Sharon Osbourne, wave of talk TV future?

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter  |  Nov. 12, 2003 at 12:39 PM
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LOS ANGELES, Nov. 12 (UPI) -- "The Sharon Osbourne Show," one of the more successful new entries in the field of syndicated TV talk shows, may be helping to push the genre away from the sensationalism typified by Jerry Springer, toward a more family friendly tone.

Sharon Osbourne began her life of celebrity in the MTV reality-based comedy, "The Osbournes," as the wife of rocker Ozzy Osbourne. She caught on with viewers, women in particular, and became so popular that the new daytime talk show was designed specifically for her.

And she will be the first to tell you that if it were not for "The Osbournes," no one would have thought of her for a TV talk show with her name on it.

"No way," she said in an interview with United Press International, "let's face it."

The way things are turning out, though, Osbourne is connecting with viewers every bit as much as producers hoped she would when they sold rights to the syndicated show earlier this year. Early ratings for the show were solid but not spectacular, but Jim Paratore -- who produces the show at Warner Bros. Domestic Television -- said "The Sharon Osbourne" show has found a sweet spot with women aged 18-34, a demographic segment that advertisers love deeply.

"When we sold 'The Sharon Osbourne Show' the goal was to attract a younger audience with an advertiser friendly show, that was good for the overall image of the stations and would still attract the younger audience," he said. "It looks like we've found it."

The term "advertiser friendly" reflects a growing preference among TV advertisers and broadcasters to associate themselves with shows that manage to attract and hold audiences without exploiting human misery, as so many daytime shows have learned to do.

In Los Angeles, "The Sharon Osbourne Show" is sandwiched between two such shows, hosted by Springer and Maury Povich. Paratore said that, throughout the country, the show runs mostly on WB and UPN stations -- which he said are looking for "a way out of that sort of programming," if they can get good ratings with something else.

The "kindler, gentler" tone of "The Sharon Osbuurne Show" is hardly revolutionary. Rather, Paratore said it is the latest phase in an evolutionary trend in daytime TV that dates at least as far back as "The Rosie O'Donnell Show," which Paratore also produced.

Research suggested that talk shows and courtroom shows pushed the upscale audience away from daytime TV. Now, said Paratore, it's "the middle of the end" for the sensationalistic daytime shows.

"Everything runs its course over time," he said. "I think those shows have gotten stretched about as far as they can go."

Although O'Donnell's image as "The Queen of Nice" has taken some hits since her show left the air, at the time the show was riding high it marked something of a victory for civility over the vulgar, and frequently violent, content of much of the competition.

Paratore concedes that running a quieter, more civil show involves a risk -- that it could also be boring.

"Absolutely," he said. "We've been struggling with it with 'Sharon,' trying to find that balance -- how do you make the show compelling and entertaining and still stay advertiser friendly?"

He said a major part of the answer to that question is Sharon Osbourne herself.

"What we have with Sharon is a very strong person with a point of view who brings a spontaneity and a candor and a realness that gives her an edge to compete," said Paratore. "(Viewers) want someone who is real, who can be comfortable in their own skin."

Osbourne is a very relaxed presence on the set of her show, which features comfortable, stuffed furniture and an atmosphere that suggests, but does not copy, the at-home surroundings of "The Osbournes."

But Osbourne said the show is still hard work, typically requiring her to be on the job anywhere from eight to 11 hours a day. While she credited a "very laid back" staff and crew with getting her through it, Osbourne said it's very hard to do five shows a week.

"I have to take my hat off to people who have been doing this for years," she said.

One of the most difficult challenges, said Osbourne, is booking enough guests to do seven segments on each of the five daily shows. Paratore called that "the hardest thing to do" in TV, but ratings success makes it somewhat easier to book high-profile guests.

"Oh, defnintely," he said. "There's momentum to this whole process -- proving yourself to people, proving to publicists that it's going to be a comfortable place where their clients can come on and talk about their new product and be protected."

TV viewers are accustomed to seeing performers come on daytime and latenight talk shows only when they have new product to promote -- movies, records, etc. Osbourne said when she first undertook to do her show, she wanted to try to avoid that if she could.

She couldn't.

"There are certain things you can't avoid," said Osbourne. "When people come on they have to promote things, the same as when I was promoting 'The Osbournes.' It comes with the territory. I thought for some reason I could avoid it, but you have to."

To viewers, TV might be about entertainment. But to Paratore, it's mainly about business.

"We're in the business of selling 30-second ads," he said. "The celebrity booking process is a very big business for marketing products."

Paratore said Osbourne's warm approach to interviewing her guests can only help attract higher-profile figures to the show.

"You won't get first person interviews with celebrities if you're going to do sensational kinds of shows," he said. "Sharon is so comfortable and so relaxed she sort of breaks them down and viewers get to see these people for who they are."

Fans will be interested to know that Osbourne's health is good -- following her well-publicized battle with cancer, which was chronicled on the second season of "The Osbournes."

"Everything is great, touch wood," she said. "I cannot complain."

Osbourne also said her daughter Kelly is working hard in Europe on her recording career, and her son Jack -- who underwent rehab for substance abuse earlier this year -- is "doing fantastic." Jack Osbourne hosts a show for British TV called "Union Jack," in which he reports to young audiences on the latest music and fashion trends in America.

Osbourne said she expected her husband to appear on the show, singing a duet with their daughter on her new record, "Changes" -- a remake of one of her father's songs from his Black Sabbath days. Paratore wasn't sure about a performance, but he said Ozzy Osbourne was "definitely going to be a presence" on the show.

"We're hoping he'll come in from time to time," said Paratore. "He wants to come down, and we're glad to have him."

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