Why it won’t matter if Howard Stern and Sharon Osbourne leave America’s Got Talent

This morning, Sharon Osbourne said on Twitter that she is not returning to judge America’s Got Talent for its eighth season, a response to a tweet from the Howard Stern Show saying Howard may not return. Sharon didn’t give a reason other than to say it wasn’t about money, as Howard had suggested.

This morning, NBC reality executive Paul Teledgy told TV critics, “Creatively, we’re thrilled with Howard on the show. He’s proven himself to be a wonderful addition to the panel of judges. … We’d be delighted if Howard wants to come back.”

Of course they would. And his comments make it clear that Howard may not come back, just as it seems like Sharon will not, unless she was joking and/or negotiating.

The truth is that if one or both of them do not return next season, that will probably not have much of an impact at all.

Why? The answer lies in Howard’s performance this season. Howard is a great judge. He may even be an excellent one. He’s smart, funny, empathetic, critical, edgy, articulate, and succinct: all of the things those of us who’ve heard him on the radio knew he’d be, and things that probably surprised those who expected him to just make breast references (not that he’s above that here).

The problem is that his presence and personality doesn’t change the show at all, either in terms of its ratings or its creative. It’s still a big, loud mess that’s going to end up with a mediocre singer as its winner. So many of the acts this year felt like regurgitations of previous acts. Three years ago, we had Fighting Gravity and Prince Poppycock. Now we have Fighting Gravity clones and mediocre singers, and Nick Cannon still doing his annoying shtick from the sidelines. It’s also loud and feels like the producers have taken every production thing possible and thrown it at the show: slow motion! time-lapse footage! lasers! helicopter shots! behind-the-scenes! montages! fake cheering! loud music!

It’s a popular big mess, though–the number-one show in the summer–so no one cares. Teledgy noted NBC is “thrilled, actually, with the performance of the show,” despite starting earlier and having tougher competition; it remains the number-one summer show. Howard’s presence hasn’t caused a ratings surge, though.

It’s consistently done well despite changeovers on the judges’ panel (remember the Hoff?), especially since they’ve swapped out one at a time. And really, the judges aren’t that integral as they are on, say, The Voice. A lot of shows claim that they are about the talent, not the judges, when the opposite is true; The Voice is the most extreme example of that, and Idol has often been more about the drama and interaction on the judges’ panel than the actual singing, especially in the Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell years.

Here, though, the judges are not pitched as talent experts; they’re just there to provide some feedback and act as stand-ins for the audience. For sure, NBC could find worse people to judge the show, ones who could drag down its energy rather than keep it up, as Howard has. But it won’t be devastating to lose Howard Stern or Sharon Osbourne.

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