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TCA: Robin Williams, Arsenio Hall Add Nostalgic Touch to CBS’ Press Tour

Latenight host's return highlights difficulty grooming talk talent

Depending on one’s point of view, the back-to-back appearances by Robin Williams — in a new sitcom — and Arsenio Hall — in a new latenight talkshow — at CBS’ portion of the TV Critics Assn. tour are either a warm note of nostalgia, or an indictment of the industry’s failure to groom new talent.

Williams was decidedly low-key during his session in connection with “The Crazy Ones,” his new CBS comedy, other than an apparent obsession with joking about New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner. Asked about the difference between doing a TV show now and the days of “Mork & Mindy,” he quipped, “The last time I was on TV ‘wired’ meant a gram and a bottle of Jack Daniels.”

If Williams sounded happy just to have a regular gig, Hall, by contrast — after a promo clip that said, “The legend returns to latenight” — was an exhausting ball of energy, leaping to tout his new program even before the publicist could introduce him.

“I’m trying to be in the game,” Hall said of the seemingly crowded latenight landscape, while frequently referencing highlights from the past show, such as Bill Clinton’s saxophone-playing appearance and its influence on the way presidential candidates approach media

Having once famously said he was going to “kick Leno’s ass” in the ratings, he likened his relationship with Jay Leno today to two great boxers who can appreciate each other more once they’ve left the ring.

Exec producer Neal Kendall said the show will push music front and center, as opposed to just making it the last few minutes of the hour, as often happens elsewhere. But it was pretty clear from the session that like most latenight fare, one’s appreciation of “The Arsenio Hall Show” will be host dependent, not guest dependent.

The other exec producer, John Ferriter, also cited a desire to span a demographic swatch from those who were viewers of the first show to a younger contingent to whom it’s barely a memory.

Hall was correct on one point: However much the world has changed since “Arsenio” shook up latenight, the fundamentals haven’t really changed.

By that measure, Hall and Williams are back “in the game” for a simple reason: Despite all the people out there dying to get the call to play, there are never enough who truly can — or at least, who the networks are comfortable letting carry the ball.

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