Howard Stern replaces Piers Morgan on ‘America’s Got Talent’

December 15, 2011

NBC has signed shock jock Howard Stern to replace Piers Morgan on its summer talent competition series, “America’s Got Talent,” as the network struggles to climb out of the fourth-place ratings hole in which it has been mired for years.

Yes, the network that’s afraid of the word “vodka” — more on that later — has hired the poster child of raunchy language and programming.

NBC stepped on its own Golden Globe Awards nominations unveiling Thursday morning when it announced minutes later that it had closed a deal for Stern to serve as the new judge on the country’s top-rated summer series, one of few ratings bright spots on the network’s prime-time landscape.

Production of the show, which has begun auditioning talent for its seventh season, is moving to New York so Stern can continue to do his SiriusXM radio program. But don’t expect “Talent” to remain a summer show for long after this kind of investment. Weeks ago, when word of “Talent” talks with Stern erupted, his camp put his price tag around $15 million; NBC remained mum. After the deal was announced, Stern was filmed scoffing on the street at a TMZ camer-azzi’s suggestion that he was getting $20 million. Within a couple of hours, that number was being reported as fact by some media outlets. Heck, why stop there? Why not $50 million?

The deal marks Stern’s return to the company that famously sacked him more than two decades ago over his raunchy WNBC radio show antics — a fact Stern gleefully noted Thursday on his satellite radio show.

“I will be judging people, and, believe me, my opinion is the one that matters on this show. All the other judges will follow suit. . . . There will be no more nonsense,” Stern said on his radio show about his new gig.

“Believe me, I didn’t do it for the money,” he added. “I did it because I like the show and I need to be a judge.”

For emphasis, Stern’s show also tweeted that he “didn’t do it for the $$$.”

Stern was looking for a new career path. Having failed months ago to close a deal to judge aspiring singers on Fox’s “American Idol,” he will judge contortionists, jugglers, clowns, sword swallowers, ventriloquists — and singers — on “Talent.”

The gig might seem an odd aspiration for the shock jock, but the former self-proclaimed King of All Media’s kingdom got a lot smaller when he migrated from syndication to satellite radio, and Stern stands to gain a lot in recovered visibility in being seen twice weekly on a broad-appeal vehicle.

“Talent” is NBC’s most-watched series, and the most watched show of the summer on any network, clocking 14.3 million viewers on Tuesday nights last summer and 13.3 million on Wednesdays, both series highs for the show.

At the time he was pursuing his dream of replacing Simon Cowell on “Idol,” Stern said in interviews that he wasn’t sure whether what the judges do on “Idol” is “work” and that there’s no cushier job on the planet that judging “a [expletive] karaoke contest.” He also said “Idol” was “in trouble” because the judges were afraid to deliver actual opinions about the performances and “they probably do need me.” At that time, “Idol” was averaging 25 million viewers on performance nights.

Also at the time, Cowell — who had announced that he was leaving “Idol” to launch Fox’s other singing series, “The X Factor” — said Stern was unqualified to replace him. That’s Simon Cowell, who is also a creator and exec producer of “America’s Got Talent.”

Anyway, Fox went instead with the sweet-talking Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler — ouch! Oh, and the audience for the show grew.

Stern will fill the Acerbic Truth-Teller slot being vacated by Morgan, now of CNN’s “Piers Morgan Live,” who, last month, gave himself the exclusive that he was leaving the goofy summer competition show he’d helmed since its premiere to focus on covering the political election for the ratings-lean cable news network. There’s at least one gag in there, somewhere. Stern will be joining Sharon Osbourne and Howie Mandel, the other two judges on the show, which NBC suits like to call “good family programming.”

Now, about NBC and “vodka.” NBC has a new Chelsea Handler comedy series, based on her book, “Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea,” which is instead being called “Are You There, Chelsea?” That’s because, Handler says, she was told that “you can’t put vodka in the title for network purposes,” which she called “the anti-vodka situation.” Broadcast networks do not take ads for hard liquor.

Bad boys, part 2

And speaking of bad boys: Just a few weeks after Bravo announced it was turning Andy Cohen’s “Watch What Happens” into a weeknight late-night talk show, FX dipped its toe in the water, announcing it had signed a deal with comic Russell Brand to headline six episodes of an unscripted late-night show to debut this spring.

If successful ratings-wise, the franchise would continue — possibly as a weekly series, we hear.

The test run will be shot in front of an audience and feature Brand sharing his take on current events, politics and pop culture.

In Monday’s announcement, FX Executive Vice President Nick Grad said the network is looking forward to supporting Russell’s “ambition to strip down the hosted comedy format to its most fundamental elements and create something unfiltered for the FX audience.”

More tellingly, Brand said, “I will put the ‘O’ into FX, which spells FOX, which is actually the channel’s name. . . . That’s the only thing that worries me about all this, to be honest. At least I’ll be able to have a Christmas drink with Bill O’Reilly.”

Yup — loads more of that on the way. Six episodes’ worth, at least.

Brand got his start as a stand-up comic in the United Kingdom. He became a big deal stateside when he hosted the 2008 Video Music Awards on MTV and poked fun at the Jonas Brothers’ “promise” rings (a.k.a. chastity-promise rings), knotting the knickers of “American Idol” winner Jordin Sparks, who was one of the VMA trophy presenters, to such a degree that she felt compelled to share on air: “I just have one thing to say about promise rings. It’s not bad to wear a promise ring, because not everybody — guy or girl — wants to be a slut.”

Brand moved on to become a feature film actor, starring in the Judd Apatow-produced “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “Get Him to the Greek.”

‘Person to Person’

CBS News has exhumed Edward R. Murrow’s celebrity-at-home interview series, “Person to Person,” and will re-launch it during the February sweep in the 8 p.m. Wednesday time slot.

Yes, before there was Ryan Seacrest, Murrow pioneered the celebrity TV-interview show via this live program, which debuted in 1953.

Charlie Rose, recently named one of the hosts of the network’s latest stab at morning infotainment, plays Murrow — sort of. He will host this resuscitated franchise with Lara Logan.

The new version will retain many of the elements of the original, CBS News promised in Thursday’s announcement.

In ’53, Murrow started taking viewers into the homes of celebrities — Groucho and Harpo Marx, Fidel Castro, John and Jacqueline Kennedy, Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, Harry Truman, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, John Steinbeck, Marlon Brando, Sammy Davis Jr. The idea was to catch them in their leisure — Brando practicing the bongos with a pal, for instance.

CBS News promises that the show “will allow guests to introduce friends and family members and show off items of personal or professional significance.”

What it does not promise is that the show will be live. Too bad.

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