Let This Jackson Circus Begin

By Lisa de Moraes
Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Michael Jackson Memorial Orgy of Excess has arrived.

First: The Elephants.

News crews and Jackson fanatics camping outside the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles, where the Jackson memorial takes place today, may -- or may not -- be surprised by the herd of 11 Asian elephants that will pass through the side entrance of the complex in the wee hours of this morning. But, we're sorry to report, while planners thought to invite Mariah Carey to sing a Jackson tune at the memorial, you will not get to hear from the elephants during today's coverage.

Turns out Stevie Wonder, Usher and Lionel Richie, Motown Records founder Berry Gordy, the Rev. Al Sharpton, and basketball stars Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant will be part of the freak show -- but the elephants are part of the circus.

The elephants, and the seven horses accompanying them, are there for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus opening at the Staples Center the next day. That seems completely appropriate. A circus spokeswoman says the elephants are very comfortable around people and will not be fazed by Jackson fans.

It's a decades-old tradition to parade the giants through the streets of the circus's host city, and Ringling Bros. and the city's Animal Services office decided not to let Jackson's memorial get in the way of the three-mile hike from their train in Union Station to the arena. The circus will use the same arena as the Jackson event, but the animals -- which also include big cats -- will be stowed in a barn until the crowds clear out, the rep told the Associated Press.

* * *

Now, the freak show:

At least 16 television networks plan live coverage of the Jackson memorial. At press time, the list included ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, Fox News Channel, CNN, CNN Headline News, MSNBC, TV One, MTV, VH1, VH1 Classic, VH1Soul, TV Guide Channel, E!, Univision and we're sure we're missing a few. Think Princess Di times 2.

Overwhelmed by the sheer number of Jackson death-march viewing options? We're here to help.

For starters, given the historic ratings problems at most of the broadcast networks this summer, the timing of Jackson's death has been their salvation, ratings-wise. They have high hopes for a large viewership today. FYI, when the Michael Jackson child-abuse trial verdict was read on June 13, 2005, about 31 million were watching it on TV. (Princess Di's funeral was watched by about 33 million on a Saturday in September '97 across eight networks.)

ABC has planned today's gutsiest coverage, once again trotting out Martin Bashir. We're guessing Jackson fans probably won't be watching ABC's coverage, Bashir being the guy who profited most by taking down Michael Jackson. In case you just came out from under a flat rock, Bashir's the guy who did that 2003 documentary, bought by ABC, that led to Jackson getting slapped with those child-abuse charges and Bashir getting offered a job at ABC News. In Jackson-fanatic circles, Bashir is That Backstabber Who Has Michael Jackson's Blood on His Hands.

On the other hand, they'll be passing up a surefire Watch Bashir Make Michael Jackson's Memorial All About Martin Bashir Drinking Game, given the number of times Bashir is sure to turn the discussion to himself. You know, like: "Michael Jackson had been preparing for his eagerly awaited comeback concerts in London, which were due to begin next month -- and it was in London where I first met him back in 2003 and later that year began filming a documentary that would have huge ramifications" (Bashir on ABC's "20/20" the night of Jackson's death).

NBC is replacing its trademark peacock with a vulture today in honor of its exhaustive, leave-no-stone-unturned coverage of Jackson's death. The network's coverage actually started last night at 10, when a special "Dateline" detailed memorial service plans and funeral arrangements, and, just for the heck of it, looked back at the making of the "Thriller" music video. This morning, Meredith Vieira will be live from the Staples Center on "Today." NBC and MSNBC each has its own team covering the memorial service.

Plus, CNBC will dip in and out of the service while spending the day discussing the financial aspects of Jackson's death, as in who stands to profit most -- besides, of course, Martin Bashir, who has been madly remaking himself as Michael Jackson Fan Club president, even to the extent of pooh-poohing his own damning documentary: "Certainly when I made the documentary there was a small part of that which contained a controversy concerning his relationship with other young people," Bashir told ABC News the day Jackson died. "But the truth is that he was never convicted of any crime; I never saw any wrongdoing myself. And whilst his lifestyle may have been a bit unorthodox, I don't believe it was criminal, and I think the world has now lost the greatest entertainer it's probably ever known."

But enough about Bashir about Bashir. Though the memorial starts at 10 a.m. Pacific time, which is technically Kathie Lee Gifford's hour of NBC's "Today" for West Coasters, Kathie Lee and Hoda Kotb are being expunged today in favor of Vieira's more rational, if less riveting, reporting -- plus Brian Williams is anchoring. This is a shame, because we had a bet going on how fast Kathie Lee could get Cody into NBC's memorial coverage, as in "I remember the first time Cody sang a Michael Jackson song."

CNN has recruited Anderson "Does This Jackson Memorial Make Me Look Fat?" Cooper, Don Lemon and Soledad O'Brien to cover live from Los Angeles, and also Larry King, who has been deemed sufficiently recovered from his shocking discovery last week that Neverland was a pretty place with a train.

Fox News Channel is counting on Shep Smith and Greta Van Susteren to headline its coverage. Too strident? Try Fox broadcast network, which is feeding to its stations coverage helmed by FNC's fluffier morning infotainment weirdsmobiles, Megyn Kelly and Trace Gallagher.

BET, meanwhile, felt compelled to recruit CNN's Lola Ogunnaike and "Inside Edition's" April Woodard to lend -- I give up, legitimacy maybe? -- to its coverage of the Jackson memorial, joining BET's "news personality" Jina Johnson.

For a unique take on the memorial, you might try TV Guide Channel, which is sending "The Bachelor's" host, Chris Harrison, to anchor its coverage; Harrison also hosts the channel's "Hollywood 411." Or, how about E! network, which is sending its celebrity gossip blogger Marc Malkin inside the Staples Center to represent. MTV is counting on "icon of hip-hop culture" Sway Calloway to keep its coverage real.

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