Michael Jackson's Death: Media Coverage

June 29, 2009–The Sunday night tribute to Michael Jackson at the BET Awards saw many celebs wearing white gloves in honor of the late King of Pop.

The show, held at the Shrine Auditorium, began with the Jackson 5's “ABC.” Host Jamie Foxx got the audience on its feet with his dance moves from Jackson's “Thriller.”

This year's event dedicated its ceremony to Jackson, with many performers and honorees paying tribute to the performer, who died Thursday. The show was longer by 30 minutes to accommodate various tributes to the singer.

At the Upscale magazine pre-party, hosted by Chris Rock, Motown producer John “Sly” Wilson said Jackson's legacy will live on. “No one could ever replace M,” said Wilson, who worked extensively with the Jacksons. “He was one of a kind.”

With so many questions emerging from Jackson's death, TV's entertainment and news magazines were preparing for weeks or months of coverage.  “I do expect it to dominate the headlines for quite a while,” said “Entertainment Tonight” and “The Insider” exec producer Linda Bell Blue. “There are a lot of unanswered questions: Who gets custody of the children? What about his will? Who gets the assets of his estate? Where will he be buried?”

Blue devoted the entire half-hours of “ET” and “Insider” to Jackson on Friday and also helped produce pieces for CBS News (including segments for the Eye's Thursday-night Jackson special).

“Access Hollywood” exec producer Rob Silverstein put together a Friday episode completely around Jackson, utilizing clips from a 2006 interview that anchor Billy Bush conducted in Ireland with the entertainer, according to Silverstein, Jackson's final one-on-one interview.

Both “ET” and “Access” produced two different feeds of their shows Thursday as news of Jackson's death came late in the day.

Bell said she scrapped an all-Farrah Fawcett edition of “ET” when news of Jackson's cardiac arrest emerged; for the East Coast, the show managed to get a mention and footage of Jackson's ambulance on the air. By the West Coast feed, “ET” regrouped and led with the Jackson story.

Over on “Access,” with news still murky about Jackson as his East Coast feed went out, Silverstein opted to avoid any Jackson mentions. The West Coast version, though, led with the confirmed news of Jackson's death. “The only thing worse than no info is wrong info, and we decided to wait until we were sure of what had happened,” he said. “This is not one of those stories you can be wrong on.”

Viewers have shown interest in the Jackson coverage. According to Blue, “Entertainment Tonight's” website has seen its largest traffic numbers ever in light of the news.  Thursday's “ET” was up 61% vs. last year, while “Access” was up 22%.

On cable, CNN secured a rare ratings victory Thursday, averaging 3.9 million viewers in primetime to 2.9 million for Fox News and 1.5 million for MSNBC. Among the broadcasters covering Jackson, CBS News drew 7.5 million for its 10 p.m. spec, ABC News drew 5.7 million for its 9 o'clock “20/20” segment, and “Dateline” attracted 5.6 million from 9-11 p.m. for coverage of the deaths of both Jackson and Fawcett.

The most watched of the broadcast news specs was ABC's 10 p.m. “20/20” devoted to Fawcett (8.2 million).

It took the death of Jackson for MTV to do something it hasn't done in years, run musicvideos all day long. The cabler, which came of age during the “Thriller” era, started preempting its programming Thursday night with wall-to-wall Michael Jackson musicvids, concert performances and other footage and continued to do so right up until 6 p.m. on Friday.  After that, the net premiered a new hourlong special, “A Celebration of Michael Jackson on MTV.” Channel also ran a repeat of “Randy Jackson's America's Best Dance Crew” that featured all Jackson hits. 

Sister nets MTV2, VH1 and VH1 Classic also ran Jackson-themed programming all weekend.

TV Land ran 1992 miniseries “The Jacksons: An American Dream” on Sunday, while E! Entertainment TV ran the singer's “True Hollywood Story” edition throughout the weekend. It also had several other specials on tap.

Fox paid tribute by showing the 1990 musicvideo “Do the Bartman,” which was co-written, produced and voiced by Jackson. The video aired at the start of Sunday's episode of “The Simpsons.” 

Jackson supplied his voice to the 1991 “Simpsons” episode “Stark Raving Dad,” in which he played a man in an asylum who thought he was Michael Jackson. Fox is believed to be looking into whether it can re-air that episode — but given the age of the seg, which long ago entered the show's syndication package, it's unclear whether that will happen.

MyNetworkTV has scheduled a rebroadcast of the World Music Awards, featuring a tribute to Jackson, for Wednesday.