Hollywood may regret the day Howard Stern’s Private Parts hit the best-seller list. Before Stern’s detailed autobiography became the fastest-selling book in Simon & Schuster’s history, film and television executives could easily dismiss Stern as too controversial for network TV or mainstream movies. But Private Parts has made the shock jock a force to be reckoned with, and the industry has no choice but to take a second look. The deejay is quietly—yes, we said quietly— weighing his options. They include:
HOWARD STERN, TV STAR: Ever since The Chevy Chase Show was yanked on Oct. 15, there’s been a persistent rumble that Stern, who declined to be interviewed for this story, will assume Chase’s slot at Fox. The network has ”no comment,” but the industry buzz is that (1) Stern and Fox Broadcasting chairman Lucie Salhany were ”in negotiations,” and that (2) Fox mogul Rupert Murdoch was ignoring his wife Anna Murdoch’s alleged distaste for Stern’s persona and approving the deal.
”He’s been very closemouthed about the whole thing,” says his sidekick Robin Quivers. ”He’s very calm, which leads me to believe things are still in the early stages.” A Fox exec claims that Stern ”has cooled to the idea” and laments that Fox didn’t act sooner. ”We should’ve been there two months ago, and now finally Rupert has woken up,” he says.
There’s good reason for the network to waver: A Fox-Stern collaboration will surely face an uphill fight with affiliates and advertisers, despite the following created by his 1990 syndicated show and his recent interview program on E! Entertainment Television. Noting that radio stations that have carried Stern’s show have come under fire from the FCC, Caroline Chang, program manager of Fox’s San Francisco affiliate, worries that ”this kind of thing would suddenly be leveled at us.” Moreover, a spokesman for Kellogg, which spends more than $390 million annually on TV advertising, says, ”We would not advertise during it.” Ditto from Procter & Gamble. ”Anyone who has ever seen or heard Howard knows he would never pass muster,” says a P&G spokeswoman.
Then again, TV pundits say Stern might be the only serious challenger to David Letterman’s late-night dominance. ”Talk about being able to differentiate yourself from the competition,” says Betsy Frank of Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising. ”Stern personifies what the Fox network says it is—cutting edge, smart alecky, hip.”
HOWARD STERN, MOVIE STAR: If Stern opts to forego TV, there’s always film. Producer-director Ivan Reitman (Dave) has reportedly expressed interest in producing a film based on Private Parts for Universal. Described by a studio-based director as possibly ”a cross between Talk Radio and Animal House,” it’s still in the preliminary stages. Stern is also said to be talking to Paramount about a production deal.
One thing’s for sure: If Stern makes a film, it won’t be with New Line Cinema, with which he had a falling-out earlier this year over the defunct Adventures of Fartman. Sources say that New Line production chief Mike DeLuca, inspired by the book’s popularity, called Stern’s agent with an offer to patch things up. But Stern and his manager turned him down. (DeLuca denies he contacted Stern.)
But for all the hoopla about Stern’s next move, no one seems certain if he can succeed in another medium. The Hollywood consensus is that, on screen, Stern will have to appear as himself. ”It would have to be specially tailored to him, like Pee-wee’s Big Adventure,” says director-producer Alan Spencer (Hexed). Casting director Risa Bramon Garcia (The Joy Luck Club) agrees: ”He would have to do the same thing he does on the radio show—confront and provoke.”
HOWARD STERN, STILL A CABLE STAR: According to his radio producer Gary Dell Abate, Stern isn’t plotting his next move but concentrating on his pay-per-view New Year’s Eve special. In addition to the usual entourage of lesbians and strippers, the three-hour, $39.95 special will feature a telethon to help cover John Bobbitt’s medical expenses. The show might even be a preview of things to come. “I’d say he’d go for the TV deal and keep movies on the back burner,” says Quivers. “Being the competitive person that he is, he’s much more inclined to be the king of late night. I think it’s just a matter of what he wants to do.” And who wants to do it with him.