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Cowell reaches into past for talent shows


– So what’s new on TV?

The new season of “America’s Got Talent” premiered Tuesday. New judges include former Spice Girl Mel B. and supermodel/personality Heidi Klum, who are joining forces with Howie Mandel and Howard Stern. New York’s Radio City Music Hall is the spectacular new venue.

Even so, the roots of this NBC variety competition are steeped in TV antiquity, reaching back to the medium’s infancy.

It was on June 20, 1948, that “The Ed Sullivan Show” (then known as “The Toast of the Town”) began its 24 seasons of jugglers, opera singers, comedians, animal acts and (of course) Elvis Presley and the Beatles.

It was also 65 years ago that “The Original Amateur Hour” moved to television after a successful run on radio (its final CBS telecast was in 1970).

The variety show was pronounced dead decades ago. And after “The Gong Show” in the 1970s and ’80s, and “Star Search,” which folded in 1995, talent competitions also seemed kaput.

But Simon Cowell has done his part to resurrect both genres.

He was, of course, the tart-tongued judge when “American Idol” began its epoch-changing run on Fox in 2002.

With his Syco Entertainment, he now serves as a creator, producer and judge on Fox’s “The X Factor,” which come fall starts its third season.

And off-camera, he is the driving force of “America’s Got Talent,” now starting its eighth season.

In a recent phone interview from his native London, the 53-year-old mega-impresario recalled enjoying talent shows like “Opportunity Knocks” and “New Faces” as a child.

And he described how a few years ago, amid the boom of singing competitions, he hatched the idea for the broader-based talent show “America’s Got Talent.” He was watching a singing show in Britain when a contestant warbled a too-familiar song, and very badly, “and I remember thinking: ‘I’d actually rather watch a dancing dog than listen to her.’

“Then I said to myself, ‘I used to love that kind of show! Why don’t we bring back that type of show again?’ ”

So he did. “America’s Got Talent” (the first in Cowell’s global “Got Talent” franchise, with original versions of the format now produced in 56 territories) premiered in 2006. And last year (fittingly) a dog act, Olate Dogs, won the $1 million prize.

Cowell is expectedly bullish about the season ahead.

“The new panel has jelled very well. There’s really good chemistry with the judges and the host (Nick Cannon),” he said. He also sang the praises of the series’ new producer, Sam Donnelly. “She’s totally revitalized the American show. It’s by far the best we’ve done.”

Of course, “AGT” is hardly Cowell’s only project, even in the U.S.

Come fall, “The X Factor” returns on Fox after two seasons of conspicuously falling short of what the audience was led to expect.

Will its third be the charm?

“If you’d asked me that question even a month ago,” Cowell replied, “I would have said I honestly don’t know.” But recent auditions in Charleston, S.C., were “by far the best two days we’ve shot” since the series began, he declared.

“It suddenly just clicked. And there’s one audition in particular that’s probably one of my favorites that I’ve ever been involved in – a one-in-10-million audition. I can’t stop thinking about it.

“I think we may have got it right,” he summed up.