IS THIS THE BEGINNING of Howard Stern's "George Foreman moment"?
Yesterday, it was announced the Sirius-XM satellite radio host and human lightning rod had signed with NBC-TV to replace Piers Morgan on "America's Got Talent," where he'll join Howie Mandel and Sharon Osbourne on the judges' panel.
So far, no financial details of the contract have been released (although $15 million a year has been kicked around in the media), but the deal does mandate that the show move production from Los Angeles to Stern's New York home base.
There's no question the deal will further fatten the bank account of the almost-58-year-old Stern. But it's quite possible this will enrich him in ways all the money in Bill Gates' piggybank couldn't. His new job could - and should - put him on the track once trod by Foreman.
Today, the former heavyweight champion is best-known for his portable grills. But more importantly, he is viewed by the masses as a benign, avuncular character. That is a far cry from the George Foreman the sports media of the 1960s and '70s knew and portrayed.
If memory serves, in that earlier incarnation, Foreman was prickly, ill-tempered and thoroughly unlovable.
But the passage of time, combined with a born-again religious experience and savvy marketing choices, transformed him into today's beloved infomercial star. And now, Stern appears to have the same opportunity.
Predictably, conservative forces have already made their displeasure known. The never-publicity-shy Parents TV Council has gone on record decrying Stern as "a performer who is synonymous with shock, profanity and obscenity." But what does that really mean? That description could apply to any number of contemporary celebrities, from Charlie Sheen to Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino of "Jersey Shore."
When Stern first started making waves as a local air personality in Washington, D.C., and New York in the early and mid-1980s, he pushed the envelope of what was acceptable on-air behavior. In fact, he pushed it right off the roof. In 1983, and even 1993, dialogues with lesbian strippers and discussions of sexual perversions on his radio show were taboo and shocking. But here, on the cusp of 2012, the rules are radically changed.
Today, we as a society are exponentially more harsh, vulgar and coarse. Pornography is mainstream. Movies and TV shows aimed at youngsters are filled with fart jokes. Human carwrecks like Lindsay Lohan and Kim Kardashian are pop-culture deities.
In the clever 1979 film "Time After Time," David Warner, playing a time-traveling Jack the Ripper, sits in a modern-day San Francisco hotel room watching porn on TV. It causes him to conclude to his pal, the novelist H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell), "The future isn't what you thought. It's what I am!"
Which means there's no reason for Stern to take his radio persona of the perpetual adolescent to "America's Got Talent." In today's sexed-up, anything-goes media landscape, Stern's bad-boy image will, on prime-time TV, likely come across as old and tired. And, worse, boring.
So, as he enters the next stage of his logic-defying career, the move for him is to start rehabilitating his image. That can be successfully accomplished by showing the world what he and those closest to him have always insisted: That he is kind, conscientious, responsible . . . in other words, an all-around mensch.
The American public loves (needs?) real-life tales of transformation and redemption (see Gingrich, Newt). If Stern, who is one of show business' smartest personalities, plays his cards right on "America's Got Talent," he can, in relatively short time, cap off his career by following Foreman's lead and transforming himself into a warm-and-fuzzy, everybody's-favorite-uncle type.