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There's much more to talk about than Ozzy

Sharon Osbourne shows skill, if a bit fawning, but the talk team of Ali & Jack is strictly routine.

September 19, 2003|Mark Sachs | Times Staff Writer

After staring down cancer, dealing with a husband's nervous breakdown and a son's stint in rehab, the last thing most people would want is to take on a rigorous new challenge.

But if this week's debut of "The Sharon Osbourne Show" proves anything, it's that the star isn't like most people. Of course, sustaining a marriage to heavy-metal madman Ozzy for more than two decades probably convinced folks of that some time ago. Now the trick is to persuade these same people that her unique qualities make for compelling television. And that's going to be the tougher task.

Osbourne's fledgling effort, one of two new talk shows premiering this week, has been as erratic as her real-life household through the opening days.

As part of the familial cast of the groundbreaking MTV reality show "The Osbournes," Sharon has been smoothly effective as the classic counterpuncher, playing off the bizarre goings-on with unmannered skill. But now, positioned to drive the action on her own, she sometimes is a victim of her own curious instincts. Interviews with first-day guest Justin Timberlake and Mo'Nique ("The Parkers") later in the week were mired in so much show-biz fawning as to be almost unwatchable.

During such segments, Osbourne's voice takes on a syrupy, Munchkinesque lilt as she practically climbs into the laps of her subjects. In an interview with 'N Sync's Lance Bass, she took it a step further, conducting it in his hotel room bed, the first of what will reportedly be a continuing feature.

But an interview with actress Juliette Lewis was first-rate, with Osbourne drawing out her eccentric guest with the skill of a seasoned pro. Another segment with a woman who was arrested on her wedding day after an alcohol-fueled dispute with a restaurant owner was another nice piece of work by Osbourne, serving as a tough-minded mediator for the warring parties.

The other new talker, "Living It Up! With Ali & Jack," is a more mundane affair, pairing comedian Alexandra Wentworth ("In Living Color") with newsman Jack Ford ("Good Morning America," "20/20"). Here's about all you need to know: Ali is the wacky, unpredictable one; Jack is the rock, upbeat but focused. Lucy and Desi come to mind. And maybe more to the point, Kelly and Regis.

The guest list lacks the star-power of Osbourne's show (Elmo from "Sesame Street" was first up one day), but Ali can be amusing. The wife of political analyst George Stephanopoulos, she admitted to viewers that her husband was skittish about her new job. "His two biggest fears," she said, "are biochemical warfare and me in front of a live camera."

She was even more candid about an e-mail she received after the first show, commenting on the bags under her eyes. "Did a jellyfish bite her in the face or is she really tired?"

The pair's tag-team interviews generally work as formatted, but this isn't anything you haven't seen before.

Neither show approaches the freshness of last week's new entry into the talk-show genre, "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" (although Osbourne did recycle Ellen's debut guests, Timberlake and singer Macy Gray). But Osbourne shows potential, and her deft handling of heavier issues may be her ace in the hole.


New Talk Shows

What: "Living It Up! With Ali & Jack"

Where: KCBS-TV Channel 2

When: Weekdays, 9 a.m.


What: "The Sharon Osbourne Show"

Where: KTLA-TV Channel 5

When: Weekdays, 11 a.m.

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