Just another American family

Reality TV comes full circle as MTV debuts "The Osbournes" (9:30 p.m.) immediately following "The Real World" (9 p.m.). Unlike the "Real World's" depiction of strategically chosen young things going through their media-drenched routine, "The Osbournes" observes the daily life of an actual family, albeit one whose patriarch is Ozzy Osbourne, the founder of Black Sabbath, and legendary godfather of heavy metal music.

Strip away Ozzy's peculiar occupation, and "The Osbournes" most closely resembles "An American Family," the controversial 1973 PBS documentary series that served as the prototype for all subsequent reality dramas. "Family" documented the Louds of California throughout the disintegration of a marriage and the formative years of the Loud children. The eldest son, Lance Loud (who died last Dec. 22), took full advantage of the cameras. He came out of the closet and decamped for New York, where he checked into the Chelsea hotel and became a part of Andy Warhol's entourage. Despite much memorable footage, it's difficult to revisit "American Family" without feelings of profound sadness for the Loud kids. Between Lance's flamboyant odyssey and his parents' on-camera tiffs, the rest of the brood appears emotionally adrift.

While there is no shortage of sight gags on "The Osbournes," a sad residue oozes just below the surface. As we watch the family move into their new Beverly Hills mansion, Ozzy's wife and manager, Sharon, unpacks furniture and lamps, and boxes labeled "devil heads" and "dead things." Like a chirpy housewife being interviewed for HGTV, Sharon gushes about the number of crucifixes they have acquired.

Sharon appears to have become a second mother to the addled Ozzy, who suffers from performing at "a billion decibels for 35 years." "The Osbournes" might be amusing if it only concerned Ozzy, Sharon and their many dogs and cats and gadgets. But, as with "An American Family," there are the children to consider. For most of the first episode, the two Osbourne offspring, Jack, 16, and Kelly, 17, behave like foul-mouthed monsters. All of the Osbournes curse like sailors, making "The Osbournes" the most bleeped program since the doomed Jay Mohr comedy "Action." While MTV's press material describes Kelly and Jack as "typical teen-agers," some viewers may differ. Scenes of Jack playing alone in the back yard in full army regalia, and a glimpse of him violently stabbing a cardboard box, speak volumes about his isolated state. Sharon observes rather wistfully that their new mansion is "the 24th place my kids have lived." Home sweet home.

� President George and First Lady Laura Bush host "Celebrating America's Musical Heritage: A Salute to Gospel Music" (7 p.m., Pax), a White House concert featuring performances by Shirley Caesar, Blind Boys of Alabama, Gaither Vocal Band, Jump5, Steven Curtis Chapman, Jaci Velasquez, The Martins, Twila Paris, Yolanda Adams and the D.C. area Ministers of Music.


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