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"Thriller" Gone, ABC and NBC "'Bad," They "Beat It"

07/27/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Mike Hegedus Media consultant, Journalism Instructor and former CNBC correspondent

It's rare that television moves me to take action but it did while I was watching the ABC and NBC "specials" on the death of Michael Jackson. They moved me to take a shower. Made your skin crawl at more than just a few levels didn't it?

First, strictly as pieces of television, the production values were terrible. Doesn't an "icon" deserve better? Secondly, what is an "icon" anyway and who makes that editorial judgement? Is Michael Jackson an "icon" now? Or is he a piece of strange musical and pop culture history to anyone under say 50? Think about that for a second.

Imagine how Barbara Walters felt when she heard that Michael Jackson had died. "What!?! And upstage my Farrah Fawcett special????" Just what the world needs, more shots of an overweight Ryan O'Neal crying. Could that have been the reason she "fronted" the ABC special for about 3 minutes and then handed it over to Martin Brashir? Skin crawl moment number two.

This is the fellow whose entire career apparently is based on his interviews with "The King of Pop." Not that they were all that good mind you, but, during one of them Jackson actually admitted sleeping in the same bed with young boys. Kudos to Brashir. I think. But there is something terribly self-serving about a reporter who does a few interviews with someone and then claims to know his soul. Suddenly he's an "expert" with "insight." You gotta love TV news. Where else could Anderson Cooper tell a creepy story about going to Studio 54 when he was 10 with Jackson? At least it wasn't another haiku. And is EVERY day a "....sad..sad..day...." for Larry King?

There were a number of "over-heated" moments in both specials, anchors and reporters breathlessly trying to turn Jackson's passing into the death of Lady Di (don't get me started on that one). Helicopter shots of the "..gathering crowds of mourners." But the reality was tough to mask. The "crowds" at the UCLA medical center and at the Apollo in Harlem were small and not over wrought. Shucks. The "out pouring of emotion" by those "mourning" his death was more of a trickle. But hey we've got an hour to fill here, let's go back to Brian Rooney outside those gates again. Call Madonna, she, "can't stop crying." And whoa -- can Anne Curry fake sincerity or what? How about that lower register in her voice when she wants to ooze a bit. Soap please.

The real question is who and what was Michael Jackson. I'm no Martin Brashir, but I'll take a crack at it. He was an entertainer, and an extremely talented one. His list of musical successes is long, his athletic ability in performance is unchallenged. "Amazing" is not an overstatement. One of a kind is spot on.

He was an accused child molester, like O.J.Simpson was an accused murderer. Jackson of course was accused more than once. He was a very strange man with some dark places in his psyche. It was all part of the same package. His real life and his stage life can't be separated. They go hand in hand and in a way are responsible for each other. Does that make him an iconic child molester?

His music was the sound track of millions of lives, but while his popularity may have forced MTV to play black artists' music, he was more Tiger Woods than Jim Brown, or Marvin Gaye. And while I will play his records -- I've got them all -- and remember the good times past, I sit here and wonder why? Why all the coverage for someone whose career effectively ended more than ten years ago? Who was in most circles considered a social misfit at best, a pervert at worst? What are we doing on television?

I'm going to stare at my Farrah Fawcett poster and ponder that one.