Michael Jackson Interview Raises Questions, Answers

Article excerpt

CONSIDER the timing of Diane Sawyer's already fabled "PrimeTime Live" interview with you-know-him and you-know-her.

Stopwatch technology says it lasted just 21 minutes, 26 seconds.

That's well short of the 24 minutes, 25 seconds ABC spent on a setup story, music videos, teases, introductions, Elizabeth Taylor's taped remarks and footage of Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley getting married while he chewed gum.

The hour otherwise was filled out by 14 minutes, 9 seconds of commercials, news briefs and promos of other ABC shows and stars. Questions:

If Jackson's representatives placed no ground rules on the interview, did they make other demands concerning mandatory airing of videos, etc.?

Did they dictate who would do the interview? Or how long it would last?

And why is it that today's big-buzz "infotainment"-type interviews invariably are conducted by women?

Interviews with various ABC News personnel, conducted both on the record and not for attribution, produced some refreshingly candid answers.

ABC News publicity manager Teri Everett says Jackson's people "came to ABC wanting to do something with us and it ended up with Diane doing it."

"Ended up" with Diane doing it?

"At some point during the discussions, they thought Michael would give the best interview with Diane," Everett concedes.

The Jackson camp also wanted ABC to air his 4-minute, 45-second "Scream" video in its entirety. Co-starring sister Janet, the video is Jackson's response to his alleged "persecution" by the media.

During "PrimeTime," Sawyer told viewers that ABC was airing the video "because we want to."

Everett says, "The video was something that was kind of mutually agreed on. They (Jackson's representatives) wanted the video to be aired as part of the show."

Something else the Jackson camp wanted - but didn't get - was a 90-minute program. ABC's telecast of Oprah Winfrey's February 1993 interview with Jackson went 90 minutes. Why would the network decline this time around and turn its back on another half-hour of almost certain blockbuster ratings?

"It was discussed, but the end result was that it was going to be a `PrimeTime Live' show, and that show is 60 minutes," Everett says. "And we don't expand the show, and so we weren't going to do it in this case." But sources at `PrimeTime Live' say that ABC News president Roone Arledge called while the program was in progress and said, "Let it go. Let it run overtime."

But it didn't, and some at ABC News question whether "some poor editorial judgments were made."

The program's heavy use of background material - 13 minutes, 7 seconds passed before the interview finally began - was "at our discretion," Everett says. "We wanted to do something to tell viewers who this man is, and the controversy that has surrounded him the past few years."

But Sawyer herself called such judgments into question when she introduced a retrospective of Jackson's career by telling viewers, "It's a once-upon-a-time story that we all know by heart. …

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