I Love This Show! Please Cancel It!

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If MTV wants a second season of "The Osbournes," it's going to cost an arm and a leg. Given Ozzy Osbourne's nasty history of biting, the network should be glad that statement is metaphorical. Nonetheless, bringing back the most successful show in the network's history will probably mean paying millions more than the reported low-seven-figure deal the rock-royalty family got for the first season of their hilarious reality show. Having turned their lives, foibles and strangely-endearing, four-letter-word-laced brand of family love into a pop-culture phenomenon, the family, led by shrewd business manager Sharon, plans to sell a second season — if they consent to it at all — for the television equivalent of the $35 price tag on a concert T-shirt. They also, reportedly, would like to film at least part of a second season at their secluded estate in England, because their mansion in Beverly Hills has been overrun by tourists.

The family, of course, gave their lives, literally, for our entertainment, and they have every right to demand their price for it. They've certainly given us more laughs than any scripted family sitcom this spring. Millions of viewers would love to see a second season as brilliant as the first one.

Which is why MTV shouldn't bring it back.

Face it; in our hearts of hearts, we all know a second season of "The Osbournes" is not going to recapture the magic, the novelty and the spontaneity of the first one. Partly because we will have gotten used to the show — all that bleeped-out cursing isn't going to stay hilarious forever — and partly because the family will have gotten used to it too. Ozzy is no stranger to the limelight, of course, but teen kids Jack and Kelly are — or were, when the series filmed last fall. Since then, they've become fixtures of the media, popping up on MTV's TRL and spring-break programming, giving constant interviews and, no doubt, learning cannily how to manage their public personae. You can't spend that amount of time in the public eye without it affecting the fresh, unrehearsed vibe of the show. The first season was about getting a peek at the lives of the Osbournes — a rich, eccentric, un-self-conscious family of rock royalty. The second season will be about watching "The Osbournes" — a family of TV stars — which may be interesting in its own right, but not nearly as electric. (Not to mention: England?! Secluded?!)

A while back, when it looked unlikely that the family would want to do a second season at all, MTV executives put on a big show of not caring whether the series came back. We're MTV, they said. We don't flog concepts past their useful life expectancy. (This, of course, proves that no one in their executive suites watches "The Real World XI" — or is that "MMXI"?) All right: prove it. Walk away. Give the Osbourne family and their wonderfully incontinent dogs the rest they need, and leave the rest of us with the memory of one immaculate season.

TV critics and fans tend to focus their energies on shows that get canceled before their time, especially in spring, the season of the axe. But TV can be just as guilty of leaving shows on the air too long. This season, Fox is mercy-killing standbys "The X-Files" and "Ally McBeal," which for at least a couple of seasons have lingered, sour-smelling, in the refrigerator of television like cartons of month-old milk. While it's still an often-funny show, who does not believe that Fox will keep the animated corpse of "The Simpsons" on the air decades after they've wrung the last laugh out of it? "Touched by an Angel" still maintains its unearthly immortality. "Friends" is good as gone after next season, but a spinoff centered on Matt LeBlanc's Joey is apparently under consideration — what, do you expect him to go back to making monkey movies? And the future descendents of Kelsey Grammer will be playing Dr. Frasier Crane on one spinoff or another until the Earth falls into the sun.

Sad as it is to say, a short and happy life can guarantee a series' spot in TV history. Just ask the legion fans of the brief, paranoid '60s hit "The Prisoner" — a CBS import from Britain, where series have been going out in blazes of glory for ages. More people will care about "Twin Peaks" 20 years from now than "Walker: Texas Ranger." NBC's 1999-2000 "Freaks and Geeks" was the best network drama in years, but part of what made its one season such a jewel was that the producers planned for its cancellation and wrapped it up with a set of transcendent closing episodes. And not to take anything away from "The Sopranos," but the difference between its first season (planned as a standalone) and the second was the difference between a meticulously oil-painted original and a set of really nice prints.

Nor is "The Osbournes" the only show that would benefit from dying young. Fox's "24" — the groundbreaking CIA drama that tells the story of one day in real time over the course of a season — never caught on with viewers like it did with critics. But its audience is well-heeled enough that it has a good shot at a second season. Not without changes, though. Fox and the producers have hinted that its novel real-time format will have to go: a second season, for instance, might have episodes whose action takes place within 24 hours.

Imagine: it's "24," but without the real time! It's "E.R.," but without the doctors! Next week on "Monday Night Football": badminton! If the device that gives "24" its vitality, drive and excitement is the same thing that's keeping it from staying viable, it should take a bow for a great year of TV and go. (Fox could use the time to keep "Andy Richter Controls the Universe" and "Undeclared" on the air.)

Both "The Osbournes" and "24" are examples of a new kind of TV phenomenon, at least in America: the microburst hit, the show that burns bright and fast and is gone, or faded, in a year or so. We've come to associate this kind of show with disposable, dumbed-down programming — "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," "The Weakest Link," catchphrase-laden phenomena that captivate us until tire of them like Christmas toys on January 2. But great programming can come in microbursts too.

In a way, "The Osbournes" and "24" might represent a maturing of TV as a form. In old TV, shows are products to be perpetuated as long as they can yield a return. In new TV, shows are finite works of art. Old TV: sitcom characters remain static and unchanging for years, while drama characters fall victim to the Sipowicz syndrome, suffering ever-more-implausible soap-opera plot twists to keep our interest. New TV: shows hit, then split, before their characters lose interest or believability.

Sure, network TV's business structure — which relies on syndication fees from reruns of long-running shows — would have a hard time accommodating one-season wonders, but TV's business structure is not accommodating aging, expensive hits like "Friends" too well, either. Each in their own way, "The Osbournes" and "24" are signs of TV's future. Let's say goodbye to them before they become living relics of the past.