ABC wins bidding war to air Michael Jackson documentary

Sunday, February 2, 2003

NEW YORK -- ABC won a network bidding war to acquire the rights to a documentary on Michael Jackson and immediately scheduled it for prime time on Friday.

The documentary, "Living with Michael Jackson," features "unprecedented and exclusive access to Jackson's private life," ABC promised.

British journalist Martin Bashir spent eight months with Jackson and was with him when Jackson horrified onlookers by dangling his baby from a hotel balcony in Berlin, the network said.

Jackson is no longer, as he calls himself, the king of pop music. But he has a proven track record as a television draw.

Some 25.7 million viewers tuned into "Michael Jackson: 30th Anniversary Special" on CBS in November 2001; viewership increased every half-hour for the program, culled from tapes of a Madison Square Garden tribute concert appearance. Previous interviews with Oprah Winfrey and Diane Sawyer also attracted big audiences.

CBS, NBC and Fox were also reportedly interested in the documentary, which was produced by Britain's Granada Television, but the bidding battle came down to ABC and NBC.

"At some point, the dollars just don't make sense," NBC News spokeswoman Allison Gollust said, "especially when you have stories you report and produce yourself to rely on."

"Dateline NBC" has been producing its own hour about Jackson. That's scheduled to air on Feb. 17, although ABC's announcement of an air date may cause NBC to move it up.

ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider would not say how much the network paid for rights to broadcast the documentary. The New York Daily News, quoting unidentified television executives, estimated ABC paid $4 million to $5 million.

The Jackson interview will air as part of a two-hour edition of "20/20," anchored by Barbara Walters.

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