Michael Jackson practically single-handedly was responsible for the success of one of the biggest phenomena in TV history: MTV.
In November, 1982, a little more than a year after MTV debuted, Jackson released the album “Thriller,” which would go on to become the best-selling album of all time, with sales of over 100 million.
At the time, relatively few videos from black artists were on MTV. When Jackson released a video of “Billie Jean” to promote “Thriller,” MTV picked it up. The “Billie Jean” video, and the others released to promote the album, were the “supercharger to MTV’s breakthrough success back in the ‘80s,” Tom Freston told TVWeek early this morning in an email from Europe, where he is travelling.
Freston, MTV’s former CEO, is a long-time pop music lover and has known many of the top music artists of the 1980s and 1990s. He said of Jackson, “He was the giant of his age, a genuine phenomena, not some engineered pop star. He crowned himself The King of Pop,’ and, while he has certainly had his ups and downs, no one can deny his genius. RIP, Michael.”
Indeed, back in the early ‘80s, when the ad slogan “I Want My MTV” became part of the culture, it could have been a substitute for “I Want My Michael Jackson.” Jackson’s success on MTV also encouraged the network to show more videos from other black artists.
Not only was TV such a key element in Jackson’s music success, his TV interviews with such mega TV stars as Oprah Winfrey, Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyer focused a camera on his personal life, that, as time went by, become increasingly fascinating to many.
Indeed, after 14 years of media silence, Jackson decided in 1993 that it was OK to talk to Winfrey, whose interview with the pop star aired on ABC and was one of the most mesmerizing TV interviews ever broadcast. (We couldn’t find any legitimate version online, but click here for a transcript of that interview.)
Equally compelling were Jackson’s interviews with Walters and Sawyer—hightlights of those interviews aired on ABC’s Jackson special last night.