In Depth

Fox Lands Osbournes Variety Show

Series Expected to Mix Competition, Performance, Stunts

The Osbournes are headed to Fox.

The network has won the rights to a new-style variety show that will star Ozzy Osbourne and his brood, to be produced by FremantleMedia North America ("American Idol"). The project was first reported by TVWeek.com last month.

Fox will produce at least six episodes of the show. Fox Alternative Entertainment President Mike Darnell said he is mulling launching the franchise with a Christmas special; the series likely will premiere in late winter or spring 2009 and could be paired with "American Idol."

All four networks offered a six-episode commitment to the project—the first time that's happened since Mark Burnett's "The Contender" and possibly the 2000 sale of "Big Brother," according to a person familiar with the offers.

The show's working title is "The Osbournes: Loud and Dangerous," though Mr. Darnell said he might go retro with a name such as "The Osbournes' Super-Terrific Happy Hour" (an homage to a "Seinfeld" episode).

James Sunderland, a veteran of British variety shows including "Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway," will executive produce.

Mr. Osbourne, wife Sharon and offspring Jack and Kelly all will participate in the show, which will resemble modern-day European variety shows that mix elements of competition, stunts and performances. One person familiar with the pitch compared it to a combination of the popular Spanish-language series "Sabado Gigante," "Saturday Night Takeaway" and the German game-show format "Wetten, dass?" (Wanna Bet?).

Mr. Darnell said he had been trying to find a way to revive the variety format for several years. He even developed a U.S. version of "Saturday Night Takeaway."

"But I always veered away from it because it was missing something, which turned out to be the right front people," he said. "I realized that with the right hosts, you can make it work."

Indeed, most of the big variety shows in TV's past were toplined by well-known figures, from Dean Martin to Johnny Cash. Siblings and families—the Jacksons, the Osmonds, the Mandrells—also were frequently used as hosts.

Mr. Darnell met with Mrs. Osbourne and Jack Osbourne about two weeks ago. He said he was mightily impressed by a sizzle reel the Osbournes and their representatives put together for the pitch. It included a number of past performances from the Osbournes, footage of the family explaining their vision for the show and elaborate film parodies starring Mr. Osbourne.

"Everything on that DVD was just right," Mr. Darnell said. "You could see them doing musical performances. You could see them doing sketches and being very funny, maybe laughing their way through them. Even when they do things that seem nostalgic, it will come off as modern and edgy."

Mr. Darnell said the Osbournes' show likely will combine three key elements: modern reality games and competitions (a la "Ant and Dec"), a bit of retro campiness (not unlike "Idol's" production numbers) and the edge and quirkiness the Osbournes showed off in their landmark MTV reality show.

"It's worth a try," Mr. Darnell said of the variety genre, before taking a veiled dig at the current glut of studio-based reality competition shows. "It's fresh, it's different and it doesn't have three judges."

Neither FMNA nor Fox would discuss financial specifics of the deal. However, FMNA was asking in the vicinity of $225,000 to $275,000 per episode for the services of the Osbournes, according to executives who heard the pitch for the show.

Mrs. Osbourne remains in first position to NBC for the FMNA-produced competition series "America's Got Talent. That means Fox will have to schedule its Osbournes show around her "Talent" production schedule.

That shouldn't be a problem, however, since Fox likely will want to air the Osbournes project in the winter, when it can use its "American Idol" platform to promote the new show.

Eugene Young, FMNA's chief creative officer, has been spearheading the Osbournes' variety show, building on the relationship he formed with Mrs. Osbourne on "Talent." Mr. Young worked closely with the William Morris Agency's Mark Itkin and John Ferriter, whose company represents FMNA, and recently began representing the Osbournes.

Meanwhile, Mr. Darnell—who's scheduled to have his first face-to-face meeting with Ozzy Osbourne this week—said he was pleasantly surprised by one of Mrs. Osbourne's physical attributes. "She may be a whole inch shorter than me," the Fox executive said. "That's rare. That made me happy right off the bat."

The sale of the Osbournes project to Fox could inspire other networks to jump into the celebrity variety show genre. Industry insiders also will be looking closely at how ABC does later this month with its adaptation of "Wetten, dass?"