Michael Jackson’s 2009 Halloween TV special that never was, but still could be!

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It’s that time of year again. That time when the King of Pop and his dancing ghouls rise triumphantly from the grave the to the top of digital music charts, thrilling fans – both old and new – all around the world.

It’s Halloween; one of Michael Jackson’s favourite festive occasions. It’s no secret that Jackson loved all things that Halloween is famous for; from the thrill of the spooky stuff to dressing up in disguises and costumes and even the candy.

“I love to trick or treat,” revealed Jackson in a 2001 interview. “I love dressing up like some kind of monster… and knocking on doors. Nobody knows it’s me and I get candy!”

“I missed out on Halloween for years and now I do it. It’s sweet to go door-to-door and people give you candy. We need more of that in the world. It brings the world together.”

“I always thought Halloween and ‘Thriller’ fit each other like a glove,” said Jackson in a 2008 statement about ‘Thrill The World’ – an international dance event held annually in late October in which participants simultaneously perform the zombie dance made famous by Jackson in his 1983 “Thriller” short film.

Thriller #1 on iTunes Music Video chart in the U.S.The track, “Thriller,” is the widely reported to be the biggest-selling Halloween-themed song in history. According to Nielsen SoundScan “Thriller” has sold in excess of 3.4 million digital downloads in the U.S. to-date, and it’s not stopping there!

Right now, today, the “Thriller” short film is #1 on numerous iTunes Music Videos charts around the world, including the U.S. (pictured above, left). The track also appears on multiple occasions on the Songs charts in most countries, including three different times within the iTunes U.S. top 100; at #21, #65, #97 and rising!

UPDATE: November 7, 2013 – “Thriller” has re-entered the Billboard Hot 100 this week at #42 after selling an astonishing 35,000 digital downloads in the U.S. alone. That takes the song’s overall American digital download tally to 3,472,000.

Halloween just wouldn’t be the same without “Thriller,” and “Thriller” has most definitely benefitted from Halloween. Like Jackson said, they fit each other like a glove.

Jackson's handwritten note

Halloween Television Special

When Michael Jackson signed on with AEG Live to perform a concert residency at London’s O2 Arena, his agreement to do the shows  came with a specific requirement; that AEG would also help him venture into movies.

One of the first things Jackson wanted to do was produce a Halloween television special focusing on his more horror-type music and film pieces; “Thriller” and “Ghosts”. To do this, Jackson had Randy Phillips set up a meeting between he and Grammy Award show producer Ken Ehrlich. Phillips and AEG’s Tim Leiweke joined the pair, along with Jackson’s manager Frank Dileo. The meeting took place before rehearsals on June 24th, 2009 at the Staples Centre – the day before Jackson died.

“When I saw him the night before he passed, we were having a meeting about another show; a Halloween project that Michael wanted to do with CBS,” Ehrlich recalls.

“Ken Ehrlich was to produce the show for Michael. It centered around the ‘Ghosts’ footage Michael had personally financed,” Randy Phillips told me today. “The intent was to create a yearly Halloween television special. Michael was going to host and perform on the show.”

"Who's doing sculpture for Halloween special"

Jackson had dreamed of re-introducing his 1996 musical masterpiece, “Ghosts,” to the world. With his dazzling “This Is It” tour bringing the focus back to him as an entertainer, October 2009 was shaping up to provide the ultimate platform for Jackson’s dream to come true.

“Ghosts” is a 40-minute film, co-written by Jackson with legendary horror writer Stephen King, and directed by Stan Winston. Jackson plays the roles of several characters in the film including; the fun-loving yet eccentric ‘Maestro’, the rude, ignorant, bigoted town ‘Mayor’ and the ‘Skeleton’. The characters are very different, but have one glaring thing in common – they all dance exactly like the King of Pop!

“The video contains some of the best, most inspired dancing of Jackson’s career,” said Stephen King in a moving piece published shortly after the entertainer’s death. “If you look at it, I think you’ll see why Fred Astaire called Jackson ‘a helluva mover’.”

