Sharon Osbourne says there’s a difference between celebrities and stars. “There are many people that are celebrities,” she says, “but there are very few true stars.”
The star Osbourne is referring to is, of course, her longtime husband, Ozzy Osbourne, who rose to prominence first as the frontman of Black Sabbath and then on his own, earning the moniker “the Prince of Darkness” for his predilection for metal-infused anarchy, including biting the head of an actual bat. A magnetic figure who’s spent years on the road and sold millions of records, Osbourne has earned his reputation as a rock legend.
But, starting in 2002, Ozzy also earned a reputation as a doddering homebody thanks to the wild overnight success of The Osbournes. Those who tuned in to the MTV series were treated to a glimpse inside the Osbourne home, where they saw their Prince of Darkness living life off-stage as a sweatpants-loving fan of WWII documentaries. He also clearly loved his family, including Sharon, daughter Kelly, and son Jack.
It was a risk for Ozzy to sign on to the reality show. In the eyes of fans, metal gods didn’t have families. They also didn’t frequently stumble into piles of dog shit. But The Osbournes revealed that, no matter what he was doing, Ozzy was a star, full stop. “Why do you think Ozzy still has a career after 52 years?” Sharon asks. “It’s because he’s an interesting person. He’s not like anyone else.”
The Osbournes did more than change how society looked at Ozzy. It launched the world of celeb-reality, leading in short order to shows from Gene Simmons, Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey, and just about every other celebrity who was willing to let strangers with cameras into their home. It arguably led to the prevalence of family reality shows like Keeping Up With the Kardashians, and it launched the media careers of Sharon, Kelly, and Jack Osbourne, who have dabbled in everything from chat shows to pop music.
With the 20th anniversary of The Osbournes’ debut on March 5, we’re boarding the crazy train back to the show’s four-season run. Where did the idea come from, why was it so popular, and just how real was everything viewers grew to love? This is the oral history of The Osbournes.
Part 1: “They Would Never Let Us Do That, Right?”
In 2000, MTV enlisted the Osbournes for the premiere episode of its new series, Cribs. On the show, Jack, Kelly, and Ozzy Osbourne gave viewers a tour of the family’s home, complete with its massive collection of bibles and swanky gothic interior. The show also found a 15-year-old Kelly outing her dad as a Britney Spears fan, 14-year-old Jack exhibiting his dry wit, and the family generally just riffing off each other. The public ate it up, and MTV decided to explore whether more could be done with the Osbourne clan. Executives and producers met with Sharon, Jack, and Kelly, as well as daughter Aimee Osbourne at an L.A. restaurant to talk it over.
Jack Osbourne, star, The Osbournes: Prior to doing Cribs, every time that MTV would do something on Ozzfest, it would always end up being myself and my sister giving MTV a tour.
I think what Cribs ended up actually being was just a second audition reel. It was us in our house, with our parents, showing everyone around and rolling with things.
Greg Johnston, executive producer, The Osbournes: The kids were 15 and 16, so we thought, “Maybe there are some VJ opportunities or maybe there’s something that they could do.”
Jack Osbourne: It came up in a really organic way. After Cribs rated really well, MTV asked to sit down with all of us. It was [producers] Rod Aissa and Greg Johnston and [MTV executive] Lois Curren, and we all just sat at The Ivy in Santa Monica.
Johnston: It was really an open-ended lunch to chat and hang out. Sharon held court and told funny stories about their lives. We laughed the whole time.
She told some story about Ozzy getting up in the middle of the night because they had dogs, and one of the dogs took a shit and Ozzy fell in it in the middle of the night, and they were all dying laughing. He was fine, but that’s just the day-to-day ridiculousness of their lives.
Jack Osbourne: The original concept was just, “Jack and Kelly want to do more VJ stuff for us.” And then through an evening dinner, it evolved into, “OK, why don’t we just do The Real World, but at your guys’ home?” And I mean, when you’re saying that to a 15- and 16-year-old in 2001, it was like, “Oh my God, that would be amazing.” Because back then, The Real World was far bigger than it is now.
