The Lost Roles of Howard Stern
You saw him this past weekend in a Super Bowl commercial, mocking the heroes of the civil rights movement by turning a firehose on a guy singing a bad version of a bad Maroon 5 song. Howard Stern is a beloved broadcaster, the self-proclaimed King of All Media, and yes, America’s Got Talent‘s newest judge. We’ve all seen the directions his unpredictable and highly-successful career has gone, so let’s turn our attention to the paths Stern almost took in the entertainment industry by examining all of the TV and movie projects he’s turned down, wanted to be a part of but couldn’t, and the stuff that never saw the light of day. Throughout his career, Stern has been involved in or been close to being involved in a whole slew of intriguing projects, including superhero movies starring both Batman and Fartman, his unaired late night talk show, and the animated series that would have seen Michael Cera voicing a young Howard Stern.
Hosting a late night talk show on Fox (1987)
After Joan Rivers’s disastrous late night show on Fox imploded, the network was eyeing Howard Stern to replace her. Stern filmed five one-hour pilots, each using the title The Howard Stern Show, but the network passed on the show and wouldn’t make another attempt at entering the late night battleground until giving Chevy Chase a talk show in 1993. Fox has always had a weak record with late night, and although it would have been hard for Howard Stern to have done worse than Chevy Chase or Joan Rivers, challenging Johnny Carson never really paid off for anybody.
Stern was offered an unspecified part in Robocop, but he turned it down, saying on the air that the movie looked stupid. After seeing the film, though, he publicly discussed how much he liked it.
The Adventures of Ford Fairlane (1990)
The role: Johnny Crunch
Who got it: Gilbert Gottfried
Andrew Dice Clay was a frequent guest on Howard Stern’s radio show and he got Stern an audition for the first (and last) movie in which the Diceman ever starred. The director of Adventures of Ford Fairlane, Renny Harlin, opted for Gilbert Gottfried instead to play Johnny Crunch, a radio host in the film, drawing Howard Stern’s ire.
The Adventures of Fartman (unproduced, in development circa 1992)
The role: Fartman
At the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards, Howard Stern appeared on stage as the character Fartman, a superhero whose extreme flatulence makes him fly. It was a character that originated in the pages of National Lampoon, but Stern expanded and developed Fartman on his radio show. Stern was planning on starring in a movie based on the character. J.F. Lawton (Pretty Woman, Under Siege) wrote the script to The Adventures of Fartman and New Line Cinema had verbally agreed to make the film, which was targeted for release in summer of 1993, but the project fell apart over script problems, Stern’s unwillingness to grant the studio’s wishes by making the movie PG-13, and a disagreement over merchandising rights.
Howard Stern ended up making Private Parts as his first movie instead of Fartman, but he resurrected the project in 1999, claiming that multiple studios were interested, only to abandon it once more in favor of focusing on developing TV series.
Sam Kinison biopic (unproduced, in development mid-90s)
Howard Stern bought the movie rights to Brother Sam, the Sam Kinison biography by Bill Kinison and Steve Delson. Stern was a big fan of Kinison’s comedy, at one point calling him “one of our generation’s greatest comics.” Kinison was a frequent guest on his show, and the two even had an on-air feud that they squelched relatively quickly. Stern’s Sam Kinison movie never got off the ground, and he no longer holds the movie rights to Sam Kinison’s life story.
The most recent news on the Sam Kinison biopic front is that director Tom Shadyac owns the rights and was set to direct a version for HBO in 2008, with Dan Fogler playing Kinison. Fogler’s impressive screen test was uploaded online, but Shadyac’s version of the project is also not coming together easily.
Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)
The role: Barry Sims
Who got it: Leo Geter
Howard Stern was offered the part of DJ Barry Simms in this, the sixth installment of the Halloween franchise. Halloween VI, which also starred a young Paul Rudd, was a big failure and could have tarnished Stern’s career if he had been involved. Stern would make his cinematic debut a couple of years later in Private Parts, but having a flop like this under his belt at that point might have made it tougher to get his own movie financed later on.
Jane (unproduced, in development 1997)
Stern signed on to star opposite Melanie Griffith in this independent film that would have been his follow-up to Private Parts. The movie ran into financing difficulties and Stern sued the production company for the $1.5 million he was promised to make the film, but he ended up settling for a $50,000 settlement.
Dirty Work (1998)
The role: The Devil
Who got it: Adam Sandler
Although it’s only a tiny part in the Norm Macdonald movie Dirty Work, the role of the devil was offered to Howard Stern before Macdonald went to Macdonald’s SNL co-star Adam Sandler. Stern’s future sidekick Artie Lange also starred in Dirty Work and Norm Macdonald and director Bob Saget were frequent guests on the radio show, so this would have been a nice opportunity for Stern to work with his friends. This was a blink-and-you-miss-it role though, so I’m guessing Howard Stern wasn’t beating himself up over letting this one slip through his fingers.
