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Jackson Death Causes Media Scramble

DAVID BAUDER   06/25/09 11:56 PM ET   AP

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NEW YORK — Two broadcast TV networks were already planning dueling prime-time specials on Farrah Fawcett's death Thursday. Then Michael Jackson died.

It forced an extraordinary scramble for news organizations from covering the death of an entertainment icon to another.

"What a sad, incredible ... you couldn't write this," said a nonplussed Larry King on CNN, describing how his planned show on Fawcett was "blown out of the well" with Jackson's death. He sensed immediately what most news organizations did, that the Jackson story was bigger, because of both the surprise factor and the magnitude of his stardom.

ABC had planned an hour on Fawcett's death, a Barbara Walters special that had initially been scheduled for Friday but had been moved up earlier this week when word came that her condition was grave. NBC News, which last month had presented a show on Fawcett's fight against anal cancer, announced shortly after her death that it would do its own Fawcett special.

After Jackson's death, they became two-hour specials _ one hour on each star. CBS also put together a quick hour mixing the stories.

"I think we should remember Michael Jackson as the great performer he was," Walters said.

Earlier, she had asked co-anchor Martin Bashir whether Jackson would be remembered more for his talent or his scandals. Bashir answered that it would be his music. But the special, perhaps because there was so little time to put it together, leaned heavily on tapes of old interviews with Bashir, Walters and Diane Sawyer that focused more on his oddities than what had brought him to prominence in the first place.

The cable news networks almost immediately began covering the story exclusively.

Fox News had twin crawls in urgent yellow at the bottom of its screen, one repeating "breaking news" and the other nuggets like: "MC Hammer tweets on Jackson death: `I have no words.'"

Clips of Jackson performances and videos ran continuously as wallpaper, their quick camera cuts reminiscent of MTV in the 1980s, which lived off Jackson's hits.

BET, meanwhile, set aside programming for Jackson tributes and airing of Jackson videos.

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Filed by Alex Leo  |