Johnston: It was very slow. That summer, I went out with a cameraperson and interviewed them just to see what their lives were like. It must have been the summer of 2001. They were building a house in Beverly Hills.
It was all very, “We don’t know what this is, we don’t know what this is going to turn into. Let’s just take it slow and see what happens. You guys will probably hate us or something. Let’s just take it one step at a time.”
While Sharon, Jack, and Kelly seemingly had nothing to lose, Ozzy’s dark reputation could be on the line if the family let cameras into their home.
Jack Osbourne: Here’s the thing: We didn’t know what we were signing up for. Now there is a frame of reference for this genre, but back then the only reference we had for reality TV was The Real World, Road Rules, Cops, and the odd documentary here and there. Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, whatever.
Sharon Osbourne, star, The Osbournes: Ozzy had years and years of a career behind him. He had credibility, and what were the fans going to think of him? He had everything to lose, and we had nothing to lose. Who were we? I was a businesswoman, but it was behind-the-scenes. That’s the reason I wasn’t in Cribs. I was in my office.
Jack Osbourne: The thing that I got really nervous about was just when things would get crazy at home and there would be fights, and stuff going on with my dad about whether he was sober or not. There was a time when I was like, “I don’t think we should do this,” but it was a very small window.
After shooting and screening some solid test footage, MTV decided to give The Osbournes idea a go. They put in-house producers on the show, meaning it wouldn’t be a wildly expensive venture if new footage ultimately didn’t jell into a show.
Johnston: When they were about to move into the house, we said, “This seems like the most appropriate time. There’s a big life change. There’s a starting point. You’re moving into this new house in Beverly Hills, and it’s almost like The Beverly Hillbillies or something.” We said, “Let’s shoot for three or four weeks. We’ll see what happens,” and it just grew.
Jack Osbourne: We had that meeting in early summer, and then Ozzfest happened and we went on the road with my dad for the summer. When we got home, I was starting high school and I had completely forgotten about the meeting with MTV. But then it was like, “All right, well, when you guys move in next week ...” And I was like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, this is still happening? What the fuck?” It was like it just happened, and it freaked me out.
At the time, too, I was in my real heavy metal phase and I thought MTV was really fucking lame and super mainstream, like “They don’t play any metal. They only play dumb pop music.” I was really anti-mainstream, and so I had an angsty vibe about the whole thing.
Sharon Osbourne: At first, I think it was only three weeks they were meant to be staying, and then it went for three years.
Part 2: “Fuck It. I’m Going Down in My Pajamas.”
As production on The Osbournes began, the show’s cast and crew had to adjust to their new reality.
Johnston: Once Sharon said all right, the model for production was The Real World. I called my friends who worked on that show, and said, “How do you guys shoot that?” It was a pretty pure documentary outside of the contrivance of putting these people together. They just let those people interact, and they would shoot it and then painstakingly go through all the footage to put together an episode based on what happened.
Jeff Stilson, executive producer, The Osbournes: We had a crew in the house with two or three cameras following the family around. So if the kids went out, a crew would follow the kids.
Jack Osbourne: It was just so awkward. I can remember the first day we moved into the house, I sat in Kelly’s bedroom and she had a friend over and we were just chatting, and then the conversation lulled and we just looked over in the corner and there were two cameramen and a sound man. It was just really surreal.
Johnston: It was basically just, “Tell us where you’re going to be so that we can have the camera in the right place.” The best we could hope for was to at least know where they were going so we could plan to be there.
Couple that with the fact that we were living in their house, and they couldn’t get away from us.
Sharon Osbourne: At first you’re like, “Oh dear, a camera. I must get myself dressed and this, that, the other,” and then after two weeks, you’re like, “Fuck it, I’m going down in my pajamas. I don’t give a shit.” You get used to it. It’s easier if you’re not vain.
