Captivating, fascinating, entertaining in a weird way

February 11, 1993|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

It was unprecedented television: 90 minutes of prime time during a sweeps ratings period for a sit-down interview with a talking head.

But then, the head belongs to Michael Jackson, who granted the interview to the almost-as-famous Oprah Winfrey last night on ABC.

With Mr. Jackson on a publicity blitz trying to improve his image, the live show had a tremendous potential for Mr. Jackson's hustling ABC for 90 minutes of free promotion for his new music video, which, by the way, was unveiled last night.

But Ms. Winfrey, playing video psychotherapist, got Mr. Jackson on the couch right away, talking about beatings from his father and his skin's getting whiter, and it made for fascinating television.

"Are you bleaching your skin?" she asked Mr. Jackson.

"I have a skin disorder that destroys the pigmentation," Mr. Jackson replied, starting to cry. "It's something I can't help. It's a problem, but I can't help it."

"Why do you always grab your crotch?" Ms. Winfrey asked a few minutes later. "We think you got a thing with your crotch."

"It's the music that compels me to do that. You don't think about it. . . . I'm a slave to the rhythm."

Ms. Winfrey asked a lot of the right questions in her schmooze-'em-up, I'm-your-friend style, even if she didn't get great answers.

"Do you date?" she asked.

"Yes," Mr. Jackson said.

"Who?" she said, trying to bore in.

"Right now? Brooke Shields," he said.

"Are you a virgin?" she continued, moving right along.

"How can you ask that question?" Mr. Jackson replied, starting to act hurt. "I'm a gentleman."

"What does that mean? Does that mean you're a virgin?"

"It's something that's private. You can call me old-fashioned. I'm embarrassed."

Ms. Winfrey didn't ask Mr. Jackson why he was wearing more lipstick than she was last night.

She only dipped her toe into the waters of sexual orientation, asking Jackson whether he planned to marry and have children. For the record, he said he did.

Mr. Jackson sang. Mr. Jackson danced. Mr. Jackson proved that the moon walk is not done with mirrors.

Mr. Jackson said he "tried to imitate Jesus" in being "innocent as the little children." At least half of Mr. Jackson's recollections and anecdotes last night ended with his saying "I was so sad I cried" or "I was so happy I cried."

Ms. Winfrey brought on Elizabeth Taylor, who said Mr. Jackson is the "least weird man" she knows.

"Weird" is not a bad word to describe last night's TV experience.

"I guess we cleared up all the rumors," Ms. Winfrey said in closing.

In her dreams. The interview raised more questions than it answered. But it was irresistible TV in its own weird way.

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