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    Friday, September 22, 2023

    Stern's got talent

    Now that Howard Stern is going to be a judge on "America's Got Talent," I might need to amend my TV-watching policies.

    I've never watched the NBC talent competition and I've never had the inclination to watch it, applying my decades-old theory that anything network-produced that loads of people like is bound to be vapid. It's a theory that often backfires (duh: see also "Downton Abbey"), but I stand behind it as it applies to "American Idol" and its ilk. It's too commercial, too sanitized, too predictable (I'm looking at you Seacrest) for this late Gen X-er.

    I've been spoiled by what I call "boutique TV"; stuff like Sopranos, Mad Men and Downton. There is so much great programming, the standard old sitcom or reality shows become background noise between Netflix downloads.

    But I've shed enough fervent idealism to know that you don't really get to see a guy spinning plates, or a kid who does kite tricks every day. (And enough to let myself pop in on "Dancing with the Stars" sometimes. You also don't get to see Nancy Grace attempt a paso doble every day.)

    Which takes us back to The King of All Media, who moves to NBC - a network that once fired him - to replace Piers Morgan on "America's Got Talent."

    Some fans of Stern have a tough time explaining their affection for the show. As a groundbreaking chronicler of the human condition, warts and all, he's been creating a three-ring circus for years. That circus most certainly includes a freak show, but it also includes great musical performances, off-the-cuff, funny shtick, and riveting interviews with the Everyman and with big-ticket celebrities alike. (Roger Waters just appeared on the show; Rosie O'Donnell loves him, and Ron Howard checks in regularly.)

    Stern will work on a network television show because he knows how to entertain people despite themselves. People who wouldn't otherwise give a damn about the travails of working strippers are entranced by the humanity Stern conjures from them. Same thing for celebs, as Stern thankfully eschews the rote pseudo-interview-as-plug routine. Where I'd once buzz past a gushy interview with the likes of Lady Gaga, Jesse Ventura and Jonah Hill, I've learned that these overblown figures often become interesting and fascinating under Stern's dynamic questioning.

    After 30 years of such deep-dishing with all flavors of humanity, you can bet Stern knows talent when he sees it. And if he doesn't see it, his trademark frankness will be a refreshing thing injected into a television landscape that has a tendency toward bland, bland vanilla. Simon Cowell left a bit of a vacuum in the Keeping it Real Department when he left "Idol" to launch the struggling "X Factor." As he gets his house in order, Cowell has endorsed Stern's move to AGT, and, according to Stern, the two have conversed about how to play the game, the object of which, they both agree, is to truly find America's next big act - not too indulge, as Stern calls it, "nonsense." (Here's hoping he isn't equipped with a firehouse like he was in AGT's Superbowl commercial.)

    And despite his wildman reputation, Stern is a professional broadcaster. After years of FCC battles, he's acutely aware of will and won't fly on network television. Stern's counsel will be clean(ish), funny, and constructive. Guaranteed.

    So I'm in. Stern's mastery of engagement and astute eye - his sharp sense of what people respond to - occupies the attention of millions of listeners tuning in to a pay service every blessed day, even if it's just to listen to reruns on weekends. It seems reasonable that the visual equivalent to that experience will be worth a look when AGT debuts this summer.

    This is the opinion of Marisa Nadolny.

    On Twitter: @TheMDesk

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