Unmasking the king of pop

Times Staff Writer

Fans wondered about singer Michael Jackson's bizarre behavior and even stranger appearance late last year, when he showed up to a court date with an obvious bandage peeling off his nose, and later dangled his baby son over a balcony in Germany as fans below gasped.

The newsmagazine "Dateline NBC" wondered, too, and began planning a one-hour February sweeps special on the pop star, to air Feb. 17, a night when "Dateline" isn't normally seen.

NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker, apparently misspeaking, announced Friday that the show would be called "Michael Jackson's Face," spurring speculation over what new information the newsmagazine had that would justify a full hour on that very specific, though ever-changing, subject. In fact, however, the program is called "Michael Jackson Unmasked."

Although his morphing visage is not the sole topic of the hour, "the changing face of Michael Jackson is probably a very good metaphor," said David Corvo, the executive producer of "Dateline," who declined to offer any specifics about what the show is unmasking.

"Dateline" started looking into Jackson after the Germany incident, Corvo said. "Even just a few years ago, he was the biggest-selling artist of all time, recognized as a great pop artist, critically and commercially successful. But over the last few years, what he's been doing offstage seems to have completely overwhelmed what he's doing on stage."

The show has talked to friends and colleagues about the topic. "He has people who are very loyal to him and believe very much in him and he has people who shake their heads and feel that there's a great talent there, which is one thing everyone agrees on. The question is, can he get back to being that person?" Corvo said.

"We've got enough material to tell the story," he added. What the show doesn't have, however, is an interview with Jackson, although the request has been made.

An attorney for Jackson said Friday the singer's camp had no comment on the television show or its topic. Jackson's spokesman, Bob Jones, couldn't be reached for comment.

Jackson's face will likely be addressed.

"One of the issues with Michael Jackson is people's fascination with his changing looks. What does that say about him?" Corvo said, but added, "We're not looking for a medical investigation."

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