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FILE UNDER: WRITTEN BY XANDER

Please forgive the gush. I'm writing this with Friday's LATE SHOW still fresh in my memory. How blown away were you by Bill Murray's cameo appearance? It was so incredibly awesome to see him take on the role of designated 'cape boy', and as expected, he handled those duties with considerable aplomb.

I cannot be happier for musical guest, Kathleen Edwards, making her television debut with Dave. If you haven't heard her CD, don't walk, run and pick up a copy. She does a track called "ONE MORE SONG THE RADIO WON"T LIKE" that will blow your mind. Mark my words, this little girl is gonna be big.

In fact, it was the music that made the show. Has Paul Shaffer and the CBS Orchestra ever sounded better than they did on Friday? It saddens me to say this. In terms of late night bands, I've always felt that the Max Weinberg Seven had a tighter sound and much more imaginative arrangements. But musician for musician, Paul has a much more talented and versatile group. Their problem stems from the fact that aren't being utilized to their fullest. So I was happy to see Paul allow Will Lee and Felicia Collins to do solos as the show went into and came out of commercial breaks. This was a terrific experiment and one I hope they continue.

Anyhoo, onto this week's column:

HIT ME WITH THE DIGITS

This week, Dave revealed the public spirited side of himself. As he explained it, with so many of our favorite celebrities being jailed, Hollywood is suffering from a very real star shortage. So as a public service, CBS has revived the the eighties series STAR SEARCH as a way to replenish the old gene pool. To this I say, good for them and not a moment too soon.

To be honest, I do have mixed feelings about their decision to have Arsenio Hall host. I've never been a huge Arsenio fan. As readers of this column may have noticed, I like my talk show hosts, well, kinda nasty (case in point: Dave).

Letterman hates crap, cant, condescension, and systematically refuses to kowtow to anyone. Arsenio, on the other hand, reminds me a little too much of Sammy Maudlin, Joe Flaherty's unctuous talk show host character from SCTV. But I must say I've always gotten a kick out of the guy's faux-hip way with words. I think it's about time someone examines ARSENIO HALL: THE LINGUIST.

Who else but Arsenio would think "Hit me wit da digits," to be an acceptable way of asking what the contestants scores were? I loved the fact that Dave kept showing the clip of Arsenio with the supermodel contestants, each time marveling at the 'Woof, Woof' man's suave line delivery. Kudos to Paul for detecting a certain Jerry Lewis tonality when a slightly more agitated Arsenio delivered the soon to be classic line: "Hit me wit da digits." Jeez, it really is fun to say.

It is part of Arsenio's unrecognized talent that he has the ability to say (with a straight face) phrases that never been uttered before in the history of language, and phrases that have never been uttered since. I'll give you two prime examples. Do you remember where you were the night he said the following to a former FAME star: "Nia Peeples, get yo sexy li'l self out here, girl." Or how about this intro to TV's FRASIER: "KEL-SEY GRAM-MERRR IS IN DA HOUUUSSSEEE!!!" That, my friends, is the work of one freaky genius.

In retrospect, I think I've always been a little unfair to Arsenio. After all, it's been a while since I've seen him. Wednesday, I decided to check him out on the new STAR SEARCH. And to my astonishment, I found myself actually enjoying myself. Maybe he really has matured as a performer (and as a comedian), smoothed out some of his excesses, develop a sense of self deprecation about himself.

Or maybe it's all about the hair.

Arsenio's got dreads. And to be honest, the dreadlocks are a pretty stylin' look for him. It's not a full on, crazee Bob Marley/Whoopi Goldberg but rather a shorter, more manageable Tracy Chapman. It's the type of 'do you'd imagine a guy meeting his business manager at the Polo Lounge would have. He's checking his Blackberry to see if he could squeeze in a pedicure between Tae-Bo and the meet and greet with Eisner. All in all, pretty cool.

Personal note: In the interest of full disclosure, this columnist has thick, dark, wavy hair. When it's humid out, my hair frizzes into a scary Screech from SAVED BY THE BELL type texture. Definitely take my opinions on men's grooming with a grain of salt.

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