Howard Stern or Piers Morgan: Who’s Got Talent?

In June 2006, a competition show premiered on NBC, ostensibly to compete with the hugely popular American Idol. It was hosted by Regis Philbin with judges David Hasslehoff, Brandy, and a controversial British tabloid journalist named Piers Morgan. The show was called America’s Got Talent,  and it is profoundly surprising that 7 years later, after so many changes, it’s still doing well. None of the original cast is on the show anymore, with the most noticeable change coming this season. Piers Morgan is no longer at the judges table. I have seen at least a few episodes of every season since the show started. Morgan, who started out as a blatant Simon Cowell imitator, was the one constant. As the years went on, he development his own (albeit still antagonistic) style. With him gone, I didn’t know what to expect this season. I will say unequivocally that Howard Stern, with his experience in the entertainment industry and reaching out to audiences, was a very good choice as a replacement. I do believe he will do well this season. However, as a somewhat loyal viewer from the beginning, I am going to miss his predecessor.

The show has been at its best since Nick Cannon took over as host in Season 4 because he had a far more captivating presence and higher energy level than the previous two hosts, Regis Philbin and Jerry Springer.  It concerns me that his enjoyable quarreling rapport with Morgan can now longer be part of the show. Morgan had a reputation of being harsh with the buzzer, while Cannon was known to defend the acts. It made for especially good TV when Cannon would walk out onto the stage during the audition process to stick up for the entertaining untalented acts. Cannon would enthusiastically shout “Hit the track!” and continue an atrocious singing or dancing act, ensuring that even the disgraced contestant would have a good time. Last season, Cannon was relentlessly pulling for karaoke artist  Udi Abgagnale, so the judges just left the studio, so they didn’t have to listen as Cannon, Abagnale, and the crowd kept singing “Hot Hot Hot.” Morgan just asked  the camera incredulously, “Do you see what’s going on with Nick Cannon?” Who’s decided Udi is the hit of the show.” That was good television. The best interactions in  competition shows the last few years between a host and a judge have been between Cannon and Morgan. Whether it was Cannon’s defense of acts or Morgan’s ridicule of Cannon’s fashion choices, their relationship on the show worked. I have yet to see the same type of interaction between Cannon and Stern.

Since Season 5, another highlight of the show has been the relationship between Morgan and fellow judge Howie Mandel. They were known to have disagreements on the very basis of what is acceptable talent. Last season, when Morgan was stuck in a blizzard at the start of the Minneapolis auditions, Mandel got up and cheered. They were enemies. The roles were clear, and they worked for the show. It was at these same auditions that America was introduced to Those Funny Little People, a dancing act whose member were dressed in life-size puppet costumes. Judges Mandel and Sharon Osborne had been saying yes to the vast majority of the acts throughout the day. Morgan, returning at this point, was profoundly disappointed with Those Funny Little People. He voted emphatically, “In an effort to bring some sanity to the show back, no.” It was understandable that Morgan didn’t like them, but Mandel was entertained as was Osborne, so Those Funny Little People made it through to Vegas.

Morgan could not believe it when they made it through to Hollywood, but even after they were eliminated in the quarterfinals, Mandel brought them back as a wildcard. During that  act, Morgan started off staring in disgust and proceeded to put his hands over his eyes in despair. Afterwards, Mandel confessed he didn’t see much of the act because he “was mostly entertained by Piers Morgan’s face.” During the following result show, Morgan said that if America had voted for Those Funny Little People, he would get on a plane at LAX,  go back to Britain and never come back to America again. Mandel happily responded that if Morgan had said that the night before, it would have guaranteed that Those Funny Little People would get voted through. The relationship between Morgan and Mandel was great TV.  Whether it was arguments of what exactly was talent, what was worthy of $1 million, or the pranks that Mandel pulled on Morgan that made for great asides during the audition phase, their dynamic just worked. It was solid entertainment.

Those Funny Little People

Of course, solid entertainment is only one goal that AGT wants to achieve. Thankfully it has. The other major goal is to produce a successful “star”, in which it’s mostly been a failure. Stern seems to have a bit more respect for the contestants, even the bad ones and, more importantly, he is probably more fit to judge talent. He’s a radio personality, so people know his voice. He’s made a career out of captivating and entertaining audiences. Morgan has made a career out of being one of the most hated British men in two countries, the United States and the United Kingdom. The fact that he was a tabloid journalist does not help. He had one goal when he was chosen as a judge: be like Simon, be the guy the viewers will love to hate. He already seemed to be a pretty distasteful human being, which the British know better than most Americans. The role was natural for him and it was a proven success.

Over the years,  AGT has come into its own. It is no longer riding the wave of American Idol’s popularity. AGT is popular on its own merits now. It doesn’t need an antagonist that happened to judge talent adequately. It needs to find  star talent act in America. Simply,  Stern seems to be a better and more professional judge of talent. The show is touting this season as “the revolution” and, with the addition of Stern, it very well may a “revolution”. Piers Morgan, you will be remembered and you will be missed, but NBC is leaving the show in Howard Stern’s very capable hands.

Posted on May 24, 2012, in NBC, Network Television, Reality TV and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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