Want the breakout phenomenon of the TV season? Without question, it's MTV's 'The Osbournes,' starring bat-biting Goth rocker Ozzy Osbourne, his relatively normal wife and their two strange but lovable teen-age kids.
If I had told you just a short two months ago that Osbourne would be the toast of Hollywood, Washington, D.C., and, well, the entire country, you would have figured I was doing the same drugs that Osbourne says he used to take. This is a show, keep in mind, built around the adventures of a guy you can hardly understand Ñ a guy who looks as if he might collapse at any moment.
At last weekend's White House correspondents' dinner, it was Osbourne who stole the show by just being there and standing on his chair. (How on earth did Osbourne end up at the White House correspondents' dinner? Well, he was the guest of Fox News Channel's Greta Van Susteren Ñ and it's up to you to figure that out.)
But this is just the beginning. If you think that 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire' and 'Survivor' spawned a rash of short-lived copycat shows, just wait until next season when the networks get their grubby hands on the celebrity-as-reality genre.
It's television's most obnoxious habit Ñ glomming onto something that's original, quirky and refreshingly entertaining, only to run it into the ground with hastily thrown together imitations and knockoffs.
So-called reality shows, in case you haven't pondered the genre lately, are still relatively hot. CBS' 'Survivor,' while no longer the most-watched show on TV, is still going strong and finishes regularly in the Top 10. And somehow, ABC's 'The Bachelor' found an amazingly robust audience.
Given America's love affair with celebrity, the low cost of documentary-style television and the smashing success that's come while following around Beverly Hills' most unlikely family, you know the other networks are itching to follow MTV's lead.
But where will the networks find another Osbourne? Who else has the unique mixture of garish and gruesome that Osbourne has parlayed into both the highest-rated new MTV show ever and a spot right next to Ward Cleaver in the TV Dads Hall of Fame? Certainly not the long list of run-of-the-mill celebrities who are converging on production companies hoping to get cameras to follow them around. Please, spare me 'The Stallones' É 'The Condits' É 'The Cheneys' É or, heaven forbid, 'Tonya and Company.'
Osbourne has proved that in the Cable Era, it is possible to become famous for more than 15 minutes.
But take my word for it: By this time next year, we're all going to be longing for the good old days when celebrities made believe they liked their privacy.