For you fans of late night entertainment television and its history, you've got to hear Fresh Air this week on National Public Radio. The whole week is devoted to the history of hosts in that competitive field of American television. Terry Gross is the NPR show's host. Television critic and historian, David Bianculli is a contributor. If you're a regular Fresh Air listener, you regularly hear Mr. Bianculli. For television, he is to TV critics and historians what Bruce Springsteen is to rock music. I totally dig David and have read his columns for quite a few years now. He is smart, insightful and informed.
I wonder if the Fresh Air "Late Night Week" will include the man who radically changed the whole post-prime time game -- Arsenio Hall. This bright late night star wasn't mentioned Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. Hall made racial history with his syndicated hit from 1989 to 1994. Perhaps today's or tomorrow's show will give him some recognition.
Hall whacked TV executives upside the head with a ratings skillet and made them realize that the late night TV audience included millions of minorities -- black, Latino, Asian, etc. And gay people. Let's face it. We'd all been casually ignored by network executives through the decades.
Hall returns to the late night arena next month.
Martin Luther King was slain two months later.
I got the story on Belafonte battling NBC brass to book Dr. King from Charles "Chiz" Schultz when I was a 1991 guest host on CNBC's Talk Live. I asked him to be my guest. What a cool guy! Chiz was a producer of the Oscar nominee for Best Picture of 1984, A Soldier's Story starring Howard Rollins and Denzel Washington. Before that, he produced The Angel Levine, a 1970 film starring Harry Belafonte as an angel to shows up to help a hopeless Jewish tailor played by Zero Mostel. Chiz and Belafonte became friends in 1968 when Chiz was on the Tonight show production team in New York City. He worked with Harry that week on NBC. In the interview, Chiz revealed that network executives saw Dr. King as too radical and felt his appearance would mean a loss of sponsors. Tonight didn't lose any sponsors.
As I wrote on Twitter, the lack of color in this chapter of TV history is a story in itself. I'd love to hear Bianculli give us some reports on that one day.
If you've missed "Late Night Week" on Fresh Air, visit the program's page on npr.org.
P.S. It's Friday. I listened to the final one-hour installment of the "Late Night" salute. Arsenio Hall did not get mentioned at all in the entire series. Chevy Chase got mentioned. He didn't. As the host used to say on his late night Fox show, "Hmmmmm."
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