Simon Says ‘AGT’ Is Hotter Than Ever

‘America’s Got Talent’ creator, executive producer and judge can smile after a significant ratings increase this summer

Why This Matters

The variety show America’s Got Talent is a dominant performer in the summer season, with ratings on the rise.

America’s Got Talent wrapped up its 12th season on NBC on Sept. 20. The performance show garnered big-time ratings this summer, averaging nearly 16 million total viewers in live-plus-seven-day ratings before the finale. At a time when most shows are seeing their ratings slide, America’s Got Talent went up 14% in total viewers and 10% in viewers 18-49.

AGT creator — and judge — Simon Cowell spoke with B&C deputy editor Michael Malone about the show’s success, Tyra Banks’ performance as host, and his sunny disposition on America’s Got Talent.

Ratings are up this season, which doesn’t happen with too many shows. To what do you attribute the growth?

Oh gosh, I wish I knew! The idea is, you have to make a good show. I think it really comes down to that. Everything seems to have gelled this year. I can’t complain, the show has been great over the years. But in this day and age, when it’s been on this long and you see it grow again, that is very encouraging. I feel great about it, to be honest with you.

You seem like quite a different person than you were on American Idol. Why is that?

I loved working with Fox — they were great people. There were certain other people I didn’t like working with, so that was a factor. To be honest with you, all they ever put in front of us were terrible people. There were a few good people, but the majority was just terrible. And when you’re doing 10-hour days, you get to a point where, honest to God, you think, I don’t think I can do this much longer.

On this show, of course, you get what I’ll call interesting people turning up. But in the main, they’re very nice and you want them to do well.

Will you watch the new American Idol?

Probably not.

Once Paula [Abdul] left, I lost interest. I loved seeing Paula on the show.

How do you grade Tyra Banks’ performance as AGT host?

Under the circumstances, because it was all a bit last minute, I think Tyra has done very well. I’ve gotten to know Tyra in the process — she’s a great girl, she’s very hard-working, and there’s a side to her that we’re beginning to see that I didn’t even know existed.

How long will you continue to be a judge?

Until people stop watching, Michael. To be honest with you, it’s a fun job. It’s a good show to be on. I would often come down to watch it, and think to myself, you know what, this would be a great show to be part of the judging panel on. It’s fun, they’re great producers, and I love working with NBC. You remind yourself that you get paid for it.

I’ve thought about this a lot. As long as what you say is helpful, and it’s beneficial to the contestants, there’s a reason for doing it. If you just turn up and take a chair because you want to be on TV, that’s frustrating. We don’t have that on this show — they really do care.

Any thoughts on specials or episodes outside of the summer season?

The interesting thing is, I wasn’t sure three or four years ago if people would want to buy these shows anymore. We probably get a phone call a week now from people wanting to buy shows. So it’s a good place to be. I think less is probably more right now. I tell you what I did like doing — I don’t think we’ll do it this year but maybe next year — the Christmas show [for America’s Got Talent]. I thought it was good.

Is the talent different on Britain’s Got Talent than on America’s Got Talent?

With the U.K. show, where it was really, really good, and I think it was important, the guy who won, Paul Potts [2007 winner], worked in a phone shop, they made a movie about him. And of course Susan Boyle [in 2009]. It went in a different direction than Idol — it was less cookie-cutter, less predictable.

The British show and the American show have a lot of similarities. You can’t put any rules or boundaries around these shows. Talent is talent, whether you’re young or middle-aged or older — it doesn’t really matter, it’s what you hope people are going to like. I think that’s what Britain’s Got Talent did in the early stages. America’s Got Talent has those principles as well, which is, you’ve got to be open-minded to anybody on the show, you’ve got to be welcoming, you’ve got to be inclusive.

What do you watch for fun?

I love House of Cards. I’m a big fan of Netflix. I like documentaries and old movies.

Any thoughts about tweaking the AGT format for next season?

It has kind of evolved. We’re lucky because when it airs in other territories, sometimes they come up with ideas like the golden buzzer — that’s a big part of the show now. They came up with the idea of guest judges in the middle rounds, which I really like, and we’re going to incorporate that into the U.K. show.

I don’t think it needs an awful lot of tinkering, to be honest with you. Right now we’re not seeing a moment where the numbers go down. What’s interesting is how well the results shows are holding up. Historically they tend to taper off over the years. But those are holding up well — we just were at 12 million for a results show, which is spectacular.

The expertise and passion and love and care the team has for the show is unbelievable. Same with the network — right from the top, they really care for the show. That’s why, for me, it’s not a difficult show right now.

How many more seasons do you envision for AGT?

One thing I’ve learned in America is, never predict the future. Right now I’m just happy.