Jack Osbourne: Very early on, I learned that I hated being filmed while I ate, and that was my hard rule. You can film me in my room, whatever, but if you film me while I eat, we’re gonna have problems. Weird stuff like that. Don’t film me while I’m still sleeping first thing in the morning. You need to let me get up.
Johnston: The Real World always had rules about how you don’t talk to the cast. You don’t even interact with them. We started that on day one, and then quickly realized that it wasn’t going to work. It just seemed too strange. You had to form a relationship with them. We’re basically living in their house, so it would be weird if you didn’t say hello.
What ended up happening, though, is that when Ozzy wanted to get away from the cameras, his version of that would be coming into our control room and hanging out with people. He just wanted to talk and shoot the shit.
Sharon Osbourne: There are always things that your kids want to say to you [off camera]. Little secrets.
Johnston: They always had a safe space to go to and to get away from us. That had to be part of the ground rules. But there were times when Ozzy would go to that space to listen to music and get away from us more often than not in later seasons.
Jack Osbourne: It’s funny. Anyone I know that’s doing any kind of reality show, I always tell them, “If you want to have a conversation and you don’t want it to ever make it on the show, just clap while you’re having the conversation. They can never use it.”
Stilson: We were in the house for three months at a time for each 10-episode season. We shot six days a week for about 16 hours a day. It ended up that we’d use about 10 days of footage to make one episode.
Johnston: Kelly’s hair would be four different colors in an edit, but we’d be like, “It doesn’t matter if there’s a story that tracks.”
Henriette Mantel, segment producer, The Osbournes: It was really such a new frontier back then. There was so much footage, and we didn’t do interviews. Now you watch these shows, and it’s got to be filmed in three days with interviews and setup scenes that are most of the time fake.
Part 3: “Fuck Executives.”
As footage began rolling in, the show’s producers realized that a Real World–style take on the Osbournes wouldn’t be the best approach. Instead, they thought of the show as a documentary sitcom in which the family’s adventures and quibbles would spark viewers’ laughter and warmth, rather than just feed their voyeurism.
Stilson: We never considered it a reality show. I don’t even think I knew what that term was. I knew what documentaries were, and we considered it to be a documentary sitcom. … We wanted The Osbournes to be the opposite of The Real World. We didn’t want interviews because we wanted to tell our story in scenes like a sitcom.
David Tedeschi, editor, The Osbournes: The joke of the series is that it’s The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, except it’s not Ozzie and Harriet. It’s Ozzy and Sharon.
Stilson: MTV wanted to play heavy metal under scenes, and they wanted more interview bites. If you watch The Real World, it’s the old formula of “Tell them what they’re gonna see, then show it, and tell them again what they just saw.” We didn’t want any of that.
Mantel: Our MTV person was like, “The only reality show we’ve ever had is The Real World,” so they didn’t really know what it was. How could they tell us what it was?
Stilson: All the notes we got from the network were horrible. They just thought it was too subtle for their audience. … They thought, “This is MTV. It’s got to be for 15-year-olds.”
Greg Nash, editor, The Osbournes: MTV was used to making everything very pop-music-driven, too. Every five seconds, you’ve got to come in with the latest music.
Stilson: At one point we showed MTV how awful it was when you play Linkin Park under the show’s opening. It’s scary.
Mantel: Fuck executives. They only know what they just saw. They didn’t know what it was. And luckily, they weren’t paying us enough to give a shit.
Stilson: I believe Brian Graden was the head of MTV at that time, and one of the other executives in charge told us—and this is a quote—“There’s no story, dude.” I remember getting that call, and we dug our heels in and said, “No, we believe in it.” Brian Graden said, “Let’s go with it.” It was a huge hit, and the MTV executives, after their initial batch of horrible notes, left us alone completely.
Part 4: “Maybe Next Time You Won’t Try to Fuck Your Best Friend’s Girl.”
Though the show was set up like a sitcom, nothing was scripted or planned, despite what audiences might have thought once the episodes came out.
