America's seriously unbalanced.
It's not clear what NBC was expecting when it added Howard Stern to the panel on America's Got Talent (tonight, 8 ET/PT) - or what viewers were hoping or fearing the wildly popular but equally controversial shock jock might bring to the mix. But what they all got was a decent judge of talent who is, at least on his first two live shows last week, taking his job incredibly seriously and doing it quite well.
That's great. What's not so great for the show is that he's making his two co-stars, Sharon Osbourne and Howie Mandel, seem even more insignificant and inarticulate than they otherwise might. He's not just overshadowing them; he's making them virtually invisible.
It didn't help, of course, that the crowd at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, where the show is shot, seemed to be interested in Stern and Stern alone. After proclaiming at one point that "people want more of me," Stern stood up and the crowd began to cheer, leading Osbourne to whine, "All these people are here because they get tickets on Howard's show."
It's possible that's true. It's also possible that someone could have delivered that line and sounded witty rather than bitter and entitled, but that someone is not Osbourne.
If nothing else, the trio has established a routine that seems likely to carry them through the season. Mandel tries to say something and fails; Osbourne tries to say nothing and succeeds; and Stern steps in with the only thing worth saying.
None of that is Stern's fault, and he certainly deserves credit for putting some obvious effort into evaluating the acts and offering mostly constructive criticism. He does, however, need to find a way to deliver those evaluations in a more entertaining fashion, as Simon Cowell used to do on AmericanIdol. Outside of one thrown-away "so to speak" double-entendre, broadcast's content restrictions seem to have stymied Stern's sense of humor.
And, tough as this may be, Stern needs to find a way to interact with his co-stars that does not come across as harsh and dismissive or ridiculously phony.
The low point came when host Nick Cannon complained about Stern making fun of him on his radio show. Stern responded by saying how "welcoming" and "wonderful" Cannon, Mandel and Osbourne had been to him - a non sequitur that sounded suspiciously scripted, as if some NBC executive had noticed how cold and chemistry-free the panel seemed the night before and had sought corrective action.
The correction NBC needs is to bring the rest of the show up to Stern's level, a move that includes reminding the director that it's hard for viewers to vote for acts if they can't see them. As it is now, Stern is pretty much a one-man show.
Who knows - maybe that's all the talent this show needs.