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Same Old Television Script, Different Celebrity's Season

June 14, 2005|Paul Brownfield | Times Staff Writer

"Celebrity trumps everything -- everything," Marcia Clark said on CNN's "Paula Zahn Now," just hours after the not-guilty verdicts in the Michael Jackson trial were announced.

It sounded as if the O.J. Simpson verdict was still fresh in her mind. Clark, lead prosecutor in the Simpson trial, is blond now, her hair no longer in a tight perm. But otherwise it was deja vu all over again Monday in the land of celebrity-justice-on-TV -- the not-guilty verdict, the slow-moving SUVs, the overhead shots of the mansion, the fans lining the street as the motorcade went by.

And, of course, the media trying to touch the perp through the cage. Having long ago convicted him of weird behavior, with Jackson's assistance, they had been lying in wait for this moment, hunkered down in wine country for months now, their cameras barred from the proceedings, reduced to killing time during jury deliberations, as on Court TV last week, by interviewing the general manager of the Hitching Post, the restaurant made famous in "Sideways."

"I always try to have your fillet and the special artichokes," Court TV's Diane Dimond enthused. That's chief investigative editor Diane Dimond.

On Monday, Judgment Day, the money shot never really arrived.

It required Jackson, who was barely on camera. The jurors stole the show, in fact. In what increasingly seems like a TV culture of instant access, there they were, speaking reasonably and at times passionately about how they had reached their decisions.

It was a moment of sobriety on a day of ho-hum lunacy. On TV, the referendum on Jackson and his celebrity dropped away only briefly to cover live the jury's verdict. Jackson's life is so strange, so Willy Wonka-ish (a guilty verdict, it wasn't hard to imagine, would have yielded a slow-speed hot-air balloon chase over international waters) that it's easy to see how the arguments would just continue.

In the moment itself, the verdicts having been read and the SUVs caravaning back to Neverland, there was consternation and/or disappointment that Jackson hadn't shown any emotion.

Do we know, exactly, what emotion looks like on Michael Jackson's face? Still, it was expected that he would perform.

"Doesn't seem like a smile could have hurt us," Fox 11 News anchor John Beard said, as colleagues wondered if Jackson were in shock or, as one said: "He may be drugged, by the way -- I don't mean that illegally."

Yes, perhaps Jackson was floating on painkillers for his back pain. Back pain was the rationale behind the most indelible image of the trial, when Jackson, after a short hospitalization, showed up in court hours late and wearing blue pajamas.

The scrum of fans outside the Santa Maria courtroom looked no bigger nor more dramatic, really, than the crowd at the red carpet before the Academy Awards. Given the distance between the SUV disgorging Jackson and his posse and the entrance to the courtroom, it was the shortest red carpet ever.

"I saw chefs, I saw housekeepers walk to the front of the gate and pump their fists in triumph," CNN's Brooke Anderson said. This was afterward, back at Neverland, the roller coasters' flags no longer at half-staff.

The network's Anderson Cooper found himself interviewing Farida Garmani, a fan who'd released doves into the air outside the courtroom, one for each of the not-guilty verdicts.

"We all have a child within ourselves, and he really missed his childhood," Garmani said.

"Would you advise him not to sleep with little boys anymore?" Cooper countered.

It fell to the jurors, finally, to class up the joint on this day. Amazing what a judge's instruction not to watch news coverage of a trial can do.

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