Will Howard Stern segue from shock jock to shock judge when NBC's America’s Got Talent kicks off on May 14? To hear the show’s co-creators tell of their experience with the King of All Media so far, his TV persona is sure to surprise viewers, as it did executives.
“He takes the job really seriously,” says Cecile Frot-Coutaz, CEO of FremantleMedia North America, which produces the show in partnership with Syco TV. “But with that, you've got the funny Howard and the shocking Howard, and you also have a guy with a lot of warmth and a real ability to talk to people in a straight, honest way. He's able to just cut through it all.”
In fact, says Frot-Coutaz, who first approached the radio giant three years ago “as someone who could potentially be great on one of these shows,” she thinks Stern is America’s answer to Simon Cowell. “Howard is a controversial figure, but he knows he's here to do a job, which is to find talent that's going to amaze people,” she says. “He's the closest [thing] to Simon that I've ever met.”
Executive producer and co-creator Ken Warwick sees Stern as more akin to American Idol’s Ryan Seacrest. “We got Ryan from radio, so I know the radio guys can talk and be able to say the same thing 500 different ways,” explains Warwick, who also serves as EP on Idol. “That's the talent he has, because all you’ve got to say is, ‘Yes, you're going forward’ or ‘No, you're going home’ -- that's the basics of it, but he manages to say that in ways that are interesting, funny and entertaining. He gets it right every time.”
That’s not to say Stern was an easy sell at first. “I remember mentioning his name and people would look at you like you're crazy,” says Frot-Coutaz, a native of France. “But I have to say, with NBC, they were not afraid of it. They completely embraced it and he's been absolutely everything we could have hoped for.”
Warwick adds that Stern’s arrival has upped the excitement for all three panelists -- which include Howie Mandel and Sharon Osbourne. “My first concern was that a person of his size was going to suppress the other two, but it hasn't happened,” he says. “Howie is funny as ever, different than when he was on with Piers Morgan, and of course Sharon is venting between the two of them, so it has totally revitalized the show.”
And it’s had a similar effect on Stern, who gets to see a theater-full of fans in the flesh. “You’ve got to remember that this is the guy that was locked in a little radio studio, knowing that he has a fan-base, but never actually coming face-to-face with them,” says Warwick. “And here for the first time in his life, he walks out in a theater with 3,000 people and suddenly it’s ignited him and he's rising to the occasion.”
To Warwick’s knowledge, Stern is committed to a second season, but he hopes to see immediate results from his hiring. “AGT hasn’t had the prestige I think it deserves and this year I think it’s going to turn.”
UPDATED: In a previous version of this story, Frot-Coutaz was referred to as co-creator; She is an executive producer.