DALLAS — "I love being a dad," he said. "When kids got together at Chuck E. Cheese, there were a lot of mothers — and me."
But Hall yearned to return to late night. In June 2012 he announced it was happening.
"People say, 'How did you know when to do it?' Several times before I had tried!"
False starts included a meeting with studio bigwigs he skipped because his son was sick. Or the nail in a piece of sushi that broke his tooth the night before an all-important guest-hosting gig.
"Signs like that," Hall said, "seemed to mean I wasn't ready yet."
Now he's sure he's ready, whatever skeptics may say.
"I hear all the long-shot talk: 'This is an impossible thing to do after all this time. The field is so crowded.' But I still have to pursue my dream!"
Meeting with a reporter at a rehearsal space in a rawboned section of North Hollywood while his new house band was tuning up, Hall radiated the charm and high energy that made him a hit with viewers so long ago. At 58, he comes across much the same as ever — lanky, boyish, wide-open grin. The biggest difference: his mustache is long gone. "It had too much gray in it," he confided.
As part of his strategy to reintroduce himself, Hall became a contestant on "The Celebrity Apprentice" early in 2012 — and ended up not only gaining the exposure he sought, but also winning the competition.
Even so, do enough viewers know who he is — or remember him — to get his new show off the ground?
"When people ask that, I'm like, 'Well, NO ONE knew me the FIRST time!' I used to joke that people thought Arsenio Hall was a dorm at UCLA. So don't I have a better shot THIS time?"