10.31.09

Don't Be Fooled—This Isn't It

This Is It, the new Michael Jackson documentary, is a sensation. But what fans don't realize is that the film was only one part of a grander comeback scheme orchestrated by Jackson himself.

On March 6, Michael Jackson appeared before cameras in London wearing a fanciful black-and-white brocade costume, his makeup perfectly applied to his surgically sculpted face, his glossy black wig styled so it covered most of the sides of his face and fell gently onto the top of his shoulders.

“This is it… really… This is it!” he said to the gathered media and fans at London’s O 2 arena as he announced his 10-concert comeback tour.

One promoter says the singer told him he had 100 ready-to-go unreleased songs.

At the time Jackson made the heavily publicized announcement, he didn’t believe what he was saying. And neither did anyone else who was in the know. It was all meant as a marketing mantra. And it worked.

Even though he had already secretly signed a contract to do as many as 50 concerts, and not just the 10 concerts he announced that day, Michael Jackson told the world, “This is the final curtain call. I’ll see you in July.”

Instead, on June 25, the public saw, via the TV program Entertainment Tonight, the only picture snapped of Jackson as he was taken out of his rental home in Holmsby Hills, California, for the final time. Splayed on a paramedic’s stretcher, Jackson’s eyes were closed, his face looked waxen, and there was a bulky cuff around his neck. Emergency workers called to the scene were quoted as saying they believed he was already dead when they arrived. His personal physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, will almost certainly be charged in Jackson’s death by the end of the year.

On announcement day in March, in England, it was all the usual showbiz smoke and mirrors. By adopting the “This is it!” battlecry, Jackson’s promoters assured a fan frenzy. The faithful were led to believe it would be the absolute last time they’d get to see their idol in concert and tickets, predictably, sold like hotcakes.

But it was all a ruse. As one L.A.-based music executive said, “The music industry learned long ago this is a good gimmick to ensure sold-out venues. Remember Cher’s retirement or Led Zeppelin’s, The Who, and Barbara Streisand? They all came back again.”

This Is It, the new Michael Jackson documentary, is a no-surprise sensation. But while fans view it as a posthumous tribute to the King of Pop, what they don't realize is that This Is It was only one part of a grander comeback scheme orchestrated by Jackson himself.

According to insiders, the real "This Is It" plan was not a single film, but a three-year rollout to rehabilitate Jackson's deteriorated image. It was to be a launching point to re-energize a career crippled by child-molestation allegations, Jackson’s bizarre nomadic post-acquittal behavior, and persistent reports of his drug abuse.

The concert tour would start in London, but the long-term master plan was to take it to other cities in Europe and Asia as well. By the year 2011, with his reputation as a superstar firmly refurbished, Jackson would triumphantly begin to tour the United States.

A massive part of the profit from the concerts would have come from the high-definition video taken at each performance. All the video from the L.A. rehearsals and the London concerts was to be fashioned into a blockbuster theatrical release which promised to bring in countless millions more. The strategy also called for later DVD home sales of the movie, a CD box set, and all the predictable merchandising.

New Jersey-based concert promoter Patrick Allocco of AllGood Entertainment, a man who had direct dealings with Michael Jackson, says, “Anything you could put Michael Jackson’s image on was already being offered the minute he made that announcement in London. T-shirts, coffee mugs, key fobs, glasses…there was even a little doggie carrier for sale.” An energized Michael Jackson Web site component would help sell all the in-demand merch.

Over the years Jackson got mileage out of the public (and music industry executives) underestimating his business acumen. Far from being solely an artist, as he so often portrayed himself, Jackson was actually one of the shrewdest businessmen in the music business. When he was on his game, that is. And all indications were that he was in the thick of planning and approving nearly every step of the "This Is It” business plan.

His longtime PR guru, the late Bob Jones, once told me that whatever kind of business contract Michael Jackson signed, he was instructed to announce it to the public by adding a zero.

“So the one million dollar deal automatically became a 10 million dollar deal,” Jones explained to me. He says Jackson believed that inflating his own worth meant the next deal that came his way would likely be presented with an extra zero already added in. Jones also revealed that the stories about Jackson sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber and attempting to buy the Elephant Man bones weren’t true, but ordered up by Jackson to insure riotous publicity. He was a master of PR machinations.

The exact catalyst for getting Jackson energized about his career again is unknown, but it almost certainly had to do with his dire financial straits. He hadn’t released a new hit record in more than a decade, he’d lost his Neverland Ranch, and according to reports, he’d had his heart set on buying a Las Vegas estate that he couldn’t afford. And then there were his children. They’d never seen Daddy in his full-superstar persona, performing live in front of huge stadiums full of fans. Sources told me Jackson very much wanted his children to see him in that milieu.

Now the world gets a very different Michael Jackson legacy. We get This Is It, the movie, whittled down from the 120 hours of only rehearsal footage. Makes one shrug and think, this is it?

The highly promoted movie is nothing compared to what Michael Jackson had in mind when he picked the “This Is It” theme. The film’s posters brag that it’s Jackson “like you’ve never seen him before,” but Jackson himself would surely have been disappointed in the movie, no matter how artistically the rehearsal footage has been edited. Jackson, the perfectionist, did not have final control of this product and that, in itself, would have been unacceptable to him. So one has to wonder what the executors of his carefully guarded estate are planning for the future, because we all know this movie isn’t really “it.”

Promoter Allocco says the singer told him he had 100 ready-to-go unreleased songs. “Look, Michael Jackson can obviously earn more money in death than he did during the last years of his life. If he really did leave all those songs, they can release CDs for years to come. It will make the family millions and millions of dollars.”

But Allocco, who is embroiled in a breach-of-contract lawsuit with Jackson’s estate, has an intriguing idea that could ensure the “This Is It” slogan is firmly relegated to the rearview mirror—turn it into “This Is Now!”

His idea centers on a high-tech holographic technique he’s been testing for use with other musical groups. It creates a live-action, full-body 3-D image on stage, alone or alongside live performers. It’s like watching a movie with the added choreographed component of live dancers and singers performing around the image.

“Get a Las Vegas residency,” Allocco explains, “and bill it as ‘Michael Jackson Live—The Holographic Experience!’ Who wouldn’t want to go see that?” Promoters could add in other sure-draw entertainers to sing duets with the late King of Pop. (Sorry, Jermaine, you’re not on the list.)

That kind of cutting-edge idea seems like it would be exactly what Michael Jackson would embrace. Now, it’s up to the men he named as his executors—the protectors of his image and likeness—to set the plan in motion.

Imagine—Michael Jackson back on a stage doing what he was born to do, only this time doing it in death. Talk about enduring through all eternity.

Plus: Check out more of the latest entertainment, fashion, and culture coverage on Sexy Beast—photos, videos, features, and Tweets.

Investigative journalist and syndicated columnist Diane Dimond has covered the Michael Jackson story since 1993 when she first broke the news that the King of Pop was under investigation for child molestation. She is author of the book, Be Careful Who You Love—Inside the Michael Jackson Case. She lives in New York with her husband, broadcast journalist, Michael Schoen.