Sharon Osbourne -- the matriarch and business mastermind behind MTV's popular unscripted series "The Osbournes" -- has reportedly signed a deal with AOL Time Warner's Telepictures Productions unit to host a weekday talk show that would tentatively premiere in the fall of 2003.
Warner Bros., which would syndicate the program to television stations, declined to comment, as did representatives for the Osbournes at the Endeavor talent agency. Industry sources, however, say the agency had been seeking a commitment to Osbourne of $3 million to $5 million.
Several questions linger over any potential project, not the least being that Osbourne is battling colon cancer, casting doubt over her ability to withstand the rigors of a daily production schedule.
Still, program distributors have been hungry for the next talk-show hit, and the Osbournes currently are basking in considerable recognition. On Wednesday, Osbourne's Barbara Walters interview on a special edition of ABC's "20/20" attracted 15.3 million viewers, based on Nielsen Media Research estimates -- delivering the newsmagazine's highest rating in the young-adult demographics sought by advertisers in more than two years.
In that interview, Osbourne said she hoped to quit "The Osbournes" -- which documents the lives of Sharon, rock-star husband Ozzy Osbourne and the couple's teenage children -- to focus on a talk show. She later recanted after MTV protested, saying the family was committed to 20 more episodes. The program, which drew record audiences to the Viacom-owned channel, begins its second season Nov. 26.
Warner Bros. -- which distributed "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" -- has been courting big names to sell talk properties because the company does not own television stations, a handicap when competing with Viacom, News Corp. and General Electric's NBC, all of which own TV station groups and have put a priority on providing their own programs.
In addition to Osbourne, Warner Bros. is pitching a talk show hosted by comic Ellen DeGeneres and is discussing a series for talk-radio host Larry Elder. Other names connected to proposed daytime talk projects include Sarah Ferguson, the former Duchess of York.