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Ozz and effect

MTV's breakout hit tough act to follow

It’s clear Ozzy’s bitten the head off conventional programming wisdom, but TV execs are still trying to figure out what to make of the unprecedented success of MTV’s “The Osbournes” and how — or if — they can capitalize on it.

Right now, “The Osbournes” shows no sign of slowing, even as the show wrapped up its first season last night. Ozzy and Sharon were the toast of Washington, D.C., over the weekend, where they nearly upstaged President Bush at the White House correspondents dinner.

The show continues to break ratings records, having attracted as many as 8 million viewers in one airing. And even though they’re not even visiting New Orleans this week, the glow of “The Osbournes” has dominated virtually every panel discussion and hallway conversation at this week’s National Cable Show confab.

The timing couldn’t be more perfect, adding some buzz to basic cable right before the upfront season, when the industry is expected to post major gains vs. their broadcast competish.

One of the panelists at Tuesday’s general session panel, Tom Freston, chairman and CEO of MTV Networks, said MTV has “met with representatives of the Osbourne family,” declining to comment on the $20 million payday Ozzy and Sharon have secured for two more seasons of the runaway hit (Daily Variety, May 3).

“Nothing lasts forever,” Freston said about the possible longevity of “The Osbournes.” The observation didn’t convince the chiefs of three broadcast networks on the panel, who made it clear they’d love to get their hands on the show.

This too may pass

But phenomenons are just that –momentary, extraordinary moments in time that catch virtually everyone off guard. Just ask ABC and the producers of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” another recent TV phenom that eventually cooled down.

“You have to give it (‘The Osbournes’) a nod for thinking outside the box,” said one network exec (who didn’t attend the cable show). “But you have to worry about how long a show like that can continue like that when it comes back. Will the gimmick still work? How long until they start playing to the camera?”

Given the industry’s penchant for taking a good thing and beating it to death, there promises to be a multitude of projects inspired by “The Osbournes” in the coming year.

Although few names have been bandied about as of yet, MTV has hinted at shows in development starring Brandy and Sean Combs.

“The lesson of ‘The Osbournes’ is let’s not turn our nose at crazy ideas,” the net exec said. “In the sense of TV being TV, I’m sure everyone is looking at what other crazy family we can look at. But it’s a fairly unique coming together of an idea, a unique family and unique circumstances.”

Despite the festival of bleeps that accompany Ozzy Osbourne’s nonstop use of four-letter words, Freston stirred even more envy among his fellow panelists when he said that advertisers “are lining up around the block” to buy time on the show.

The Osbournes are ramping up for the annual Ozzfest tour that starts its Euro jog May 20 and goes through a June 16 date in Moscow; the Stateside trek runs July 6 to Sept. 8.