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Jackson Talk: Industry Split on PR Power

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Was Michael Jackson’s TV coming out an unprecedented public relations coup or the desperate act of a falling star?

While 90 million viewers may be still wrestling with what exactly to make of this eccentric superstar, entertainment industry insiders were mostly abuzz Thursday about the effectiveness of the Oprah Winfrey special--Jackson’s first TV interview in 14 years.

Among those who give Jackson high marks:

* “I thought it was a brilliant stroke of public relations. All of us have thought of him as this brilliant and reclusive entertainer . . . rather than a human being. This showed how fragile he can be . . . how sensitive. If he was going to do one thing to come out of his shell, this was the thing, and she (Winfrey) was the person to do it.” --Murray Weissman, partner, Weissman/Angellotti public relations firm.

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* “It was a good move on his part. It enabled people to learn more about his abusive childhood, and I think he learned that by staying reclusive in the ‘80s, it allowed the tabloids to create all kinds of stories about him.

“Will he sell more records? No. What he is doing is establishing more of a personal bond with his fans. That won’t necessarily make him a bigger star."--Ron Rodrigues, managing editor, Radio & Records trade publication.

* “I’m not a big fan of Michael Jackson, so the show didn’t mean much to me, but I think it probably went over very well with Michael’s fans. They had heard so much about him, all the rumors about how strange he was, and the show let them relate to him a little better. I think it’ll help him a lot in the long run because it makes him seem more accessible, more like a real person."--Russell Simmons, head of Def Jam Records and manager of numerous rap acts.

* “Fantastic! People got a nice insight."--Shep Gordon, manager of Luther Vandross, Kenny Loggins and Alice Cooper.

Not everyone agreed.

Among the unimpressed:

* “They tried to make him seem like a normal guy, but the program made him seem even wackier than before. When he talked about art and music, he came across great.

“But when (Oprah) asked about his skin and surgery, the bogus answers seemed silly and rehearsed."--Howie Klein, vice president of Sire Records.

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* “I don’t feel I got to know him. It was like Madonna’s ‘Truth or Dare’ (movie) . . . all orchestrated."--Jackie Holland, personal assistant, Rob Kahane Entertainment, a management firm whose clients include George Michael.

* “I think it bespeaks a desperation on his part. In his own way, he’s a very private individual, and I have no doubt that he had to venture out for coldblooded business purposes."--Bill Adler, New York rap publicist.

* “It won’t have any bearing on his career. It’s over; everybody knows it. He’s like ‘The Phantom of the Opera.’ It all seemed so insincere."--comedian Paul Mooney, whose album “Race” includes comments on the Jackson family.

Surprisingly, several of the insiders surveyed didn’t even tune in the 90-minute special. But at least one was still willing to weigh in an opinion:

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* “I forgot to watch it. I’m sure it was stupid."--Bob Merlis, head of public relations for Warner Bros. Records.

Robin Rauzi contributed to this story.


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