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Scott D. Pierce
Scott D. Pierce writes about television for the Salt Lake Tribune. Vice president of the Television Critics Associationn, he's covered TV in Utah since 1990.

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Arsenio Hall is back -- and he's on KMYU in Utah

It's been 24 years since Arsenio Hall launched a late-night talk show, and, boy, has the TV world changed.

In 1989, Hall was "trying to take anything that was left over on Carson's plate," he said. And Johnny Carson was the beginning, middle and end of late-night talk.

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Jay Leno was Carson's guest host. David Letterman was his follow-up on NBC's "Late Night." ABC didn't have a late-night talk show. CBS was making a weak attempt with "The Pat Sajak Show."

"The Arsenio Hall Show," syndicated by Paramount, was young, hip and turned out to be a surprisingly strong challenger for a while. (It ran for five years, ending in 1994.)

In 2012, CBS - the corporate successor to Paramount TV - is syndicating "The Arsenio Hall Show." In Utah, you can watch it late nights at 11 p.m. on KMYU-Channel 2.2 (Channel 22 on Comcast; Channel 12 on DirecTV and Dish).

And Hall will be going up against Letterman, Leno, Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, Craig Ferguson, Conan O'Brien, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Chelsea Handler and W. Kamau Bell.

"I actually was down at the courthouse today," Hall joked. " I'm trying to change my name to Jimmy because I think Jimmy Hall would work a lot better."

There are viewers who aren't old enough to have watched Hall before he signed off in 1994. Heck, there are viewers who weren't born in 1994. If they know him at all, they probably know him from his stint on "The Celebrity Apprentice."

But Hall seems undeterred while, at the same time, acknowledging the difficulties that weren't there 19 years ago.

"It's a huge challenge this time to bring people to the television," he said. "But I know that everybody doesn't have a late night host. One of the biggest challenges for all of us as late night hosts is to get people to even make an appointment to watch TV and not say, 'I'll watch Fallon yodel tomorrow,' because you have that ability to Google anything and find anything that's been on. It's hard to get people to even watch you and make appointments for television.

"So the challenges are gigantic now."

But so are the opportunities, because there are plenty of people who aren't watching any of those other late-night shows.

"There are 290 million Americans who don't watch late-night [TV talk shows]," said executive producer John Ferriter. "So there are people out there, and we hope that they can come in."

The plan - the hope - is that there are a few million people out there looking for something different from Letterman, Leno and the Jimmys.

"People ask you, 'Well, how is the show different?'" said executive producer Neal Kendall. "He's (Arsenio) different. And I think that's the best answer to the question about how our show will be different, is that he is just unique and different."

Different from the competition, but familiar to his old fans.

"It's kind of the same Arsenio you know," Hall said. "Less hair, less shoulder pads. It's me, kind of the same guy, being put into a whole generation of new talent and new opportunities for bookings."

"But it's not reinventing late night because there's a lot of great late-night," Ferriter said. "There are a lot of really funny, talented people. There's so many people out there that really haven't settled in on what they like to watch. We'd like to provide an alternative to that and people will also DVR."

And it's all about entertaining people. All people.

"At the end of the day, I'm a standup comic," Hall said. I go out there and I try to get laughs. I make kids laugh who are 19, and I made a lady who's 90 laugh at the mall once."

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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