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Jackson Opens Up, Really, But Fewer Seem to Care

By Lisa de Moraes
Saturday, April 26, 2003; Page C01

Michael Jackson's private home movies remain largely private.

Only 7.9 million people tuned in to Fox's broadcast of "Michael Jackson's Private Home Movies" Thursday -- the opening night of the May sweeps.

Rarity: Michael and Janet Jackson in his home movies. (Fox)

This is quite a comedown for Jackson, King of February Sweeps. During that last ratings derby, 27 million viewers tuned in to ABC News's broadcast of Martin Bashir's documentary "Living With Michael Jackson," after which 23 million hung around for ABC News's "PrimeTime Live" interview with Bashir.

Days later, 15 million caught NBC's "Dateline" special "Michael Jackson Unmasked," and 14 million watched Jackson rebut Bashir's piece on the Fox special "The Michael Jackson Interview: The Footage You Were Never Meant to See" -- all of these within a period of 14 days. Of course, interest in Jackson was particularly high in February because Jackson had recently been caught on video dangling his baby off a fourth-floor balcony.

"Many people are wondering why I would put my private, private home movies on television," Jackson stated incorrectly at the beginning of Thursday night's two-hour broadcast, during which viewers were treated to a look at Michael Jackson's Very First Christmas with Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Jackson's Water Balloon Fight, Michael Jackson Making His Family Proud, Michael Jackson Living in Neverland, Michael Jackson Frolicking with a Very Young Macaulay Culkin.

"Well, I thought it was time to do so, because many people have opinions about me; they haven't met me, they don't even know me. I thought it was time to open up, to show them who I really am. I'm just simply Michael Jackson."

Actually, the Dixie Chicks are the new Michael Jackson.

More than 13 million people tuned in to the Dixie Chicks' appearance on ABC's "PrimeTime Live" the same night Michael Jackson served up his home flicks. The country group went before Diane Sawyer to discuss lead singer Natalie Maines's version of baby balcony-dangling -- to wit, her announcement during a London show in March that she was ashamed President Bush is from her home state of Texas.

During their interview with Lady Di, Maines steadfastly defended her statement as well as her apology for having made the crack. The result was "PrimeTime's" biggest audience since the interview with Bashir. Sense a trend here?

NBC also jumped on the "pop singers and what the heck were they thinking" ratings bandwagon Thursday night. The network had Madonna on "Will & Grace," playing a limber secretary in a really bad wig who can't act. If only Madonna had not pulled her antiwar "American Life" video before it was ever seen and apologized, maybe millions more patriots would have been outraged and tuned in to the super-size 45-minute "Will & Grace" episode. As it was, Material Girl still clocked 17.7 million viewers. That's a good haul for the show, though it is 1 million short of the 18.7 million who had tuned in to "Will & Grace" during the February sweeps to see Demi Moore guest-star.

© 2003 The Washington Post Company