So how was Howard Stern?
That was the only question anyone really cared about regarding the return of “America’s Got Talent,” with NBC having already braved sponsor pressure by the Parents Television Council over its decision to tap the radio personality as a judge.
Answer: Pretty darn good, if not enough to make a square concept much edgier.
To his credit, Stern both pretty well took over the show and blended in. Sure, he made the customary references to anatomy (referring to his own "small package"), but he’s smart enough to know the room – and be less shocking than simply bluntly outspoken. When a bad act mentioned his parents were dead, for example, Stern wryly shot back, "They died of embarrassment?"
For Stern, the decision to join "Talent" – having been a fan of the show’s silliness –- was nevertheless a shrewd move. In terms of cultural influence, the towering jock became a much punier commodity –- albeit an even more fabulously rich one – with his move from terrestrial to satellite radio, sacrificing a big chunk of his audience.
Being on a primetime TV show will inevitably remind a lot of those ex-listeners what they liked about Stern beyond the obvious and the crass – how quick and funny he can be, especially when interacting with people who seem slightly off.
Indeed, Stern quickly became a kind of ringmaster, presiding over the nuttiness in much the way he directs his morning zoo. And lo and behold, both the show and the public somehow survived his toxic presence. Heck, even Snapple was comfortable having an obnoxious sponsored "celebrity chat" segment smack dab in the middle of the program. (How Sharon Osbourne and Howie Mandel will feel about being so conspicuously eclipsed could be another matter, but for NBC -- if Stern spurs interest from unexpected quarters -- that will be a nice problem to have.)
"America's Got Talent" will always be a lightweight summer oddity -- in the year of "Hunger Games" and "The Avengers," there was even a dude with a crossbow -- and Stern will always antagonize much of the population while commanding insane loyalty from a concentrated fan base.
Still, like a lot of comedy talent, he can tailor his material to a specific venue and be back on the radio ogling women and discussing bodily functions without detracting from this gig, or vice versa. The bottom line -- and after all, that's what this is about -- is both parties have been helped by Stern's addition to the series.
In this case, I guess you can say good things come in small packages.