Television networks across the dial united to show Michael Jackson memorialBy David Bauder, AP
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Jackson memorial unites diverse media outlets
NEW YORK — Queen Latifah called Michael Jackson “the biggest star on Earth,” and it was hard to argue when his memorial service united television networks as diverse as ABC, MTV, Fox News Channel, BET and ESPN News.
They all carried at least part of the Los Angeles ceremony on Tuesday, a mix of music and remembrances capping an extraordinary dozen days of coverage since the pop star’s death from cardiac arrest on June 25.
It was a celebrity send-off unique in scale, unifying TV networks in a manner not seen since the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks. Millions of people watched worldwide on TV screens or on computer through Web sites such as TMZ and Hulu, although a backlash simmered among people who wondered whether it was too much for an entertainer.
The two-hour plus ceremony saved its emotional wallop for the end, when Jackson’s 11-year-old daughter, Paris-Michael Katherine, approached the microphone with a tearful goodbye to her father as his golden casket sat in front of her. “I just wanted to say I love him so much,” she said.
“If nothing else about this got you,” NBC’s Lester Holt said, “all of us can understand the grief of a girl who has lost her father.”
ABC was the first of the major broadcasters to commit to televising the event. But unlike CBS’ Katie Couric and NBC’s Brian Williams, chief ABC anchor Charles Gibson did not go to Los Angeles. He quarterbacked the coverage from a New York studio. NBC had initially said it wasn’t televising the memorial, but executives changed their minds Sunday and sent Williams out West.
The cable news networks each carried the ceremony, although Fox News Channel kept its eye on the outside world by continuing to run a crawl of news headlines on the bottom of the screen.
CNN’s Larry King was in the third row on the Staples Center floor, an invited guest of the Jackson family. He was almost bubbly when Anderson Cooper debriefed him, asking about Jackson’s casket.
“What did it look like?” Cooper said.
“Very expensive, obviously,” King replied. “It looked like pure gold.”
MTV had a black ribbon affixed to the station’s insignia on the bottom of the screen. MTV’s airing of such hits as “Beat It” and “Thriller” in the 1980s sent Jackson’s career into the stratosphere, but only after Jackson changed MTV: The network didn’t air videos by black artists until “Billie Jean” desegregated music TV.
Former MTV personalities Mark Goodman and John Norris returned to say how the fragmentation of pop culture made it unlikely another music star would unite the culture in the same way.
“Michael Jackson taught each and every member of my family to dance,” said MTV correspondent Sway Calloway.
ESPN News dipped in when Los Angeles Lakers stars Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson spoke, and turned away when the basketball players left the stage.
At BET, correspondents April Woodard and Jina Johnson said they wanted to hear none of the stories of drug use or alleged child abuse that dominated the last decade of the 50-year-old entertainer’s life.
“We’re not going to talk so much about the speculation or allegations surrounding his death,” Woodard said. “What we are going to talk about is a celebration of his life.”
Every funeral, every memorial service offers the chance to remember the best of a life. In Jackson’s case, participants used the moment to sweep aside the sad spectacle his life had become. “People wanted to go back to the Michael Jackson they remembered,” commentator Nancy Gibbs said on ABC.
Motown Records founder Berry Gordy said Jackson was “simply the greatest entertainer that ever lived.” Al Sharpton, noting Jackson’s success in breaking racial barriers, said he helped create the atmosphere that made President Obama’s election possible.
Yet the lionization of Jackson has turned off some TV viewers. ABC’s “Good Morning America” message board was clogged with people expressing disgust.
“I’ve had it with all this emphasis on the death of a court jester. What a waste of air time,” wrote one viewer.
Added another: “Enough is enough!” Fox News reported Tuesday about the family of an American soldier killed in Afghanistan the same day Jackson died who wondered why the celebrity’s death has received so much more attention. During Molly Henneberg’s report, a box filled a portion of Fox’s screen showing Forest Lawn Cemetery, where a family service was held for Jackson.
A half-hour delay in starting the memorial was too much time for some networks, leaving ABC’s Gibson the opportunity to vamp on bad covers of Jackson songs that he had heard at weddings, and a variety of accounts on the crowd’s mood at the Staples Center.
“It’s a little more somber here (than outside),” MTV’s Katie Byrne said. “We haven’t seen any stars yet.”
CNN’s Don Lemon had a different view: “It is not solemn here. It’s celebratory.”
NBC’s Lee Cowan said the mood depended on what Jackson song was being piped into the public address system: “When it is a softer tempo, some people get quiet,” he said. “When it is upbeat, people get into it.”
Wait. Don’t stop ’til you get enough.
“I have never heard 16,000 people as quiet as I have now,” said ABC’s Cynthia McFadden.
Associated Press Television Writer Frazier Moore contributed to this report.
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