See below “Michael Jackson’s Ghosts” film in full:

The first ‘Michael Jackson Halloween Special’ was to be broadcast on October 31, 2009 by CBS. This was perfect timing for all parties involved. By the time Halloween rolled around Jackson would be one month into a three-month break from the tour, so the positive PR and exposure would be warmly welcomed. The King of Pop’s final show of the tour’s first leg was scheduled for September 29, 2009. Jackson was not scheduled to return to the O2 stage until January 7, 2010 for the commencement of the second leg.

Because Jackson would not be on tour at the time of the broadcast, his performance for the special would have been sourced from a trove of high-definition footage AEG Live had planned to capture during the first leg.

It was planned that footage of the spectacular “Thriller”/”Ghosts”/”Threatened” portion of the live show would be edited as Jackson’s “performance” in the special, giving the home-viewing audience their first up-close glimpse of the superstar’s triumphant return to the stage, and the magnificent production on offer. This would be a excellent advertising for future ticket sales with AEG anticipating that the tour would proceed to residency in additional cities around the world.

“Michael was very happy. I solidified [the] Halloween special that he wanted,” explained Frank Dileo in an interview. “We laid out what we wanted to do with the film ‘Ghosts’, and what his participation was and he was acceptive of that. He was extremely happy.”

However unfortunately, the tour and the Halloween special weren’t to be, with Jackson passing away the day following his meeting – on June 25th, 2009.

See below the “Thriller” segment of the Sony/AEG/Estate film “This Is It”, crafted from footage that was filmed at Culver Studios as well as performances captured during Jackson’s rehearsals:

Four Halloweens have now passed since Jackson’s tragic death, and there has been no Halloween special to speak of. However, I personally believe there is a good enough argument in favour of The Estate commissioning the project’s resurrection – or at least something like it.

“Ghosts,” which would have been the centre-point of the CBS broadcast, is perhaps the most impressive piece of Jackson’s artistic body of work. I’m sure plenty of Michael Jackson fans around the world would love to see this film released in an official capacity, remastered in high-definition. And not only the film itself, but an extensive ‘making of’ documentary featuring all kinds of rare and unseen bonus footage.

And let’s not forget the fact that it was Michael himself who wanted to share “Ghosts” with the world. He had put the wheels in motion to make it happen, so there is no question over whether or not Michael would approved of its release.

Beyond the release of the “Ghosts” film, there are other ways The Estate could be capitalising on Halloween, while providing Jackson’s fans with something new and exciting to celebrate the occasion with. Things like megamixes, using a collection of similarly-themed Jackson tracks (eg. “Thriller”, “Is It Scary” and “Threatened”) could be released, along with the original tracks, as Halloween EPs. Judging by the chart positions of “Thriller” alone today, it’s clear that people are on the hunt for these types of songs on Halloween. So why not introduce those people to more from Michael Jackson?

Another thing that could be done is to revisit a track that Jackson was looking forward to releasing as a single, with a short film, but was never able to. The song I’m talking about is “Threatened”.

On October 26, 2001 Jackson took part in an online audio chat sponsored by Get Music and Rolling Stone, answering fans’ questions over the phone. During the interview Jackson was asked if there were any tracks on the ‘Invincible’ album that he wanted to release as singles and create short films for.

“Absolutely,” responded Jackson. “There’s like an array of, an encyclopedia of just great short films to make from the album. It’s very exciting. I can’t wait to do ‘Threatened’. It’s a kind of scary one with Rod Serling from the Twilight Zone. I can’t wait to get my hands on that one.”

Alas, just like the Halloween TV special for CBS, Jackson never got the chance to create a short film for “Threatened”. It could still happen. Just like the CBS special or the release of the “Ghosts” film could. But will it? Who knows? Only time will tell.

I’ll leave you with a fantastic fan-made short film for the song “Threatened” made up of a combination of clips taken from classic horror movies mixed visuals from supernatural-themed short films released during Jackson’s life – including both “Thriller” and “Ghosts”.

Follow Damien Shields on Facebook and Twitter to stay up-to-date with Michael Jackson-related news.

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