Howard Stern has not been missed since he took his smutty shtick off the airwaves and onto the unregulated Sirius satellite radio. His super fans -- the brainiacs still playing their VHS tapes of a Stern show called "Butt Bongo Fiesta" -- have made the satellite radio chiefs happy, but Stern has almost vanished as an icon of pop culture. He even scaled back his radio schedule to three days a week, semi-retiring.
So why in the blazes would NBC make the decision to revive his career by bringing him on as a judge of their summer talent show "America's Got Talent," a family show watched by millions of children? They knew exactly what they were buying. They just never stop believing that shock will sell.
NBC isn't exactly "must-see TV" any more. AP television writer David Bauder noted last month that 10 years ago, NBC was scoring 28 million viewers for "ER" and 22 million for "Friends" on Thursdays in April. Now its Thursday lineup has trouble cracking the 3 million mark.
The Parents Television Council sent a warning shot across the bow to advertisers that this family show would probably see a major increase in explicit content. Stern and his fans thought it was absurd to prejudge his performance before it aired -- as if Stern wouldn't be utterly predictable keeping in line with his career.
Take, for example, the recent "Time 100" article he wrote honoring NBC morning host Matt Lauer. He said he and his wife would like a "threesome" with Annette Lauer, and then added, "Hey, I'm Howard Stern, and I need to throw something inappropriate into everything I do." But somehow we shouldn't prejudge Stern.
This new NBC gig allowed the "critics" to bow slavishly toward all the "accomplishments" of the self-anointed "King of all Media." Bill Carter of The New York Times began a splashy Sunday profile by noting how "radio notoriety" pays. "If anyone has a right to feel on top of the world, it's Howard Stern -- especially inside his elegant, cumulus-high apartment on the West Side of Manhattan. ... This is the aerie of a hugely successful man, which certainly describes Mr. Stern."