Howard Stern calls himself the King of All Media, but he has never really conquered TV. He'll get that chance later this year, when he joins what has been the most watched summer show, NBC's America's Got Talent, as a judge.
It's not a move without risks for NBC. America's Got Talent did not need fixing. But when Piers Morgan chose to leave the judges' panel, executive producer Simon Cowell decided the show needed some shaking up and believes adding Stern can do it. The move has already made headlines, as Stern's edgy, boundary-pushing humor (and skill at self-promotion) has made him a powerful draw on radio for three decades.
But before he headed to satellite radio, Stern was a magnet for FCC scrutiny, which hampered the success of his TV projects. In the late 1990s, he scored ratings with his syndicated TV show for CBS; however, top-paying advertisers, sensitive over protests and boycotts, stayed away. "It was a challenge to get premium customers in," says an exec involved with the show.
NBC isn't worried about mainstream acceptance of Stern this time around. Entertainment executives at the network are convinced he can be funny within the parameters of broadcast TV and won't change AGT's family-friendly character. "It's a brand that has always meant PG viewing, and there are no plans to change that," says one NBC insider.
While the traditionally conservative Parents Television Council has already registered its objection, Madison Avenue is less sensitive to raunchy content. For example, CBS has no problem selling out its Monday-night comedy lineup, a two-hour festival of sex jokes.
Brad Adgate of ad-buying firm Horizon Media says AGT sponsors scared off by Stern will be replaced by new ones who will give the show a second look: "Any slack can be picked up by Howard Stern devotees — mostly younger men — who may not watch a lot of broadcast television."