CBS hitches wagon to Jackson gravy train

Friday, January 2, 2004

Pop culture rubberneck alert: The once-canceled musical special "Michael Jackson's Number Ones" (7 p.m., CBS) has been rescheduled and will appear tonight. That's funny -- way back in November, when CBS decided to drop "Ones" from its sweeps lineup, the network solemnly announced, "We will consider broadcasting the special after the due process of the legal system runs its course."

Has the due process of the legal system "run its course?" Not unless you consider an arrest, indictment on seven counts of child molestation and an appearance on "60 Minutes" to be its course.

The legal/entertainment freak-show trial of Michael Jackson has just begun, and CBS does not want to miss out on the ratings gravy train. Sunday's "60 Minutes" interview will certainly win Ed Bradley the Poli-Grip award for toothless journalism.

Jackson was given an opportunity to tell his side of the story, compare children he sleeps with "to the face of God," and imply that he can cure cancer, all without any tough questioning from Bradley. Contrast that interview with the "60 Minutes" tradition of hidden-camera exposes and the ambush tactics that earned Mike Wallace the reputation as the last guy that an indicted man wanted to meet.

Jackson was given free rein to portray himself as a victim of police brutality. And just as he began to feel tired and cranky and cut short his interview, he blamed his slow album sales on a "conspiracy." How could Bradley let him leave with that weird cheap shot? I've seen more probing interviews on "Entertainment Tonight."

Tonight's other highlights

Late night

Madonna and Chris Elliott appear on "Late Show with David Letterman" (10:35 p.m., CBS) ... Jay Leno welcomes Bill Maher and Mandy Moore on "The Tonight Show" (10:35 p.m., NBC).