ABC has won a network bidding war to acquire the rights to a documentary on Michael Jackson and plans to air it Feb. 7 during prime time. The documentary, "Living with Michael Jackson," features "unpr

ABC has won a network bidding war to acquire the rights to a documentary on Michael Jackson and plans to air it Feb. 7 during prime time. The documentary, "Living with Michael Jackson," features "unprecedented and exclusive access to Jackson's private life," according to the network.

British journalist Martin Bashir spent eight months with Jackson and was with him when the artist horrified onlookers by dangling his baby from a hotel balcony in Berlin, the network said. It has been a year of renewed public interest in the reclusive pop star, who was also involved in a trial over a series of scheduled shows which he did not perform.

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 pair of a Madison Square Garden tribute concerts. 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 the documentary's 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.

"We have a long history of working with Granada," Schneider said. "They produce excellent documentaries, and ABC News felt this was a win-win situation editorially and it clearly makes financial sense. That's why there was such aggressive bidding on it."


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