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Miramax Joins the Osbournes

Home Video* MTV's favorite foul-mouthed family closes a $7-million DVD/VHS deal with the film company.

July 27, 2002|ANITA M. BUSCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The stars of MTV's raucous hit television series "The Osbournes" have landed another big payday--this time from Miramax Films for the DVD/videocassette release of the show.

With multimillion-dollar agreements for new episodes of the show, a lucrative book deal and now a rich DVD deal, the Osbournes have parlayed their profanity-laced lives into a cottage industry worth an estimated $30 million.

Rocker Ozzy Osbourne and his wife and manager Sharon Osbourne on Friday closed a DVD/video agreement worth roughly $7 million with Miramax, the company behind such films as the upcoming "Gangs of New York" and this year's Oscar contender, "In the Bedroom."

The new deal covers the first and second seasons of the show. Miramax, which is owned by the Walt Disney Co., will market both censored and uncensored versions of both seasons produced by MTV. The series, which follows the Osbournes and two of their three children day to day in their Beverly Hills home, is thick with profanity and frank discussions about everything from drugs to gynecological exams.

"The Osbournes" emerged as the highest-rated cable series in MTV's 20-year history, averaging 5.3 million viewers during the first season and peaking at more than 7.2 million viewers for the season finale, based on Nielsen Media Research data.

The deal represents a shrewd move by the Osbournes and their agents. Early in their negotiations, the Osbournes switched representatives from Creative Artists Agency to Endeavor, which renegotiated the entire deal to give the family more control.

In May, they closed a multimillion-dollar deal with MTV for 20 more episodes of the show, which gave the clan ownership of the series and control over ancillary rights such as syndication, licensing and merchandising and the DVD/videocassette releases.

At the time of the original first-season deal, no DVD/videocassette or syndication rights had been negotiated since no one had any idea the show would become such a phenomenon, according to people knowledgeable about that deal. The Osbournes received $100,000 per episode in the first season. Endeavor was able to raise the second-season fee to between $400,000 and $500,000 per episode.

MTV, which under normal circumstances would have controlled home video rights for one of its series, is a profit participant in the video deal.

However, both MTV and Miramax are facing a delicate problem in marketing "The Osbournes" as one of its stars, Sharon Osbourne, battles cancer.

The family has said they will forge ahead with a new season for MTV despite the revelation that her cancer was worse than they previously thought. Sharon Osbourne told the press last week that although her surgery for colon cancer was a success, her doctors informed her earlier this month that the disease has spread to her lymph nodes. She also announced that the family would allow the MTV audience to watch her as she goes through radiation and chemotherapy.

The second season is scheduled to begin in November, and Miramax planned to release the first-season DVD in the fall to coincide with the campaign for the new season.

How the cancer treatment will play with audiences remains to be seen. Both MTV and Miramax are adept at marketing controversial fare and using controversy as a marketing tool, but a TV star in a life-and-death battle with cancer presents a unique and delicate situation.

Over the years, MTV has prided itself on pushing the envelope in airing controversial music videos such as Eminem's "The Real Slim Shady" and Madonna's "Like a Prayer" and shows such as "Jackass." The network also dealt with one of the people on their series "Real World" living and dying with AIDS, and aired a special about the surgery Tom Green, star of another offbeat series, underwent for testicular cancer.

Miramax Films has deftly used (and sometimes even fueled) controversy to market such films as "Priest," "The Crow," "Kids" (which Miramax co-chairmen Bob and Harvey Weinstein distributed themselves through a company set up to handle just that movie), "Clerks," and "Dogma" (which ended up being released through another distributor, Lions Gate).

Miramax closed the deal with the Osbournes despite the seriousness of Sharon Osbourne's illness.

Harvey Weinstein noted that he sees "The Osbournes" as a possible franchise for Miramax, not unlike the company's "Project Greenlight." Weinstein pointed out that his relationship with Ozzy Osbourne dates to his days as a concert promoter, when he booked some of the rocker's concerts.

Miramax spokesman Matthew Hiltzik said, "Obviously, audiences have embraced 'The Osbournes' not only for their unique brand of humor but for the multidimensional nature of their lives. While we can't predict the future, we're confident that these dedicated viewers will remain loyal to 'The Osbournes' during this challenging time."

"Our first concern is for Sharon," an MTV spokesperson said, "and we will deal with the [marketing] issue soon."

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