New "America's Got Talent" judge Howard Stern held court in an hour-long press conference at the New York Friars Club Thursday afternoon, answering an onslaught of questions about his impending return to the cultural mainstream (new season premieres Mon., May 14, 8 p.m. ET on NBC) after a six year stint behind a paywall at SiriusXM Radio.
Stern discussed coming back to work with NBC after the highly contentious chapter of his radio career that was dramatized in his biopic "Private Parts," then ripped on his competition in the reality talent show arena, explaining why he saw "AGT" as a perfect fit for his skills.
Stern On NBC ... Again
To hear Stern tell it, the days of overbearing NBC executives trying to reign him in are long gone. In fact, he insisted that now -- older, wiser and stepping into a family show -- he's doing much of reigning in himself. Stern stressed that NBC higher-ups had been impressively hands-off so far, offering him "little to no direction" while giving him the freedom to shake up the show.
"I never could trust NBC executives. Let's face it -- I had a run-in the first time in the '80s, and they used to say horrible things about me. I'm not even used to the fact that NBC executives are now, in 2012, saying nice things about me ... The entire NBC team has been nothing but wonderful."
"When Grant Tinker was in charge of NBC, he said he would never allow me to work at this network again," Stern said. "'Over my dead body' he said ... and now he's a dead body."
This time around, Stern has been pleasantly surprised with the degree of freedom he's been given by the network. "NBC has given me little to no direction, which is unbelievable to me. When I was on the set doing this from city to city, I was waiting for some sort of notes. You always hear about pushy network executives doing notes. And finally, about halfway through, I turned to one of the executives and I said, 'Why am I not getting these notes I've been hearing about?' And he said, 'You're Howard Stern -- what are we gonna tell you?' And that was a wonderful thing to me. Frankly, I think this bunch is insane. I think they're all gonna lose their jobs. But I think that was a vote of confidence that they liked what I had to say."
Stern On Leno
And even though those NBC executives may not have liked what Stern had to say when he went on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" Wednesday night and threw a barrage of insults at his longtime nemesis -- and now-NBC colleague Jay Leno -- he faced no retribution for insulting NBC talent on NBC airwaves. Stern explained that he half-expected the bit to be edited out of his appearance, and was thrilled when it wasn't.
"No one has approached me on my feelings with Jay Leno. They know my feelings on Jay run deep. I was on Jimmy Fallon last night bad-mouthing Jay, and much to NBC's credit, after I finished, I said, 'Those executives are going to get a hold of Jimmy Fallon, and they're going to delete everything I said about Jay. And they did not delete a word. And I must say, I am very proud of them. By the way, Jay handed in his resignation two hours ago. I'm sure Jay was pissed, but I admire that Jay didn't have it killed, and I admire that NBC didn't have it killed, and that I think is great."
No Shocks Here
Despite the provocative appearance, Stern the shock-jock seems to have evolved into a more controlled, mature entertainer. He insists he won't be bringing the raunchy side of "The Howard Stern Show" with him to the more mainstream, family-friendly "AGT."
"'America's Got Talent' is a family show, and I have been disrespecting family values for years," he joked. "I respect what 'AGT' is. It's a family show. I've been watching it for years ... it's a different form of entertainment ... I know the rules ... I'm 58 years old!"
Stern bristled at the pre-emptive criticism he's received from The Parents Television Council, an advocacy group that pounced on the news of his "AGT" judging gig. "Look, those guys, as far as I'm concerned, there are a couple of absurdities about it. You can't complain about a show until you see it ... They're entitled to their opinion, they just sound awfully foolish when they haven't seen the show. And so I invite them to view the show Monday night to see what kind of judge I am, to see if I'm very subversive, or whatever it is they imagine I'm going to be ... This is a family show," he reiterated.
Stern On Ratings
Rather than boasting or putting forth a bold declaration about how much his presence would spike "AGT" ratings, Stern gave a modest answer when HuffPost TV asked about his goals and expectations for how many viewers would tune in.
"This is very unusual -- this is a hit show. This has something like, I don't know, 20 million viewers. So there might be people that don't watch, maybe I'll bring new people to the table, we don't know. It's an experiment. But look, if it doesn't work, I'll crawl back into my hole on Sirius Satellite Radio and I'll sit there and I'll lick my wounds. If it does work I'll be thrilled. I really hope this will be exciting and fun for people."
Stern On His Competition
Stern's combative side re-emerged when he was asked to critique TV's many other reality competition show judges, and the genre in general.
"I do think this kind of television risks going the way of the disco ball if the judges don't step up and offer real criticism ... that these types of shows will get too dull. So hopefully I'm going to add some energy to it."
He had harsh words for Britney Spears, who is rumored to have signed a $15 million mega-contract to join "The X Factor." "Britney still thinks the earth is flat. Listen, we're going to tune in to see her, if she can sort of function through the thing."
On gassy "Voice" judge Cee Lo Green, Stern had this to stay: "I feel bad for that cat that sits on his lap."
He stated that "American Idol's" Ryan Seacrest had lost his appeal. "Ryan Seacrest is kind of tired. It doesn't look like he relates to people. He's said he wants to be the next Dick Clark, but I've got news for him: Dick Clark's not here anymore."
Stern also ripped on "Idol" judge Jennifer Lopez for not providing enough substantive criticism. "I don't know what she's doing up there. If I sit there in a beautiful dress and just tell them they're wonderful, they're not going to get anywhere. We've got to be honest."
Stern On Loving "AGT"
Finally, Stern came back to the reason he decided to join "AGT": he's really just a fan of the show, and thinks he can help the contestants by giving them his honest opinions. "We have this variety show, and this suits me. Look at what I've been doing on the radio. I've made stars out of Ronnie the Limo Driver and Beetlejuice. And actually, I'm at the point in my life where I'd like to mentor people, and I mean this ... I've been in the business so long and I've lasted, and all of my critics said I wouldn't last. And the reason I lasted is that I worked hard, and thought every minute about my audience and how to entertain them. I think I really do have something to offer people. If you want to make it, I'm someone who made it. There's a reason for it. It's not by luck, it's through hard work."
Tell us: Will you tune in to see Howard Stern on "America's Got Talent"?
"America's Got Talent" premieres Mon., May 14, 8 p.m. ET on NBC.