When Arsenio Hall woofs goodbye to the talk-show wars on May 27, he’ll leave a hole the size of Heavy D. in the R&B community. Gone will be his cream-puff interviews, Michael Wolff’s ever-funky Posse, and hip-hop’s only big-time showcase. But before Hall checks out of the Dog Pound, we decided to take one last look at the musical wars between Arsenio and his competitors-and see what will remain when he departs.
THE ARSENIO HALL SHOW
Sound Check: Hip-hop and R&B performers (Hammer, Philip Bailey, Naughty By Nature) spotted with lights so intense it looks like they just touched down with E.T.
Couch Time: Arsenio only gives it up to the biggest names (Hammer got to sit down; General Public did not).
Sample Host Patter: (After Angela Winbush’s performance) “Buy the CD just for the picture on the front. Damn, she fine!”
Verdict: Arsenio’s deification of R&B backup players-like Tony Maiden, Chaka Khan’s wah-wah guitar guy-is way cool. They’ll miss you, boyeeeee!
LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN
Sound Check: Boomer rock (Jackson Browne), country (Reba McEntire), safe alternative (Counting Crows). Planted in front of house band, guests must compete for attention with Paul Shaffer’s ceaseless head-bobbing.
Couch Time: None shall enter Dave’s space, unless they’re Ray Charles.
Sample Host Patter: Dave is the gee-whiz kid, telling Reba McEntire, “You smell nice!” and adding, “She just comes out here and blows the roof off the dump!”
Verdict: Letterman often seems to have no idea what guest’s music is about. That’s Paul’s job.
LIVE WITH REGIS & KATHIE LEE
Sound Check: Imagine your mom inviting lite-FM favorites like Richard Marx and art-rock relics (Yes) to jam in your living room.
Couch Time: It’s yammer time! Guests hop a stool for happy chat with Regis, who mainly holds up the artist’s latest CD, and Kathie Lee, who asks if the performers miss their kids while on the road.
Sample Host Patter: (To Married …With Children‘s Katey Sagal, hyping her new album) Regis: “She’s quite a singer.” Kathie Lee: “This is a good song.”
Verdict: Banal choices, but do you really want to hear Godflesh at nine in the morning?
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO
Sound Check: Branford Marsalis’ house band rules. Guests are a hodgepodge of styles (Bruce Cockburn, John Michael Montgomery, Clint Black, Pavement, and absolutely no rap); just as often, there are no musical guests at all.
Couch Time: Musicians usually only invited to sit long enough to wave goodnight.
Sample Host Patter: When exhorting Huey Lewis for a second number: “We’re having fun! Screw the commercial!”
Verdict: How important are musical guests on this show? One recent night featured a guy escaping from a washing machine, but no singing acts.
THE JON STEWART SHOW
Sound Check: Testosterone-heavy alternative bands (like Anthrax) rock this Real World-styled frat house.
Couch Time: Come on — everybody knows rock dudes can’t talk (even when, with Stewart, they try)!
Sample Host Patter: Stewart blurts a hearty “that was awesome” and “that was great” to each band member, whose palms he then slaps like a jock at the end of a sweaty game of hoops.
Verdict: Seeing musicians of this sort on MTV seems redundant. Stewart should swap musical guests for a day with Regis and Kathie Lee.