TV Article

Late-Night Wars, Act 3

Arsenio Hall, in his own words, about late night TV and Jay Leno

Twice now, for the purpose of selling the most magazines possible, Entertainment Weekly has sold out on its deserved reputation as an accurate and honorable publication. Both of your recent covers on late-night television have been a little misleading. First, on the issue featuring me on the cover, you printed ''I'm Gonna Kick Leno's Ass'' beside my picture. Taken out of context and isolated from the rest of my conversation, that line took on a very different meaning than what I had intended.

I completely understand your reasons for making the aforementioned business decision. After all, I did make that statement and I certainly cannot expect anyone at EW to look after a celebrity's best interest when it conflicts with moving magazines. However, when on the cover of your recent story on Jay Leno, you proclaimed ''Leno Gets Even,'' EW took quite a creative license, by establishing that the problems Mr. Leno and I have experienced with each other began with your magazine.

The problems I've had with Jay date back to the beginning of my show. As a friend, he would call my office to discuss certain segments of the show he had seen. His calls were always very friendly and complimentary, yet to other people, Jay would comment very negatively about me and the show. Eventually, his views would be repeated to me by our mutual acquaintances and ultimately disclosed publicly through the press. For example, I've read that Jay has taken issue with the quality of my performance as a monologist, my level of taste as a host, and the type of guests I've booked. I have no problem with criticism, but I did have a problem with the two-faced approach of someone I had, until that point, called a friend.

As far as the battle between the many late-night hosts is concerned, I can only assume that most people are as sick of hearing about it as I am. It has become very difficult for me to move past the issue because journalists are, for some reason, so interested in perpetuating this situation. Daily I receive calls from publicists, recording-label executives, and managers, describing, under conditions of anonymity, the ''terrible things Tonight is doing.'' Though countless incidents have occurred, the following two examples best describe the way the new Tonight Show has been doing business.

Recently, I was questioned by several writers about an alleged meeting I was holding to pressure black celebrities to do my show and boycott Tonight. That rumor, which Jay told me he passed on to a reporter from the Los Angeles Times, was extremely upsetting to me. I found Jay's story of an imaginary meeting to be both racist and insulting. If rich, powerful black people decide to hold a meeting, I promise you and Jay it will not be about something as trivial as late-night television. Secondly, I recently dealt with a situation involving a member of my staff who was being pressured to steal files belonging to Arsenio Hall Communications.

I coexisted with Mr. Carson and Mr. Letterman for more than three years without any of us saying a negative thing about the other. From this point forward, I am going to follow the paths of show-biz veterans that I respect, like Doc Severinsen, Ed McMahon, and Johnny Carson. Perhaps because they were on the way out of the late-night arena, they had an easier time remaining silent about what went on at the new Tonight Show.

In conclusion, I wrote this to clarify to you that my Entertainment Weekly cover was a response to a negative situation that began long before I commented publicly. Mine was not the first shot fired.

Thanks for listening.

(A Tonight Show spokeswoman responds: "We have no comment on what appears to be a continuation of hearsay. The primary focus of Jay and his staff right now is on The Tonight Show. To get into tit for tat is totally unproductive.")

Originally posted Sep 04, 1992 Published in issue #134 Sep 04, 1992 Order article reprints
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