At a panel for "The Arsenio Hall Show" during press tour, Hall (joined by executive producers Neal Kendall and John Ferriter) seemed eager to let everyone know that, though it's been almost 20 years since he left late night, he's raring to return in the late night format. While a clip of greatest moments from his old series seemed to confirm he may have been out of circulation a little too long (he promised not to bring back the massive shoulder pads from the era, unless audiences want them), he swears he's still a young whippersnapper who loves social media -- then tweets like an ADD-riddled teen to prove it.
Still, Hall must realize he's returning to a very different world of late night programming, right? "I'm trying to change my name to Jimmy," he joked in reference to Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel. "There's a lot of competition. [Back in the '90s] I was trying to take anything that was left over on Carson's plate. But I know everybody doesn't have a late night host... There's a huge audience out there that doesn't have a late night show... You don't have to go after Chelsea's fans or Leno's fans to be in the game."
He may be older, but Hall promises that other than having less hair and different clothes, he's "kind of the same guy, put into a whole [new] generation of talent and new opportunities."
Lest anyone not believe him, Hall said, "I'm really into social media. I love it. I watch Fallon use it brilliantly with the yodel bit on the roof... Mr. Leno and Letterman, from my generation, [they're] not into it at all, but Leno's number one. They're getting to the top in their own unique ways. I'm more in the Fallon mode. I love the digital world. Do you realize, Debbie Gibson sent me a fax? She'd drawn a picture of herself holding a mic saying 'Mr. Hall I'd like to appear on your show.' I remember Barbra Streisand called me with a Bill Clinton question. Now. you tweet. I'm excited to jump back into it. When you write a joke, you can Google [research]... It used to be we'd go through a file cabinet. I can't wait to write jokes in this digital world!"
After mentioning highlights from his previous show guaranteed to make anyone who remembers them feel old (Bill Clinton playing the sax and Magic Johnson announcing his AIDS diagnosis), he talked about winning "The Celebrity Apprentice" on NBC. "I've never been a champion in the world of sports, so [it was the] closest moment to have a victory... I've been number two in everything I've done, and to win felt really good."
Explaining that he'd previously passed on doing the show, he said the death of his cousin from AIDS changed his mind. "Magic is so healthy and having a great time. Sometimes you forget the mission when your friend is cool. I've gotten a little lazy in my mission. When my cousin died, it was a wake-up call. It was time to do 'Apprentice,' and I knew exactly who I was playing for."
He also mentioned he knew exactly who to ask for advice -- previous winner Piers Morgan. His tip? "Read everything Donald [Trump] wrote. "Jay helped me find an apartment; he taught me how to ride a motorcycle... [then] we'd be calling each other and battling, and that lasted a couple weeks," Hall said, mentioning that Leno tried to steal employees from him. "I was battling with the competitor who doesn't want to lose. I get it. I think as far as people's personal feelings about him, he and Dave [Letterman] go way, way back to before me. But I think when you're trying to win, it's easy to do things so competitive your competitors see you as the enemy."
Hall talked about his slow, methodical attempts to get back into the public eye before launching the talk show, appearing on everything from "Tosh.0" to writing articles for Newsweek. Still, he said, "It's important to me not to do a Similac joke just because I'm going for a young audience."
So far, Hall says he's been met with a surprisingly warm welcome. Leno has recommended writers, and Kimmel was one of the stars who donated funds to him during "Celebrity Apprentice. "When you talk about the competition thing, everyone's being real nice to me."
But why come back now? After all, Hall left late night because he wanted to, not because he was canceled. "Leaving and not being canceled, yeah, I did good... I chose to work on my relationship and make a child. My son's thirteen now, and he's having me drop him off a block from the movie theater, and that's usually a sign you can go back to work."