The Wizardry of The Osbournes … Greta Swipes Costas’ Title … VU Goes Kmart

WEDNESDAY, MAR. 20

It shouldn’t be that surprising that The Osbournes , the MTV “reality-based sitcom” featuring Ozzy Osbourne and his pallid brood, has become the biggest sensation of a moribund television season. The concept was a natural: Mr. Osbourne, the former C.E.O. of Black Sabbath, is an authentic hellion, a guy who once, as the members of Mötley Crüe testified in their Behind the Music episode, snorted a conga line of ants up a nostril during a particularly spirited cocaine reverie. Now there’s a show about middle-aged, pot-bellied Oz, his wife and kids? Bring it on.

But The Osbournes has succeeded because the show is exactly the opposite of what you’d expect it to be. Here’s why it works:

1. It’s marvelously mundane. It would’ve been easy for the producers of The Osbournes to play up the obvious camp cheese: “Dad, there’s a bat head in my soup!” wakka-wakka , and so on. That’s probably how NBC or any other broadcast network would have done it. But The Osbournes wisely resists the hammy, rock-star-cliché stuff, choosing to emphasize the family’s suffering through suburban banalities. To wit: Ozzy creaking his way through a Tonight Show appearance in episode 1? That was sort of funny. Ozzy wrestling with a remore control? That was brilliant.

2. You can’t understand what the hell Ozzy is saying. This is reportedly a sore subject with the Osbourne matriarch, Sharon, who snapped at a journalist earlier this year when asked if the show might be subtitled to make sense of Pops’ marbly, Birmingham-flecked musings. But rather than being a roadblock, Ozzy’s sometimes unintelligible comments are charmingly confusing–think Benicio Del Toro in The Usual Suspects –and make repeated, translation-breaking viewings necessary. “It’s a hard accent to begin with,” says Lois Curren, the MTV senior vice president who oversees the show. “And then he’s got that genius rock-star mumble.”

3. They toss the word “fuck” around like pepperoni in a pizza parlor. Language-wise, The Osbournes might be bluer than Al Goldstein’s Midnight Blue . The constant bleeping of the F-word makes an average scene sound like someone dialing a long-distance phone call to Malaysia, and yet it comes off innocuously, like it’s a charming household tradition. Ms. Curren says that in an upcoming episode, Ozzy goes on a 45-second riff that had to be bleeped so much that the only phrases left standing were “dead animals” and “pigs’ heads.”

4. The kids are great. Ozzy and Sharon, a veteran music manager, were known quantities. Kelly and Jack are The Osbournes’ secret weapons–smart, chipmunk-cheeked teens whose moody, seen-it-all weariness (famous pals, V.I.P. access, yadda yadda) makes them the perfect adolescent antidote to the celebrity-struck hormone cases ( TRL , etc.) that MTV typically presents. They also have excellent haircuts.

5. Stylistically, it’s loooow-key. From its neo- Honeymooners opening to its subtle, tinkling background music, The Osbournes studiously avoids the flash and adrenaline that soaks most reality TV. It feels understated, almost British in composition; as a whole, it probably has more in common with the old An American Family series than Survivor . One nice decision: The show avoids the “confessional” camera room that has turned the once-interesting Real World into gooey, narcissistic dreck.

It’s too early to tell if The Osbournes represents a kind of television breakthrough. Some believe it’s revitalized the reality-TV genre, which was gasping with the decline of Survivor and the petering out of most everything else. The concept is likely to be imitated using another family–though, as Ms. Curren points out, it will be “almost impossible to duplicate the Osbournes.” Let’s hope that MTV, which never met a hit concept it didn’t shamelessly exploit to high heaven, isn’t tempted to ring up Cher, Chastity and Elijiah, or Courtney and Frances Bean.

Maybe The Osbournes just is what it is: a good show. Whatever the case, it proves that the best shows often work because they’re really about something other than what the audience is inclined to expect. Just as The Sopranos is as much about family and suburbia as it is about the mob, The Osbournes is as much about parenting as it is about rock-star bacchanalia. It works because of what it is, and also what it isn’t. Headless bats need not apply.

Tonight on MTV, the starting-to-wither Cribs . The decline began when they did the smirky, grating Sum 41 guy. Really, who cares? [MTV, 20, 9:30 p.m.]

THURSDAY, MAR. 21

PBS chief Pat Mitchell recently flashed some very public goo-goo eyes toward Ted (“Mickey Can’t Come Over for a Party”) Koppel. “There’s an obvious match between Ted’s work and what we stand for,” Ms. Mitchell said to USA Today, adding that she had already pitched the idea to the copper-topped anchor himself.

It might have wishful thinking on the boss’ part. PBS is more likely to start running Girls Gone Wild than match Mr. Koppel’s chubby $8-million-per-annum paycheck. But the match is at least more simpatico than, say, Fox News.

One PBS place you’re almost certain not to see Mr. Koppel, however, is on the once-hot-to-trot-but-now-clinging-by-its-fingernails newscast planned by MacNeil-Lehrer and The New York Times . That highbrow cast still needs a face, but a spokesperson for M.-L. said that as the operation sits on the dreamy back burner–finding a sugar daddy remains the key hurdle–Mr. Koppel’s name hasn’t been floated as a potential anchor. “There’s been no forward motion” on the show, said the spokesperson.

