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Remembering Michael Jackson on TV

Posted by Joanna Weiss  June 25, 2009 10:00 PM

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Michael Jackson may have been the king of pop, but he was also responsible for some of the most indelible TV moments of the past quarter-century. (And I'm not counting his Jackson 5 appearances on the Ed Sullivan show.) Here are some highlights:

* If there was a moment that made Jackson a superstar, it was his May 1983 appearance on the NBC special "Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever." He wore a fedora and one glove, sang "Billie Jean," and introduced the moonwalk to a crossover audience of slack-jawed suburban kids and their parents. Junior high dances were never the same after that.

* MTV once named "Thriller" the greatest music video of all time, and despite the cheesy makeup and the horrible acting and the I-don't-endorse-the-occult disclaimer, it's probably the truth. The 13-minute behemoth wasn't especially good -- though that final zombie dance was certainly influential -- but it proved how important music videos had become. I still remember staying up late to watch the world premiere on NBC's "Friday Night Videos" in December 1983. (Disclosure: I was 12.) And I think I must have seen the hourlong "Making Michael Jackson's Thriller" documentary 150 times.

* If there's one thing you remember about the 1985 video for the goopy tribute song "We Are the World" -- co-written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie -- it's The Pan. The sole fancy shot was the slow pan up Jackson's entire body, from his sparkling socks to his glittery glove to his brocaded jacket to his serious, world-saving face. In a roomful of stars wearing sweatshirts and bad '80s sweaters, he was the brightest light, uncontested, and dressed accordingly.

* Thanks to heavy rotation on MTV, I can recite lines from "The Jacksons: An American Dream," the 1995 film about the beleaguered boys in the Jackson 5, starring Angela Bassett as Michael's mom. Watching this fictionalized version of a talented boy with a lost childhood somehow made all of the real-life weirdness make more sense.

* Not even the Real Housewives of New Jersey go on shopping sprees like the one Jackson showed us in Martin Bashir's shocking and strange documentary, "Living With Michael Jackson," which aired on ABC in 2003. It's probably most famous for helping to spark his child molestation trial -- since Jackson said he let boys who visited his ranch sleep in his bed -- and for the images of his two sons, wearing masks to preserve their anonymity. But the part seared in my memory is his breezy trip through a Las Vegas furniture, when he cheerily pointed to one over-the-top statue after another, and apparently bought them all.

* We didn't get to see much of the Jackson's actual 2005 molestation trial, but we did see the media circus that surrounded it -- and we got E!s strange, low-budget reenactments of each day's events, in which the judge was played by a guy who had been a Vulcan on Star Trek. Then we all got to gather around our TV sets, O.J.-style, to hear the verdict.

* Thursday was another collective TV experience, as people gathered in living rooms across the country to process Jackson's shocking death. In the first hours after the news broke, without much information to go on, the cable TV anchors spent their time revisiting Jackson's career, playing his music, showing clips of his great television moments and his ever-changing face. The images were just as compelling as ever.

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6 comments so far...
  1. cart berlive hes dead gutted he was a great person

    Posted by jamie June 26, 09 06:19 AM
  1. So long dear Michael....your music and your talent spanned my youth and the youth of my children...even my grandchildren know the name Michael Jackson...may you rest in peace as your contributions last into eternity!

    Posted by Joyce Ryan June 26, 09 07:00 AM
  1. i feel bad 4 micheal jackson i luv his music. now my friend rawan has something 2 matter what color his will always be a legend icon.he was first singing on tv at age 9 .he was having hard time going up but still love Him. he is the king of pop.

    Posted by fernanda June 26, 09 08:24 AM
  1. He was also one of the most high-profile guest stars to ever grace the yellow-skinned world of The Simpsons. One of the iconic animated series' most memorable episodes was "Stark Raving Dad," wherein Homer is sent to a sanitarium and meets a big, burly, white man who truly believes he is Michael Jackson. Interestingly enough, MJ provided the voice of the character (though he asked not to be credited) but not the singing voice for the unforgettable "Happy Birthday Lisa" song, which most folks under 30 can probably perform for you right now from memory.

    Posted by Bobby June 26, 09 12:05 PM
  1. i am so sadden about michael jacksin death i luv him so much may his soul rest in peace wish his family my simpathy

    Posted by jouleen james June 26, 09 02:03 PM
  1. After so many years of dismissing Michael Jackson as a weirdo/possible pervert who destroyed his lovely face, it was pretty great to have these constant viewings of his halycon days -- the iconic moonwalk, him looking so hot while singing "Bad", all the babyface amazement while he was part of the Jackson 5. For all his oddities, he was one amazingly talented person, and a gift.

    Posted by Pasta10 June 27, 09 04:23 PM

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