Jackson tries to reign again on TV

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Television has been good to Michael Jackson. His breathtaking appearance on the "Motown 25" special in 1983 was one of the great pop music moments in TV history -- the night he captivated the imagination of the pop world with the moonwalk.

As you watched him glide backward so effortlessly, your first instinct was to suspect some trick was involved, possibly a moving runway beneath him.

He came back a few months later with a series of videos from "Thriller" that propelled him to a popularity level so high that his claim to be the King of Pop was legitimate.

But that was then, and tonight's two-hour "Michael Jackson: 30th Anniversary Special" (9 p.m. CBS) is now. Jackson is a magnificent talent, but he has gone through so many personal and professional trials in recent years that in this special he is like a man on trial.

The question is whether he still deserves the crown -- and the drama involved gives the show a curious tension.

Taped during two nights in September at Madison Square Garden, the concert event has the feel of a royal affair, with Jackson sitting alongside friends including Elizabeth Taylor and Macauley Culkin, watching a variety of contemporary pop stars, from Whitney Houston and Destiny's Child to Marc Anthony and 'N Sync, pay tribute to him by offering versions of his songs.

After that long intro, Jackson takes the stage with his brothers and then by himself in hopes that lightning will striking twice. But it's a strain. It's fun to hear everything from the Jackson 5's "ABC" to "Thriller's" "Billie Jean" again, but the whole thing feels dated. And when Jackson tries to step into 2001 with "You Rock My World," a track from his new "Invincible" album, there are no sparks. For Jackson, this is no crowning achievement.

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