Inside the Jacko, J. Lo, and Britney TV specials
Ever since Elvis squeezed himself into black leather for the 1968 TV special that reignited his career, televised concert extravaganzas have become an indispensable promotional tool for rising pop stars — and for fallen ones hoping to rise again. Two icons in the former category, Britney Spears and Jennifer Lopez, will strut their telegenic stuff in concert specials this month, while Michael Jackson will attempt some career CPR in a show of his own. In each of these specials, expect to see fireworks, shrieking fans and backup dancers by the hundreds, but alas, no Marlon Brando.
”Michael Jackson: 30th Anniversary Celebration, The Solo Years” (CBS, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 9 p.m.)
Brando’s instantly infamous monologue about children ”hacked to death by a machete” won’t be the only missing moment in this two-hour version of Jackson’s Sept. 8 and 10 self-celebrations in New York’s Madison Square Garden. Britney Spears’ duet with Jackson on ”The Way You Make Me Feel” was another casualty, deleted in deference to her contract with HBO. Gone as well will be a much-derided tribute to ”The Wiz” featuring R&B singers Monica, Deborah Cox, and Jill Scott. Also, the magic of editing has eliminated the lengthy production delays that infuriated the MSG audience. Not to worry, though: Jackson did find room for a heavily made-up Liza Minnelli performing an almost unrecognizable version of his ballad ”You Are Not Alone.”
Like the concerts themselves, the TV special begins with Jackson in the audience, next to his buddy Macauley Culkin, watching performers pay him tribute (though two big-name acts, Destiny’s Child and Shaggy, perform their own hits rather than Jackson’s). Eventually, Jacko takes the stage, accompanied by his brothers, and performs some vintage Jackson 5 and Jacksons material, including ”Dancing Machine” (complete with extra vocals from ‘N Sync ), ”ABC,” and ”I Want You Back.” He finishes the show with some of his biggest solo hits — ”Billie Jean” (with some sideways moonwalking), ”Beat It,” and ”Black or White” (with riffs from former Guns ‘N Roses guitarist Slash). Only one new song is included: ”You Rock My World,” the first single from Jackson’s just-released album ”Invincible.”
Unfortunately for those who really get a kick out of the superstrange, the ending of the first night’s concert — a version of ”We Are the World” that managed to include both Kenny Rogers and Yoko Ono — didn’t make the final cut.
Britney Spears: Live From Las Vegas (HBO, Sunday, Nov.18, 8 p.m.)
Unlike Jackson, Spears won’t have the luxury of editing anything from her special, which will be broadcast live and uncut from her tour stop in Vegas’ MGM Grand. Marty Callner, who directed Madonna’s recent HBO special, will take the reins on Britney’s as well. ”They’re much the same, Madonna and Britney, in terms of the work ethic of the artist,” Callner says. Just like Madonna’s show, Britney’s will focus on her three most recent albums — but in Britney’s case, that’s her entire career, from ”…Baby One More Time” to ”Slave 4 U.” The show’s theme, Spears has said, is her transition from teenage girl to full-fledged, booty-shaking grown-up.
Because Britney scheduled the HBO special well before she began planning her tour, she was able to put her show together with the broadcast in mind, according to Callner. That means everything — the lights, the set, and, presumably, Britney’s skimpy outfits — was ”designed for television,” he says. ”This show is packed — it’s got water, fire, bungee jumping.” In addition to what tour audiences have seen at other stops, the Vegas show will include a special opening that Callner declined to reveal, except to say that it will ”utilize the whole side of the MGM Grand.”