I count myself extremely fortunate to have been writing about television, and working in Los Angeles for long stretches, during the late '80s. I got wind that comedian Arsenio Hall was grooming his own syndicated late-night series, and since no other folks of color were hosting anything close to that back then, I wangled a one-on-one interview with Hall before his show's premiere.
One of my luckiest decisions ever. The Arsenio Hall Show exploded into the hottest draw on TV for five seasons, and because I was there at its inception I became a media good-luck charm. Whenever I could spare an afternoon I would race to the back lot at Paramount Studios, be escorted to an audience seat for the daily taping, and wait for the magic to begin. I recall hangin' with Hall in his narrow dressing room, surrounded by racks of suits and mountains of shoeboxes, chuckling over our shared good fortune.
There were as many celebrities in the stands as on the set; I saw Mike Tyson slip in a studio side door unannounced one day and stand in a corner, just to watch the proceedings. And why not? You might see Bill Clinton playing sax, Magic Johnson discussing AIDS, Sir Mix-a-Lot performing with a giant booty as backdrop — you literally never knew what might happen next.
There hasn't been another TV show like it. Until now.
"I talked to Arsenio Hall about this show," admits George Lopez, gregarious host of Lopez Tonight, the Monday-through-Thursday fiesta that premiered at 11 p.m. this week on TBS. "His show was always fun. We don't want to do anything but make the show fun for everybody to watch."
Lopez, one of the most popular and powerful Latino entertainer in this country since Desi Arnaz, tabbed Michael Bearden, musical director for Michael Jackson's fateful "This Is It" concert tour, as his studio bandleader, and has the personal celebrity to handpick A-list guests. NBA superstar Kobe Bryant, Eva Longoria Parker and Ellen DeGeneres were his opening-night invitees.
From what we've seen of The Wanda Sykes Show, a catty weekend chatfest that launched at 11 p.m. Saturday on FOX (Channel 2 in Detroit), it's all about Sykes — which, if you find her funny, may not be altogether bad. But with his audience interactions and unpredictable format — there won't be an opening monologue every night, he vows — Lopez is giving notice he intends to become a major player in the late-night wars.
"There's competition in every business," Lopez says. "I believe there's an audience out there that's underserved, plus music and comedians that haven't been heard. Our simple plan is to create an energy that isn't anywhere else on TV."
Free wrestling in Highland Park: Decades before "smackdowns" or "wrestlemanias," the world of pro wrestling centered at Detroit's Cobo Arena, where legends like the Sheik, Bobo Brazil and Dick the Bruiser dominated the ring, and their TV exploits on Big Time Wrestling enthralled boob-tubers. If promoters Eddie and Tom Farhat have their way, it will happen again.
The brothers — sons of the original Sheik, the late Ed Farhat — established the All World Wrestling League (AWWL) and, after impressive inroads in Lansing and Kalamazoo, are ready to bring their act to its ancestral home. They have inked a deal with Channel 33 (WHPR-TV) to air hour-long AWWL Presents Big Time Wrestling matches at 8 p.m. Saturdays and 9 p.m. Mondays beginning Nov. 28, and will kick off the venture with a free taping open to the public at 6 p.m. this Saturday at the Channel 33 studios, 160 Victor St. between John R and Brush in Highland Park.
Doors open at 5 p.m. Saturday, first come, first served. The show will mix new footage of AWWL stars like reigning champ "Whipdog" Johnson and "The Human Highlight Reel" Sabu with classic clips of Sheik, Bobo, et al. "To the wrestling fans in Detroit, we're back," says Eddie, 59, who wrestled for years as Captain Ed George, "and we're coming back with a ton of fresh talent." For more information, go online to awwlstars.com.
New shows for old: If you've been sucked in by the imposing beginnings of the sci-fi miniseries V on ABC (8 p.m. Tuesdays, Channel 7 in Detroit) — the first scripted series to beat NCIS in the ratings in years -— or can't wait to see Jim Caviezel and Ian McKellen tackle The Prisoner at 8 p.m. Sunday on AMC, don't forget to pay respect to their forerunners.
Both the original V, a 1983 NBC miniseries, and the fairly cheesy 1984 weekly series it spawned, are available on DVD. And AMC is showing complete episodes of the 1967 BBC series The Prisoner, starring the late, dashing Secret Agent man Patrick McGoohan, on its Web site at amctv.com/originals/the-prisoner-1960s-series. I keep telling you, kids: Nothing on TV is completely new.Jim McFarlin is a media critic for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]