Stilson: We never set anything up. That was the rule and the Osbournes wouldn’t have let us anyway.
Mantel: There was no fake with Ozzy.
Stilson: We were too stupid to even think that you could do that. And why would you with that family?
Johnston: Whether the cameras were there or not, they would have acted the same. I’ve hung out with them enough to know. Sharon is as honest and straightforward whether there are cameras there or not. What you see is what you get with all of them.
Sharon Osbourne: Everything was open. We are that way anyway, so it wasn’t really hard for us.
Johnston: The only exception was, for instance, if Sharon was getting a dog therapist. It wasn’t like, “Hey, you should get a dog therapist.” She was going to have somebody come in to deal with the dogs anyway, so from a production standpoint, we need somebody that can sign a release and that will allow us to film them. So when she said that she was going to have somebody in, we said, “Can we send a couple of people your way?” If I remember correctly, we sent her two or three people and she picked somebody and that’s where that came from.
Stilson: The footage was great. It never felt as if they were performing for the camera. I think that’s a testament to the Osbournes. They’re strong personalities, that’s for sure.
Mantel: The minute somebody is in their head or faking it, you can tell. When you’re watching them on TV, you can tell they’re phony baloney. The beauty of Ozzy is that he was never phony baloney. He was always just who he was, and it was so refreshing. He had been a performer for 30 years. He didn’t give a shit.
Nash: You can ask the Kardashians to do 1,000 things and they’ll just never be people I really want to watch. Ozzy can take out the trash and I would watch every second of it.
Stilson: I just remember Ozzy looking for the cats. He had a broken leg. He’s worried the cats are going to be eaten by coyotes, and he’s in a panic and he’s out in their yard looking for the cats. It just showed what a wonderful guy he was, that he loved this cat so much. This is the Prince of Darkness, and he’s out there in a complete panic asking Sharon to do the dirty work to get the cats. Just watching that was great.
Mantel: Whenever we needed something funny, we’d say, “Go to the dog dish.” Ozzy would always trip over the dog dish, like “Motherfucker! Sharon! This dog …” It was always funny. That was the punch line.
I also thought it was hilarious when Jack learned to put the towel over his camera when he smoked pot in high school. That was fun.
Stilson: We didn’t want The Osbournes to be about show business at all. We just wanted to make a family sitcom and we didn’t give a shit about Ozzy’s career as a rock star. Very rarely did we have episodes dealing with that.
Well, there was one. Ozzy and Sharon were arguing over a bubble machine she wanted him to use on tour. “Bubbles! Oh come on, Sharon! I’m fucking Ozzy Osbourne, I’m the Prince of fucking Darkness!” It’s so great.
Johnston: I got the most joy and humor out of how the vacuum drives him nuts, or him trying to tune into the History Channel because he loves documentaries on World War II and not being able to work the remotes. The most mundane things were some of the most entertaining.
Mantel: It was always like, “Sharon’s going to go to the grocery store with Kelly and they’re going to see one of Jack’s friends, and Jack’s friend is going say, ‘I just smoked pot with Jack,’ and then they’re going to go back home and tell Ozzy and he doesn’t give a shit because he’s drawing at his drawing board table and he just wants to be left alone.” It’s just ridiculous.
Johnston: We generally had a producer there overnight with a single camera just in case something happened, and one night I got a call from the producer, Todd Stevens. It was midnight or something, and he was like, “They’re fighting with the neighbors and Sharon just threw a ham over the fence and now I think the cops are coming. What do I do?” I said, “Just keep shooting. You’re not in trouble. You’re just there documenting.” Whether we were there or not, that scene would have played out.
For the most part during editing, we wouldn’t use sound effects. We weren’t trying to be contrived in any way. But in that episode, Ozzy feebly attempts to push a log over the neighbor’s wall, but it really just rolled over the wall. But it was the end of the episode, so we put in a crashing sound effect so it sounded like he broke something. Ozzy had seen a cut of that episode, and he said, “You can’t show that! They’ve got kids! I could be arrested.” He was really concerned.
