Ozzfest proves cable boon

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Taking out the garbage has never been more entertaining than on MTV's wildly successful "The Osbournes."

The popularity of the show, detailing the family life of rock star Ozzy Osbourne, is leading to important TV questions such as whether audiences want to watch Courtney Love making a grilled cheese sandwich or Anna Nicole Smith washing out bras ("Are those mixing bowls?" quips one media exec).

The answer is-probably not.

Since its March debut on Viacom's MTV, "The Osbournes" has soared-averaging a sky-high 4.6 household rating from Nielsen Media Research in the key adults 18-34 demographic. Those are numbers comparable to shows on broadcast's Fox or WB.

Sharon stands out

To Gregory Johnson, executive producer of "The Osbournes," the show probably couldn't happen with any other celebrity family. "They are unique," he says of the rocker's family. "You can't replicate people like Sharon [Ozzy's wife and manager] and Ozzy and Jack [his son] and Kelly [his daughter]. I don't know if you can find people who are so blunt and open."

The Osbournes recently concluded a deal to do another two years worth of shows-10 episodes each-starting this fall. TV executives had been ruminating that the Osbournes could be getting as much as $20 million in this programming deal, no doubt MTV's most expensive original series programming acquisition. An MTV spokesman wouldn't comment.

All this occurred about the same time E! Networks made a similar reality TV deal featuring Anna Nicole Smith, the ex-Playboy model. "The Anna Nicole Smith Show" debuts in August, and the weekly program will be taped in and around Ms. Smith's Los Angeles home, featuring Ms. Smith; her 16-year-old son, Daniel; and her purple-haired and tattooed assistant, Kim.

Still other celebs are being rumored as "reality show" candidates. The list includes musicians Courtney Love, Sean Combs, Brandy and Gene Simmons, plus everyone's favorite O.J. Simpson cohort, Kato Kaelin.

"It's going to be the tip of the iceberg as far as these celebrity shows are concerned," says Brad Adgate, senior VP-director of research for Horizon Media, New York. "Maybe some of the Fox shows will be influenced by `The Osbournes.' "

He notes that having celebrities in real-life situations is already a trend-just look at Fox's "Celebrity Boxing" events, which have featured a number of former TV stars.

E! and other programmers will be trying to ride the coattails of "The Osbournes" especially in ad sales. "The Osbournes" has become the first regularly scheduled non-sports cable series to grab $100,000 for a 30-second spot. Previously, Comedy Central's "South Park" was believed the highest-price non-sports show, getting $80,000 to $90,000 per :30.

TV programming executives don't know how long "The Osbournes" or any copycat shows will last. "You don't know why you are watching it, but you don't want to turn away," says Steve Sternberg, senior VP-director of audience analysis at Interpublic Group of Cos.' Magna Global USA, New York.

DOUBTS ABOUT LONGEVITY

Soon, TV audiences may be turning away from "The Osbournes" as well as other celebrity clones. "It's going to get tired very quickly," Mr. Sternberg says. "The main audience is adults 18-34. How much of this are they going to watch? They don't watch that much to begin with. I don't think this has a significant shelf life-maybe another season."

However, the key for "The Osbournes" may not really be MTV's endemic young audience; instead, it's about older, infrequent MTV viewers who remember Mr. Osbourne from his days back in the 1970s as the lead singer of Black Sabbath. "Part of the attraction is that it brought in fans who knew him 20 years ago," says Horizon's Mr. Adgate. "It brought new viewers to MTV."

"The Osbournes" posted a strong 3.0 Nielsen household rating in adults 18-49. Overall, it posted an average 4.2 rating.

"The Osbournes" stemmed from MTV's series "Cribs," which shows music celebrities and their homes, including the Osbournes'. "We were hanging out with the family six months before we shot," Mr. Johnson recalls, "and slowly becoming part of their lives gave us a big indication that we had a show."

Rumors abound that new episodes of "The Osbournes" will have them leave Beverly Hills for Ms. Osbourne's homeland of England, as well as filming the family in other locales. Additionally, the Osbournes might include other celebrities in their orbit.

The attraction of "The Osbournes" is simple: famous people doing ordinary things.

"He still has to deal with issues that his kids have, whether it is with curfews or alcohol or sex," says Mr. Johnson. "He still has to take out the garbage."

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