Ken Tucker explains why the King of All Media is finally succeeding on TV

By Ken Tucker
Updated April 13, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

Howard Stern fans get what they deserve on CBS

It’s no insult to Howard Stern (as if one should worry for a nanosecond about wounding the Master Insulter of our time) to say that his media popularity has peaked. It’s simply a function of media time spent in the spotlight: After the years of the most freeform of 190s commercial radio broadcasting, best-selling books, and a hit movie, Stern is a familiar commodity.

But that doesn’t mean he’s lost his edge. Familiarity can breed complacency — in the audience and the artist — but I continue to marvel at Stern’s ability to produce a minimum of four hours of syndicated radio programming each weekday and maintain a high level of low humor unequaled in his medium’s history. This, despite the continuing harassment Stern faces from the FCC and, most recently, Steve Allen’s misguided anti-”smut” campaign, which would have Stern disappear from all airwaves.

When it comes to maintaining quality, though, Stern can be his own worst enemy. His forays into television have refuted his King of All Media boast: His daily E! show — essentially a videotaped broadcast of the radio show — is most often a bore, because it regularly leaves out so much of what appeals to long-listening fans: Howard’s contentious colloquies on his family, his apparently assiduously mundane home life, his squabbles with his radio staff.

The Saturday-night “Howard Stern Show,” shown on many CBS affiliates, used to be just as tedious as the E! show, but the recent takeover of new producer Scott Einziger has helped Stern come much closer to achieving the headlong pace and intimacy of listening to him on radio. It’s odd that Einzinger is the agent for change, since he’s also the exec producer of the E! show. At any rate, Einzinger and Stern have sped up the pace of the CBS show — shortening to their comic essences segments with celebs as various as James Brown, Anthony Hopkins, Carmen Electra, Don King, Matt Damon, and Jennifer Tilly.

Jackie “The Joke Man” Martling has been hologrammed into “Filthy 3D Joke Man” — an animated cartoon of the Joke Man, who spews a few poor-taste yuks, gets his chuckles, and then disappears (just the way you always wished the real Joke Man would). Most striking recently was footage of radio-show producer Gary Dell’Abate fighting with his boss over a personal appearance Dell’Abate had made at one of those “monster-truck” rallies. This in turn led Dell’Abate to berate Howard’s cohost Robin Quivers as being ”vicious and mean.”

All of this comes much closer to capturing the Compleat Howard Stern Experience. Whether you want to subject yourself to that experience — or admit to enjoying it — continues to be the question at the center of Stern’s career.