The Postmortem Parade: Networks Have Gone Wacko for Jacko

By Lisa de Moraes
Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Within hours of Michael Jackson's death, MSNBC picked up ABC's old Jacko documentary, and Comcast's TV One had slapped on CBS's old Jackson 5 special.

Anybody who has a copyright on anything Jackson has been out shopping it to any network that will take the meeting.

"If it's him on film at any point in the last 20 years, you can bet it will show up somewhere," one network exec said of the whole swap meet footage frenzy.

Remember that British documentary "Living With Michael Jackson" that clocked 27 million viewers for ABC back in 2003 -- the one in which the King of Pop revealed to Martin Bashir that he shared his bed with other people's kids, which eventually led to child molestation charges for Jackson and a gig at ABC News for Bashir?

Well, NBC Universal scooped up the rights to an edited one-hour version last Saturday afternoon -- about 48 hours after Jackson died and for an undisclosed sum -- and slapped it on MSNBC at 7, 10 and 11 that very night. Then MSNBC ran it again the next day at 7, 8 and 11 p.m. Even then NBC Universal was not through wringing every last rating out of this buy: NBC aired it last night at 10 and MSNBC will run it six more times through July.

Remember that Michael Jackson 30th-anniversary celebration, which marked his first performance in 17 years with his brothers? It copped nearly 26 million viewers for CBS in November 2001.

Lucky TV One had been in talks to buy that special before Jackson's death, intending to run it at the time of his 50-concert London marathon. Presumably TV One got the special at a bargain-basement rate, relative to what the special's price tag would have been starting Thursday afternoon.

When Jackson died, TV One shoved it into its Friday night lineup. The network will air it again, though the dates have not been determined.

And how about that "Do the Bartman" music video that Jackson co-wrote and produced in 1990? Fox aired it at the start of "The Simpsons" on Sunday, three days after Jackson died.

It's unclear whether Fox can also repeat the '91 episode of "The Simpsons" in which Jackson played a guy who's in an asylum because he thinks he's Michael Jackson. If not, don't worry: The episode has been part of the show's syndication package for a while -- your local station with the rerun rights will surely air it if Fox can't.

Still unaccounted for:

-- "The Michael Jackson Interview: The Footage You Were Never Meant to See," a.k.a. Michael's Rebuttal to the Bashir interview, in which we got to see the footage that Jackson's own cameraman had shot of Bashir as he interviewed Jackson; it wasn't pretty then, and certainly won't be now.

-- "Michael Jackson Unmasked," an entire hour on Jackson's face, produced by NBC News.

-- "Michael Jackson's Private Home Movies," which Fox also aired as a take-that-Martin-Bashir. Don't count on this one resurfacing. Fewer than 8 million tuned in when it aired in 2003, even though it featured Jackson's Very First Christmas With Elizabeth Taylor, and Jackson Frolicking With a Very Young Macaulay Culkin.

-- The mother of all Jackson interviews: Oprah Winfrey's sit-down with Michael, worth a breathtaking 62 million viewers when it first aired on ABC in 1993.

But the biggest "gets" will be Jackson's last rehearsal at Staples Center in Los Angeles last Wednesday, the eve of his death, and a video production Jackson had finished two weeks before he died.

The video, known as the "Dome Project," was shot at Culver Studios in suburban Los Angeles and included four sets -- one a cemetery recalling Jackson's famous "Thriller" video, AP reported. That project is in post-production and scheduled for completion July 15.

The final rehearsal, recorded in multi-camera, high-definition video and multi-track audio, was made as part of concert promotion company AEG Live's deal with Jackson, according to the Web site the Wrap.

TV rights to those two projects will now gross far more money than the 50 concerts planned for this summer in England would have, speculated one network exec.

* * *

In other TV deaths that pay off, Discovery Channel inadvertently hit the mother lode when pitchman Billy Mays was found dead Sunday -- three days before the first-season info-finale of his Discovery series "Pitchmen."

Before his death, I swear, Discovery had planned to turn over a good portion of its Wednesday lineup to a marathon of "Pitchmen" episodes, leading up to the unveiling of "the never-before-seen season finale." Then came the Grim Reaper. Suddenly, Discovery is billing its marathon as a "tribute" to the guy best known for those bottom-feeder ads hawking OxiClean.

"To celebrate a man who was larger than life, the network will run tribute promos honoring Billy Mays and never-before-aired moments throughout the day," Discovery said yesterday, adding that -- seriously -- "a special tribute show is being planned."

The cable network said "no decision has been made regarding Season 2 of 'Pitchmen' " -- really? -- because "the network is focused on supporting Mays's family and friends during this time of incredible loss."

But, setting aside Mays's, you know, death, "Pitchmen" only averaged 300,000 more viewers than Discovery had been averaging in that time slot before the show debuted in April.

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