Stilson: God, they were such good sports. But you know, Sharon was great that way. She was such a good mom. She would just say, “We’ve made a deal and you can’t go back on your word.”
There were a couple times when the kids would say, “You can’t put that in the show.” One time, Jack was chasing his friend’s girlfriend and he didn’t want it to be in the episode. Sharon was just like, “Sorry, Jack, we made an agreement. Maybe next time you won’t try to fuck your best friend’s girl.” It’s probably not the way most mothers would deliver that, and I think he was angry for a minute, but I think he learned a lesson.
Jack Osbourne: At the time, I was never comfortable with the episodes where I was hooking up with girls. That stuff always bummed me out, because I felt really embarrassed by it. But now I think it’s hilarious.
Nash: Sharon, who is a wise person, knew that there were certain things that were going to make the show. She’d be like, “Make sure you get this.” She had been followed around by cameras with Ozzy for so long because they had made other documentaries. When the camera is there, most people have a tendency to explain stuff a little bit more, but Ozzy didn’t really do much of that. Sharon did and that was a key ingredient. That’s why on-camera producing didn’t need to happen because she was helping you translate “here’s what’s going on here” without it being a stupid interview.
Stilson: Without Sharon, none of it holds. Ozzy just kind of goes along for the ride. He has that great voice and was part of one of the greatest rock ’n’ roll bands of all time, but Sharon’s the manager. Without her, the whole thing falls apart. She had to wrangle the kids, Ozzy, all of it and make sure that they didn’t tell us to leave when we showed up with cameras. That was a huge part of it.
Notably, there was one member of the family who wanted no part of the whole Osbournes affair: daughter Aimee, who was a couple years older than Kelly and Jack and was interested in striking out on her own in the music business. Producers say that while she was around the house, they tried to avoid getting her in shots and blurred her out when they did.
Mantel: She was nice. She just said, “No way.” I don’t blame her. She was smart. She didn’t want to take the risk and they didn’t care that she didn’t want to do it.
Nash: She was living at the house for many of the years that we made that show and we kept thinking, “Oh, she’ll come around.” I edited some very funny scenes with her reluctantly in the scene, but blurred out. But she was convinced the show would never get her and she was right. She just kept putting her foot down.
It’s just so funny how much she did not want any of that. She didn’t think it was a good idea for the family. She thought appearing on it would ruin her music career, which is funny because she probably had a better voice than Kelly and Kelly’s career took off because of the show.
Kelly, who declined to be interviewed for this piece, also seemed to have a somewhat complicated relationship with the show from the beginning.
Nash: Jack always knew what it was. You could tell he had the filmmaker gene. He understood that if he could just be his natural self and not give a shit, it would come off funny and cool.
Kelly was a little more on guard and a little more aware, and maybe that’s why she had a little bit of a sour experience sometimes.
Johnston: Kelly, at that time in her life, was a fan of Britney Spears and Britney Spears was huge. We made a suggestion like, “Hey, we can get you tickets. It would be funny if you and Ozzy went.” I just remember Kelly calling me, “Fuck you. You’re trying to manipulate me.”
Nash: Kelly was always right in the middle and she played ball, but she was a kid and if there was a chance for her to say that something was not cool, she would, and it would generally be whatever her family was doing.
The world’s worse off because we don’t have more Kellys.
Tedeschi: The way Kelly and Jack would fight is the way all siblings bicker. The language they used and their life experiences were different, though, and that was part of the comedy. On the one hand, it was like any brother and sister. On the other hand, they often had these exaggerated circumstances.
That was ultimately the attraction for us and maybe for everybody. They are a loving family with unusual circumstances …
Working on the show, we weren’t just endeared to them. We were very protective of the family, and especially of Jack and Kelly.
Part 5: “It Was Like Living in Disneyland.”
