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! The 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  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 candy to the thrill of the spooky stuff to dressing up in all kinds of disguises and costumes.

“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.”

Michael Jackson dressed as a surgeon for Halloween.

Michael Jackson dressed as a surgeon for Halloween.

“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.“Thriller” is the widely reported to be among the biggest-selling Halloween-themed songs in music history. According to Nielsen SoundScan, as of 2013 the track has sold more than 3.4 million digital downloads in the U.S. alone  and it’s not stopping there!

Right now, today (October 31, 2013), 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 on three separate occasions within the U.S. iTunes Top 100: #21, #65 and #97.

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 has certainly 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 landmark horror-inspired film, Ghosts. To do this, AEG boss Randy Phillips set up a meeting between he, Jackson, and Grammy Award show producer Ken Ehrlich. AEG’s Tim Leiweke and Jackson’s manager Frank Dileo joined the trio for the meeting, which took place before rehearsals on June 24th, 2009 at the Staples Centre  the day before Jackson was killed.

“When I saw him the night before he passed, we were having a meeting about 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 via email 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 the This Is It tour bringing the public’s focus back to Jackson as an entertainer, October 2009 was shaping up to provide the ultimate platform for the superstar’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 This Is It tour. 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.

“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.”

Tragically, the This Is It 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, edited together from footage filmed at Culver Studios, as well as from 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.

Michael Jackson’s Ghosts, which would have been the centre-point of the CBS broadcast, is among the most impressive pieces 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.

Then you have the platform of home movie — or these days, streaming. Jackson himself wanted both the Ghosts film and Making Of to be rolled out on DVD according to a 2001 interview.

“Do you have any plans of releasing [Ghosts] as a DVD?” Jackson was asked. “Yes, it will be released as a DVD in its entirety, and some of The Making of Ghosts,” he answered. “That was one of my most favourite things I’ve ever done, because it’s been a dream of mine for a long time to do something scary but comical at the same time. It’s all the elements. [It’s] just fun. Because I don’t want to scare people to the point where they’re afraid to go to sleep. I want it to have a little twist of humour. And within the laugher there is a tear, you know? It’s fun, you know.”

Jackson’s 2001 wishes for a home movie release were never brought to fruition.

Beyond the release of the Ghosts film, there are other ways the Estate and could be capitalising on Halloween, while providing Jackson’s fans with something new and exciting to celebrate the occasion with. Things like mega-mixes, using a collection of similarly-themed Jackson tracks (i.e. “Thriller,” “Is It Scary,” “Threatened” etc.) could be released, along with the original tracks, as Halloween EPsJudging 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?

NOTE: Since the publication of this article the Estate and Sony have released Scream — an album containing some, but not all, of Jackson’s spooky-themed songs, along with a number of completely irrelevant tracks. They have also produced an animated film, Michael Jackson’s Halloween, using Jackson’s music.

What Michael wanted (top) vs what his Estate delivered (bottom)

What Michael wanted (top) vs what his Estate delivered (bottom)

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” from Jackson’s 2001 Invincible album.

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 an array… an encyclopedia of 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 Twitter to stay up-to-date with Michael Jackson-related news.

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