Could Howard Stern become TV’s next combatant in the late-night wars?
That’s the scenario suggested by a New York Post story published Wednesday that quotes unnamed “sources close to the radio man” who insist Stern is being “groomed” by NBC to take over the 12:35 a.m. “Late Night” show after Jimmy Fallon leaves to replace Jay Leno on “The Tonight Show.”
As Seth Meyers might ask on “Saturday Night Live,” “Really?!” The story suggests that Stern has proven himself capable of toning down (if not eliminating entirely) the reliance on X-rated material that made him the most controversial and successful radio personality of the last two-and-a-half decades.
He proved this, according to the unnamed sources cited in the story, by steering clear of controversy as a judge on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.” The story cites an unnamed source who “knows” Stern as saying “the suits at NBC have gotten the message” that Stern has turned over a new leaf, and is now acceptable to the network.
The story has no comment from NBC, though that doesn’t mean the story isn’t true. At the very least, we have no reason to doubt that there might be sources “close” to Stern who are going around spreading this “news” on his behalf, perhaps as a way of promoting him as a candidate for the “Late Night” job.
But could it actually take place? On that question, we present the case for, and the case against:
The case for Howard Stern possibly taking over NBC’s “Late Night”:
1) Stern certainly has a history of drawing attention to himself. That talent alone could have NBC at least thinking about giving him the show.
2) Even if Stern has cleaned up his act for prime time, much of the material he traffics in on his Sirius XM radio show would still be acceptable in late-night — with minor alterations — since TV is so much more permissive these days than it once was, particularly in the middle of the night.
3) Stern’s a great interviewer — when he wants to be, and also when he has celebrity guests who don’t mind it when he asks them personal questions about their private lives that they’re otherwise unaccustomed to hearing from other interviewers either on TV or radio.
4) Despite Stern’s age (he’s 59), young men may stay up late to watch him. That’s a demographic group NBC wants to attract in that time period.
5) Stern’s a great salesman. On his old radio show, he personally voiced some of the most persuasive radio commercials in the business. His willingness to do commercials could provide NBC with tantalizing new opportunities to offer to sponsors — commercials personally presented by Howard Stern.
The case against:
1) At 59, he’s too old — only three years younger than Leno, who is rumored to be out the door in May 2014. As Stern moves into his 60s, will NBC really stick with him?
2) First, Fallon has to vacate “Late Night.” Sure, we all assume this scenario is inevitable, that Fallon will take over for Leno some time in the not-too-distant future. The most recent stories have him taking over at the end of the 2013-14 season, but that’s never been confirmed by NBC. Speculation about Stern taking over “Late Night” may be premature.
3) Celebrities are not necessarily fans of Stern. For every celeb who comes on his radio show and agrees to talk candidly about his or her life, there are a dozen more who prefer to avoid him. And even if he convinces NBC that he can alter his act for network television, celebrities and their p.r. reps will never be convinced — leading to difficulties in booking many of them.
4) Why would Stern want to host a show that airs so late at night? We have a feeling that Stern himself may feel hosting “Late Night” is beneath him. It’s late-night’s second tier, and he’s an A-list star. We don’t really see how hosting this show could benefit him.
5) In the final analysis, it may be up to Lorne Michaels, who we guess will have the final say on who takes over for Fallon, who Michaels pegged to host “Late Night” in the first place, and turned Fallon into a huge success. Our guess is, Michaels will choose someone younger and hipper than Stern, someone like Seth Meyers, perhaps.