Batman Triumphant (unproduced, in development circa 1998)
The role: Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow
Warner Bros. execs were happy with the job Joel Schumacher was doing on Batman & Robin before it was released and hired him to direct his third Batman movie. George Clooney and Chris O’Donnell signed on to return, and the studio was rumored to be after Howard Stern to play the Scarecrow, the movie’s lead villain (even though Schumacher has said he wanted Nicolas Cage). The plot also called for The Joker to return in a Scarecrow-inspired hallucination that Batman has, with Jack Nicholson rumored to be reprising his role, and the Batman: The Animated Series character Harley Quinn was going to be another villain, written as The Joker’s daughter. By the time Batman & Robin was released, the movie did poorly at the box office and even worse with the press, so the studio scrapped plans for Batman Triumphant and decided to take the Batman franchise in a different direction – a direction that didn’t involve Howard Stern.
Howard Stern: The High School Years (unaired animated series, Spike TV, 2004)
Macho cable channel Spike TV signed on to produce Howard Stern: The High School Years, an animated series from Stern. Michael Cera, then just a budding actor on Arrested Development, signed on to voice the titular character, a teenage version of the King of All Media. Spike ordered 13 episodes and production began, but Stern was unhappy with the look of the animation and it would have been too expensive to produce a show that looked how he wanted, so the project was scrapped altogether. I’m holding out hope that we’ll get to see Michael Cera play a 20something Howard Stern someday.
Other TV projects from the early 2000s:
–Kane (2001-02, syndication) – This sitcom, about an eccentric Southern family, was written by Ron Zimmerman (7th Heaven, V.I.P.) and produced by Stern but never made it to air.
–Doomsday (2000-2001, UPN) – Stern produced this animated show for UPN that was supposed to debut in 2000 but was pushed back. The plot involved two guys broadcasting a radio show from their basement in the wake of the apocalypse (with Stern voicing their dog), but the events of 9/11 made the network think twice about airing this disaster-themed show.
–Etiquette for Outlaws (2003, Showtime) – Based on the bestselling book of the same name by Rob Cohen and David Wollock, this was a reality show project that wasn’t picked up. Stern was producing the show, but little is known as to what it would have been. The book was a humorous look at unspoken social rules for fast-living degenerate guys.
–Robert Schimmel project (2004, WB) – Howard Stern was set to produce this sitcom, created by and starring his frequent guest, the late great Robert Schimmel. The proposed show was based around Schimmel’s experiences beating cancer and then falling in love with his daughter’s friend. The WB network, in its final days at the time, chose not to commit to the series.
Man of the Year (2006)
The role: Tom Dobbs
Who got it: Robin Williams
Howard Stern was offered two movie roles in 2005 that he had to turn down because he was busy transitioning his show from terrestrial to satellite radio. The first was the lead in director Barry Levinson’s Man of the Year, a comedy about a late night talk show host who runs for president and wins. Stern would have been a nice fit for the movie since it kind of mirrors his real life gubernatorial run in 1994.
School for Scoundrels (2006)
The role: Dr. P
Who got it: Billy Bob Thornton
Howard Stern’s commitment to his new satellite show also forced him to turn down a role in Todd Phillips’s remake of the 1960 British comedy School for Scoundrels. When Stern couldn’t play the instructor of a class that teaches dweeby guys to be more confident, Phillips went with Billy Bob Thornton instead.
Stern was offered the chance to voice the character Frenzy (a radio) in the big-screen adaptation of Transformers, but he passed when his agent talked him out of it.
American Idol (2010)
The role: Judge
Who got it: Steven Tyler
When Simon Cowell announced he was leaving American Idol in 2010, the show’s producers began chasing Howard Stern to take his place. Stern entered into talks to join the program and considered leaving his radio show to do so. Stern commented on the talks on his radio show, saying, “There’s not a better job on the planet than judging that karaoke contest” and “If I do say so myself, I can’t imagine anyone but me replacing [Simon Cowell].” He would have been a fit replacement for Simon Cowell, filling the role of the outspoken, offensive guy, but he wasn’t able to close the deal and the producers went with the much safer choice of Steven Tyler instead. Stern signed on to judge another reality competition show, America’s Got Talent, this past year and his episodes on the show will begin airing this summer.
Remaking Rock ‘n’ Roll High School and Porky’s (unproduced, in development, 2002-ongoing)
Howard Stern bought the movie rights to remake two beloved late 70s/early 80s teen films, Rock ‘n’ Roll High School and Porky’s, under a Howard Stern Presents label, but neither project has made much progress since first being announced. The Porky’s remake has hit some legal snags, with another entity claiming to have bought the rights before Stern, but Stern was working on it last year and it looks like it might still be happening. It’s been a decade since the project was announced and no cast or director have been announced, so it looks like it could fall apart at any moment. Little news has surfaced about the Rock ‘n’ Roll High School remake, since it was announced to be in Stern’s hands in 2008, and it doesn’t seem to be a project that he’s actively pursuing.
Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.