olympics next year in Russia found themselves being pressed for answers as to how that country's new anti-gay laws would be impacting the games and their coverage. NBC executives averred again and again, saying they don't know yet.
After the panel, Al Michaels pointed out that there often seems to be fear and controversy leading into the Olympics.
"Going all the way back to 1984 here in Los Angeles, they were worried about terrorists. That was here almost 30 years ago. The smog was going to be insane — people couldn't breathe. The traffic was not going to allow anybody to get around. It was going to be too hot, and terrorists were going to come in and destroy the Olympics. Did any of that happen? Absolutely not. I spent a good part of my life living in Los Angeles — the city never looked better."
The "Sunday Night Football" anchor and veteran sports broadcaster noted, "You can't separate sports from politics. It's like people saying 'I'm only going to pay attention to one aspect of the story.' The world is a little more complicated than that. We know that. I think it's striking a balance. What we have to do in covering the Olympics is be fair. ... You have a vast and diverse audience of millions of viewers. You can't satisfy everybody. You just have to do the best job you can, journalistically, to present the facts."
UNFORGIVEN: You may recall the hostility between NBC and former "America's Got Talent" judge Sharon Osbourne over Jack Osbourne's being cut from the network's "Stars Earn Stripes" show after his MS diagnosis (which the network then disputed). Well, that show has come and gone and it's nearly a year later, but obviously the bitterness remains. We caught up with Sharon at The CBS/CW/Showtime star party the other night, and asked her whether she ever watches "AGT" now. "I never watch NBC," she answered coolly. But she was congenial otherwise, apparently enjoying hanging out with her "The Talk" comrades including Sara Gilbert.