Turns out the crew of The Osbournes weren’t the only ones who fell in love with the family. When the show premiered on MTV, audiences went nuts, and soon the series became the biggest ratings-grabber in the network’s history. In fact, according to Variety, just a few weeks into its run, the show had become one of cable’s biggest draws in years. Each episode drew an average 5.3 million live viewers, and the show’s Season 1 finale—which was built around an interview with Ozzy and crafted from random leftover material that didn’t fit neatly into other episodes—drew about 7.2 million live viewers.
Johnston: We knew that the show was funny to us, but it was a unique situation. We knew that they were all very open and also seemingly not self-aware and that they’d let us just capture it all. But I can honestly say we didn’t know if it would hit until it came out, and then all of a sudden, holy shit.
Stilson: Each week, the ratings would go up. I couldn’t believe it. We were beating most primetime shows, and we were basic cable.
Nash: I believe that the episode we did with [professional skateboarder] Jason Dill, when that aired, 24 percent of 18-to-54-year-olds that had TV sets were tuned in that night watching.
Johnston: There were weeks when we got 8 million viewers or more and it was at a time where there weren’t as many channels. If you had success on television, it was a cultural phenomenon.
Tedeschi: When you work on something and it’s joyful to you and you put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into the craft of it, if there’s a parody, it’s a very surreal experience. For me, that surreal quality came when I saw The Ozporns, which is a porn movie based on The Osbournes. Of course, everyone is played by 20-something porn actors and the whole thing was ridiculous, but it had the names and vaguely the outfits and the hair color of everyone in the cast. It really was not Saturday Night Live. I’d rather it have been Saturday Night Live than a porn movie.
Almost overnight, the lives of the Osbourne family changed dramatically. Though they’d been minor celebrities in some circles even before the show launched, The Osbournes took the family’s appeal mainstream.
Sharon Osbourne: The first week that it aired, I took my kids down to Venice Beach. They used to do a drum circle down there, and so I took my kids down for that. These people kept looking at us, and it was like, “What the hell’s going on?” Literally, after one week, people knew who my kids were. The effect that TV had on people at that time was just amazing.
Jack Osbourne: Everything changed big time [once the show aired]. I’m a relatively private person. I don’t like people knowing my business without my permission, and it was really difficult to have a high school life, and that’s why I dropped out. I just said, “All right, I’m just going to work in TV” because school became a hindrance.
Johnston: All of a sudden, people were driving by the house. It was on the star-tour maps.
When we were first shooting, there wasn’t a wall at the front of the house. Nobody even knew what we were doing, but then all the success of the show came and they had to build a little wall out front. That became a source of entertainment for them too, because Ozzy had them add a sprinkler system that he could control remotely so that when people were trying to take pictures, he could squirt them with water and laugh.
Sharon Osbourne: There were people outside our house every day. It was like living in Disneyland.
Jack Osbourne: It was so intense. It wasn’t a lifestyle that I was made for. I’ll put it that way. The best way to put it is just that I didn’t love all the attention. I didn’t love everything I was doing getting documented, and then having people comment on the way I was living life at such a young age.
Johnston: One time Ozzy was on tour, and he was at the airport. Someone came up to him and said, “Ozzy, what are you doing here?” He was in Chicago or something. He said, “I’m doing a rock show. I’m playing with my band,” and the person was like “Oh, you do that too?” All of a sudden, his world had flipped from being the rock star to being a television star.
I mean, I had my mother back in Ohio with her 70-year-old friends playing bridge being like, “Oh, that Ozzy!” They could identify with them. It’s hysterical, but they had no idea. It wasn’t like he’s this infamous rock star that bit the head off of a bat or any of that. They just thought he was this sweet man.
Sharon Osbourne: We got invited to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, and the person who everybody wanted to meet was my husband. It was like, “Who would have ever thought that four-star, five-star generals would come up to the table and wait in line to meet Ozzy?” But they were.
Jack Osbourne: Being in that awkward teenage phase, in the moment, I liked aspects of it, but I really lived in a lot of fear, like if I were to try to put it into a category of “did I love it or was I scared of it?” I think I was more scared.
