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Last night marked Howard Stern's debut as a judge on NBC's giddily lowbrow/despicable freak show, America's Got Talent (now in its seventh fucking season). He was introduced on the show with an ominous package that contained the phrase "shock jock" and footage of Stern saying that he was going to be like "Piers on steroids" (in reference to replacing Piers Morgan as AGT's Simon Cowell). However, he was more like Piers on a mild stimulant and some Splenda. Stern let down easy a woman who sang with a dozen of her pet birds clinging to her shirt, gushed about how great America is after seeing one of those glow-in-the-dark dance acts this show adores and then cuddled onstage with a dude who'd received a second chance after he botched his initial audition. Stern's leaps and bounds more articulate than just about anyone else who's flapping their gums on a televised competition and he often tempered his praise with sarcasm, but this is a much kinder and gentler Stern.
The move back to NBC, in fact, bespeaks a kinder, more pronounced gentleness as it ends a years-long feud he had with his former employer. Stern is growing soft in all kinds of ways, and it's not always a bad thing — a man who once compared gay sex to sticking one's dick in garbage is now a fervent gay-marriage supporter. Stern's evolution is great for the real world, but not necessarily reality TV. It's like the world already knows it, too — the season premiere ratings numbers are down from last year (as well as last week, when The Voice finale aired).