During his SiriusXM show on Monday, the radio host spoke out against judge and AGT creator-producer Simon Cowell.
“He sets it up that the men stay no matter how ugly [the men] are, no matter how old they are, no matter how fat they are, no matter how talentless they are,” Stern said of Cowell selecting the judges panel. “He replaces the hot chicks with hotter chicks and younger chicks. … Howie’s [Mandel] doing a fine, serviceable job — why don’t they change him? And why don’t they change Simon? … This is the ultimate example of a boys’ club.”
Stern served as a judge on AGT for four seasons before exiting the show in 2015. Mandel is the longest-serving judge, having joined in 2010. Prior to Union and Hough joining season 14, singer Mel B and model Heidi Klum served as judges with Mandel and Cowell from seasons eight through 13.
After NBC confirmed that Union and fellow newcomer Hough would not be returning to AGT, a report of “toxic culture” and public outcry from Union’s husband Dwyane Wade over her dismissal have prompted renewed speculation over the show’s treatment of people of color and calls for a boycott on Twitter.
The accusations, laid out in a Nov. 26 Variety piece, focus on a cut controversial joke made by show guest Jay Leno in which he commented that a painting of creator Cowell with his dogs looked like it belonged “on the menu at a Korean restaurant.” Union was also allegedly told on several occasions that her hairstyles were “too black.”
Of Leno’s joke, Stern advised Union to let Leno “live in peace.” “Let’s go on record as telling people that one million dogs are still eaten annually in South Korea, and if Gabrielle Union wants to effect positive change, maybe focus on the horrors of Korean dog farms and let the old irrelevant comic live in peace,” he said. “She wants Jay beaten in the streets. I think maybe Jay makes a point.”
Sharon Osbourne, who served as a judge on AGT from seasons two through seven, also spoke about the growing controversy on CBS’ The Talk. Acknowledging that “everybody’s experience on a show is different,” she said that she left the series because of the network.
“I left. And that’s the truth. I left because NBC, not because of the show. I had my own problems with the network,” she said on Monday’s episode. Of Union’s concerns, she added, “Obviously, there wasn’t anybody of color on the panel when I was there. So, I honestly can’t say. But when I was there it was, you know, a great show to work on.”
The backlash against the NBC show continued over the weekend with Time’s Up and other Hollywood actresses throwing their support behind Union and SAG-AFTRA confirming on Sunday that it has initiated an investigation into the star’s departure from the series. Time’s Up also launched a petition urging NBCUniversal leaders to take Union’s allegations seriously and to take concrete steps to foster a safe and equitable workplace.
“We take issues of workplace health and safety very seriously,” a SAG-AFTRA spokesperson had said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter. “We immediately reached out to Ms. Union’s representatives when these reports came to light. It is our practice to work closely with members who reach out to us and their representatives in instances like this, as that usually affords the best protection and best resolution for the affected member.”
The statement continued, “For certain matters, our investigation and enforcement needs to happen independently, and we are prepared to handle this issue accordingly, as warranted. Our enforcement action is usually handled confidentially to protect the member involved, and we typically do not publicize these matters unless the member requests that we do so. While we have taken steps to investigate this matter, we have nothing to report now.”
Amid the backlash, NBC and AGT producers Fremantle and Syco said in a statement over the weekend that they would be working with Union’s representatives on the matter: “We remain committed to ensuring a respectful workplace for all employees and take very seriously any questions about workplace culture. We are working with Ms. Union through her representatives to hear more about her concerns, following which we will take whatever next steps may be appropriate.”
Dec. 3, 7:20 a.m. Updated to include Osbourne’s quotes from The Talk.