Sharon Osbourne: The one thing that I am so relieved about was that at that time there was no social media. Because God only knows what would have happened. The press was bad enough about my kids. We probably wouldn’t have lasted longer than a week.
Jack Osbourne: There were people that gave out my Instant Messenger [handle]. They would pause the show and zoom in and see phone numbers written on notepads. All our information was out there. I had to change my number every six months.
Stilson: I played golf with Larry David once. We used to play golf on occasion, and he said, “How do you do that show?” and I had to explain to him how we cut it all together.
Jack Osbourne: I think the most surprising thing to me was when we were at the Emmys and Brad Pitt came up to me. I was like 16, in the green room, and just eating some celery, and he walks up to me. He’s like, “Hey, man, me and Jen”—because he was married to Jennifer Aniston at the time—”Me and Jen watch what you guys’ show every night in bed. We had our agents get us all the episodes.” And I was shitting myself.
Sharon Osbourne: When you strip it all down, we all fart, we all shit, we all cry, we all laugh. There is no difference, except that some people get more breaks than others and some people have that charisma that makes them special.
Jack Osbourne: I think ultimately I do like that I have those years archived, if you will. I’ve got the greatest home videos anyone could ever ask for, and it was such a unique time in my life and also a unique time in history.
The early 2000s, I think, are very much overlooked, because it was a really weird and wacky time. I’ve said this for years, but I attribute a huge amount of the success of The Osbournes, morbidly, to the fact that it was a post-9/11 world. I think everyone was so confused and bewildered, and just like, “What the fuck are we living through right now?”
I think, in America anyway, when people turned on the TV and saw a family that they in their mind perceived to be nothing like their own, then watching it and going, “In a way, this is a lot like our family,” I think that provided a weird sense of comfort and solidarity in a kind of heady way.
Part 6: “You Can’t Just Be a Person That’s Filmed Everyday.”
With the success of the first season, MTV started eyeing a potential second season and the Osbournes started eyeing a big payday. After reportedly making $5,000 per episode in Season 1, the foursome ultimately pulled down $20 million for 40 more episodes, according to the Los Angeles Times. The family retained ownership of the series and all its syndication, licensing, and merchandise rights. They’d go on to sign a hefty book deal and a reported $7 million deal for the release of the first two seasons on video and DVD. To some of the producers, though, the deals marked the beginning of the end of their grand docu-sitcom experiment.
Stilson: At the end of the first year, some of us talked about quitting, but we were also happy with what we’d made. Then the show hit, and it became a show about itself. In a Season 2 episode, Ozzy’s at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, but he’s only there because of the show. And then Kelly got a recording contract. The success of the show changed their lives so it wasn’t the innocent family show that it was when we started.
Johnston: I think as things go on, it’s just natural to change. Now you’re on television and people are coming up to you. You’re seeing yourself and it’s a whole new level of celebrity. … It was harder to have anonymity, and that was the beauty of the first season. They had had a certain sense of anonymity so that we could capture a slice of their life without people coming up to them and breaking that sort of purity.
Jack Osbourne: The show had lost its earnestness. It wasn’t that we were faking, but it had become a show, whereas early on it was an experiment.
Nash: Starting with Season 2 and definitely in Season 3, the family was becoming a little too famous and they were becoming too self-conscious. Ozzy was having a little bit more trouble with either mismedication or drinking or some combo of both and and we just weren’t finding the comic gems.
Stilson: The dynamic shifted on everything. It just wasn’t the show we’d talked about. The show became about the show, so that all went away.
It was time to tear it down. It’s fun to build [The Osbournes] up, but then it’s also fun to tear it down. And sadly, there were reasons for it to be torn down. I don’t know how we ultimately got 50 episodes out of it. It was limping along at the end, like a wounded animal hemorrhaging blood.
While the family certainly got more famous because of the show, they also had to face hard times on-screen. Sharon was diagnosed with cancer before the second season, and Ozzy struggled to stay sober. Kelly also misused substances and had trouble with the pressures of fame. Ultimately, the family decided to walk away from the show after its fourth season.
