NBC has finally done something right: In hiring Howard Stern to be a judge on America’s Got Talent, the network succeeds on a number of levels. Let’s count ’em:
1. People like me will start watching America’s Got Talent. I, like millions of Americans, have no use for a talent show that tells me we have talent in this country. Who cares about its endless parade of cute tykes and silly dancers and, as Stern put it on his radio show, “Frank Sinatra impersonators”? But with Stern as a judge, I and many others will give this show another shot, because he’s bound to add a lot of sharp humor and, I’m wagering, a great deal of acute critical observation along with his trademark sarcasm.
2. The Howard-generated publicity alone will boost ratings immediately. When you hire Stern, you court controversy. NBC is already benefitting from the condemnation of the whining bullies of the Parents Television Council, which will inspire many people who take marching orders from the PTC to tune in to hate Stern, mixing them with the people who love Stern, to achieve a highly profitable demo for the network.
3. He’s one of the best interviewers ever. The questioning of the contestants is going to be a lot more insightful and fun. Really, just hearing Stern say on his radio show, “I don’t want to hurt feelings, [but] feelings are going to be hurt” filled my heart with anticipatory joy — not because of the potential for meanness (Stern knows how to dial it back when the object of his chat doesn’t deserve humiliation), but for the sheer, blessed directness he’ll bring to one of the thousands of competition shows that too often tiptoe around the mediocrity placed before it. When it comes time to do the show, true Howard fans know he’s not going to reduce sweet little kiddies to tears. He may make their pushy stage-parents weep from a barrage of contempt, he may make Howie Mandel and Sharon Osborne weep as they realize they cannot compete with his quickness, but at bottom, Stern is a sensible man. He’s going to incinerate anyone who is a phony shill contestant, or who gives him guff (unlike Simon Cowell, do you think Stern would have put up with that brat Astro?). He’s going to be highly entertaining.
Why, I’ll bet even Stern fan Owen Gleiberman starts DVR’ing AGT…