By then the demand for "Thriller" was so intense that Weisner says manufacturing plants had slowed the pressing of other albums to make more copies of it. But there were never any real shortages, according to McCarrell, or even serious delays.
And that was before the video for "Thriller" itself. Although the videos for "Billie Jean" and "Beat It" increased Jackson's star power, the 14-minute clip for "Thriller" became a pop culture sensation.
Made at a cost of $1 million-in 1983 dollars-"Thriller" was the first video shot by a film director, John Landis. "We were making most videos for $30,000-$40,000," McCarrell says. "I remember falling off my chair when I saw the budget."
Although Jackson had become a fixture on MTV, the network found itself in serious competition from several other networks for the rights to show "Thriller," widely considered the most ambitious music video ever made. MTV ended up paying more than $1 million for the exclusive rights to air it, the first time it paid a label for a clip. "We owned the Movie Channel at the time and it bought movies exclusively," Garland says. "We used that as the template."
The video first aired Dec. 3, 1983, more than a year after the release of its namesake album. As it turns out, the price was a bargain. MTV created destination time slots for the video, which it aired up to five times per day. "MTV was running a 1.2 rating for a 24-hour period," Garland says. "We saw spikes into the 10s when we put 'Thriller' on. It was a very smart strategic move, putting MTV over the top in terms of popularity among the target 12-34 demographic. Madison Avenue was starting to get it."
Fascination with the video grew so intense that Epic created an hourlong documentary called "Making Michael Jackson's Thriller," which aired on MTV and was eventually sent to retail. It was the first time such a package had been created around a single video, and "it started a commercial market for videos," says former RIAA CEO/chairman Hilary Rosen, now a CNN commentator and managing director of the Brunswick Group.
Jackson and MTV's fortunes were so intricately linked that Garland, who is now a consultant, says he can't even think about how MTV would have evolved without Jackson. "All I can tell you is the path would have been very different. I don't think it would have been good."