How Ozzy altered 'reality'
Now the genre's definition seems to include upcoming prime time documentaries
By Allison Romano -- Broadcasting & Cable, 6/2/2002 8:00:00 PM
As MTV last week cut a new deal for The Osbournes, in a negotiation apparently as bizarre as the family itself, other broadcast and cable networks are discovering that real life is just another form of reality programming.
The Osbournes has spawned its first knockoff, a reality series for E! Entertainment Television spotlighting former Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith. Rumors abound of more celebs, such as music mogul P. Diddy, wanting to be subjects.
But perhaps strangest of all is that it might be getting easier to feed viewers the concept of reality series than a documentary. Just look at the on-air promotions for upcoming documentary series: ABC's promos for The Hamptons resemble a steamy prime time soap; NBC's promos for its documentary Crime & Punishment have a distinct Law & Order feel.
Parts of ABC's "reality miniseries" The Hamptons, which premiered June 2, could be a Danielle Steel novel made into TV, instead of a documentary by Academy Award-winning documentarian Barbara Kopple.
In a case of intimidating television, Law & Order mastermind Dick Wolf is fronting NBC's "dramatery" Crime & Punishment, which follows the San Diego district attorney's office in the prosecution of cases over six months. Created by documentary filmmaker Bill Guttentag, each episode in the 13-part series focuses on a single case, with careful attention to character development and plot lines.
"There is no narration, no interviews and no reenactments. It plays like a drama," Guttentag said. Crime & Punishment, which debuts June 16, uses scene cards the way Law & Order does to advance the story.
The success of MTV's The Osbournes proved that colorful subjects and crafty editing can propel a hit. More-serious subjects can require more finesse.
ABC News' upcoming doc miniseries ICU, which bows Aug. 7, focuses on doctors and nurses at Arkansas Children's Hospital, rather than a medical drama. "This looks more like an entertainment script than a news script," David Doss, the executive producer, says proudly.
ICU is one of three ABC News prime time documentary series this summer. Boston 24/7, inspired by a previous ABC project, Hopkins 24/7 (a doc series about Johns Hopkins Medical Center), delves into multiple aspects of Boston's government and social services. Boston 24/7 premieres June 4 and will air over five nights.
The third project, State v. documents the Phoenix legal system, including defense attorneys, prosecutors, the courtroom and jury deliberations. The five-part special debuts June 19.
At the other end of the spectrum will be E!'s Anna Nicole Smith Show, which hits the tube in August and tracks the travails of Smith, her lawyer, her assistant and 16-year-old son. E! timed its announcement nicely: The next day, rocker Ozzy Osbourne and his family agreed to return to MTV this fall for 20 new episodes.
Getting the deal wasn't easy. Wife Sharon, Ozzy's manager and the family negotiator, apparently drove a hard bargain. The family switched representatives three times, with the Endeavor Agency finally hammering out the deal.
The Osbournes' take should be $5 million for the U.S. rights. But there's more. The family will control backend goodies, such as syndication, DVD and merchandise sales, and international plays. Unlike a network deal, with two repeats at best, MTV can play The Osbournes up to 100 times. If the financial stars align, the value could reach $20 million, the figure reportedly circulated by the Osbourne camp.
Family members also are morphing into MTV personalities. MTV will visit Ozzy's summer concert series Ozzfest; daughter Kelly's video cover of Madonna's Papa Don't Preach will air at the MTV Movie Awards; and mom Sharon is hosting a VH1 special concert for the Queen of England's jubilee celebration.
Expect to see more celebs inviting cameras into their lives, predicts MTV President of Entertainment Brian Graden. "The Osbournes has inspired many A-caliber celebrities to think about allowing more access into their worlds," he said. Or was that a warning?
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