Sharon Osbourne: It would have destroyed our family if we’d have gone on forever. We just couldn’t.
Jack Osbourne: It’s funny, because we’ve never really discussed why we quit after the fact, but I think it was that ratings weren’t performing as well. They had tapered off to a sort of steady following.
Sharon Osbourne: If you’re on top, there’s only one place to go after that. How many of Michael Jackson’s other albums sold 35 million? When you’re number one, the only place to go is down so why not leave when you’re on top?
Jack Osbourne: I think it was also the idea of, “Why don’t we end this on our terms instead of getting canceled,” because from my own experience, it’s easy to get another job if you cancel it, but when a network cancels you, other networks go, “They don’t get viewers anymore.”
Sharon Osbourne: It’s much too much attention. The kids were too young and were getting way too much attention. It was also way too much of living in a fantasy land. It’s not reality. Our lives were reality. But what came with that reality was not real.
Jack Osbourne: My mum was like, “Hey, let’s just end it. We’ve had a great run and it’s been hugely successful, but we’re getting all these other work offers coming in, so let’s go do our own things.”
Sharon Osbourne: I told my kids, “This can’t be your whole thing in life. You can’t just be a person that’s filmed everyday. There’s much more to who you are and what you want to do.”
Part 7: “Time in a Bottle”
Twenty years later, the cast and crew of The Osbournes look back at the show with a remarkable fondness. Sharon has been a judge on America’s Got Talent and X Factor, an embattled panelist on The Talk, and even competed in a season of The Celebrity Apprentice. She has also written four autobiographies.
Jack Osbourne has produced and starred in several TV shows, including Jack Osbourne: Adrenaline Junkie, Haunted Highway, and Ozzy & Jack’s World Detour, which he made with his dad. He has three daughters. Kelly Osbourne has gone on her own media journey, working for years on the E! show Fashion Police and as a judge on Project Runway Junior. She has joined her family on Ozzy & Jack’s World Tour from time to time, and on Season 2 of The Masked Singer, she was the Ladybug.
Ozzy Osbourne has now been sober for about eight years. In 2006, Black Sabbath was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame after 11 years of eligibility. He’s scheduled to kick off his next tour, No More Tours 2, in May 2023.
Nash: When someone asks, “What was your favorite job ever?” I’ll always say it was the first season of The Osbournes. We felt like we were creating something that didn’t exist. It’s a shame it got turned into a genre that’s so disgusting and lame and fake, but at that moment, it was something cool.
Mantel: A friend of mine was talking about The Osbournes with me and he said, “You guys really caught time in a bottle,” and I thought, “You know, we did.” It was the right time, the right place, and the right people. How often does that happen?
Sharon Osbourne: It wasn’t as if we’d seen another family on TV and gone, “Well, we’re a good family, we can do this. We’re interesting.” It was just very organic, the way the whole thing happened. To be the first of anything is great and then I’m glad that we backed out when we backed out. Everybody was free to take their own paths in their lives.
Jack Osbourne: It unlocked an amazing life, and I’ve been so blessed to have had a camera in my house for a couple of years. I’ve been able to have a career in television for 20 years now just kind of rolling from one project to the next and traveling all over the world and making really fun TV shows. So it was all worth it in the end.
Sharon Osbourne: It’s also a good visual diary for our grandkids.
Jack Osbourne: When my daughters are teenagers and they start saying, “You don’t understand,” and all that shit, I’m literally going to sit them down and just hit Play.
Quotes were lightly edited for clarity.
Marah Eakin has worked in entertainment media for more than 12 years. She spent over a decade on staff at The A.V. Club before branching out into the freelance world, writing for publications like Vulture, Input, Uproxx, Kindling, USA Today, Parents, and more. Before her writing gigs, she worked as a publicist in the music business. She lives in Pasadena, California, with her husband and their rowdy twin toddlers.