Tonight on PBS’s Antiques Roadshow , those creepy twins assess Politically Incorrect at a cool $2.34. [PBS, 13, 8 p.m.]

FRIDAY, MAR. 22

Hey, Greta, that’s a fine new face–but that’s my title ! Bob Costas feigned some irritation this week about Greta Van Susteren swiping the title of his HBO show, On the Record , for her new Fox News yapfest. “I was stunned!” Mr. Costas said, laughing. ” Stunned ! We’re on the air for a year; the name of the show is On the Record . What’s up with that ?”

A better question is what’s up with Mr. Costas, who is winding down his NBC and HBO deals and lately has been attached to everything from ESPN to ABC to Hewlett-Packard and Entertainers with Byron Allen . He’s mum on his prospective suitors, but he at least conceded that the chances of him calling a Major League Baseball game–one of his passions, and a reason some speculate he’ll flee hardball-free NBC–this season was “zero.”

As for On the Record , it’s been trimmed by HBO from an hour to a half-hour, but the lineup of guests looks pretty impressive. There’s Bob Knight ( good) , Bill Clinton ( understandable) , Shaquille O’Neal ( O.K.) , Jim Brown ( great) , A-Rod ( C-plus) , Gary Shandling ( huh ?), George Carlin ( why?) , Will Smith ( zzzz) and Martin Short as Jiminy Glick ( genius) . Is Mr. Costas going to do Primetime Glick ? “There was not a reciprocal invite,” he said.

Mr. Costas, not someone afraid of a little self-flagellation, gave good marks to NBC’s telecast of the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. He was particularly happy the network abandoned a lot of the Days Of Our Lives -type mist in its coverage. “I’m glad we moved away from some of the overwrought features of the past and had a kind of jaunty, action-oriented tone,” he said.

Still, he admitted that he can’t make sense of those schizophrenic Olympic opening ceremonies. For that event, telecasting duties should’ve been handled by “Mary Hart and Kofi Annan,” he said. “It’s a combination of some kind of international get-together and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.”

True to form, he couldn’t bite his lip in Salt Lake. “One minute you got someone taking the Olympic oath, the next minute there’s a freakin’ coyote on skates!” he cried. “Naturally, if you get a coyote on skates, I’m going to say something. And some people are going to go, ‘Hey, that’s great–someone’s tossing a little tone of irreverence in here.’ And other people think that from start to finish it should be a church service.”

Mr. Costas didn’t host the even-more-honky-tonk closing ceremonies this year, but he admitted that when Kiss took the stage, he burst into the control room and joked to NBC Sports president Dick Ebersol: “Open my mike right now !” Said Mr. Costas: “How can you have Kiss cavorting with Kristi Yamaguchi and not say something?”

Beats us. Tonight on HBO, the wishy-washy Castaway . Remember how people got mad about this movie because they felt shortchanged by the return-to-the-mainland third act? What did people want to see? Tom Hanks shave ? [HBO, 32, 9 p.m.]

SATURDAY, MAR. 23

Today, Final Four action from the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, the Dungeons & Dragons of sporting events. [WCBS, 2, 4:30 p.m.]

SUNDAY, MAR. 24

Oscar Night! For those of you who want to miss the big whoop, here’s a summary: Whoopi comes out and makes a dumb Enron joke, everyone guffaws and pretends they dig the tacky new theater–in a mall!–Jennifer Connelly wins and looks great, Robert Altman’s butt stays nailed to a chair, Sissy Spacek looks like she should be wandering around MoMA on a Thursday afternoon, Harvey Weinstein blabs that he’s “just havin’ fun” this time while his “boys” slice the tires of Ron Howard’s limo, everyone feels bad that Sidney Poitier hasn’t gotten a great role in years (then forgets about it three minutes later), A Beautiful Mind ‘s wounded screenwriter Akiva Goldsmith makes a longwinded exculpatory acceptance speech, followed by same from brewing blowhard Russell Crowe, and the next day you get a call from your mother who wants to know who Brian Grazer is. [WABC, 7, 8:30 p.m.]

MONDAY, MAR. 25

Attention, Other Music shoppers! They have to be completely bonkers over there at Kmart, since the embattled retailer’s now running TV ads with a song from those quintessential blue-light shoppers, the Velvet Underground & Nico.

Not that they’re hip to it. “The music’s from a group–actually, I’m not sure if it’s a group or an individual –called Nico,” said a Kmart spokesperson.

O.K., so someone’s not fit for Name that Tune . Truthfully, “These Days” is a somewhat confusing song, since it was originally written by Jackson Browne. But the Nico version has enjoyed a recent renaissance, serving as Gwyneth Paltrow’s Big Entrance theme in The Royal Tenenbaums, in the scene where the swan-necked actress steps off a bus and into the waiting arms of Luke Wilson’s Richie Tenenbaum.

And now it’s getting driven into the ground by good old-fashioned Kmart! Enjoy, Wes Anderson and Andy Warhol!

Tonight on QVC, Home Projects with Rick & Dan. [QVC, 33, 8 p.m.]

TUESDAY, MAR. 26

Tonight on Fox, Andy Richter Controls the Universe . And you, my friends, control the universal remote. [FOX, 5, 8:30 p.m.]