This article by SCOTT STEEPLETON, NEWS-PRESS ASSISTANT METRO EDITOR is reprinted from the Santa Barbara News Press.
Cameras are barred from the courtroom where Michael Jackson sits accused of molesting a teenage boy, but that hasn’t stopped E! Entertainment Television from going “inside” the trial.
The cable network known for puff pieces on plastic surgeons, the Barbi Twins, and the Hilton sisters has tapped a man who parodied the King of Pop in “Scary Movie 3″ to re-enact what goes on in the courtroom for a show called “E! News Presentation: The Michael Jackson Trial.”
Think of it as the next best thing to being there.
Hosted by Court TV’s James Curtis, the show promises a daily dose of the trial in a form like no other, from a set resembling the Santa Maria courtroom to look-alike actors portraying the key players to a script straight from the participants’ mouths.
Re-enactments of famous trials are nothing new, but the original perhaps was a series of daily commentaries on the 1935 Lindbergh kidnapping trial by Bruno Hauptmann’s defense lawyer Samuel Leibowitz. The broadcasts, tapes of which were discovered in 2003, are described by the Museum of Television and Radio as the only known radio coverage of the “trial of the century.”
Seventy years later, Michael Jackson is the focus of a new trial of the century. Presenting a re-enactment is old hat for E! The network gave similar treatment to portions of the O.J. Simpson civil trial, which followed the football great’s acquittal in the murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ron Goldman.
The Jackson show, co-produced by British satellite TV provider BSkyB, debuted Monday — opening day for opening statements — meaning that the re-enactment didn’t begin until Tuesday’s episode.
If you missed it, the judge appears more stern and the prosecutor less righteously indignant than their real-life counterparts, Rodney Melville and Tom Sneddon, respectively, while the actor in lead defense attorney Tom Mesereau’s role comes off as unsure of himself.
Then there’s Ed Moss, the man who plays the King of Pop. He was believable in “Scary Movie 3,” where he did a riff on a scene from the 2001 Nicole Kidman film “The Others” that happened so fast you thought he was the real thing.
But in the E! production, the camera lingers and he seems almost hulking.
One thing the show has going for itself is that it leaves you wanting more. At only 30 minutes and including commentary from host Curtis and legal experts Howard Weitzman, who represented Mr. Jackson in an unrelated matter; Rikki Klieman, author and attorney; and Shawn Chapman Holley, managing partner of the Cochran Firm in Los Angeles, there’s little time for the trial — and isn’t that what the viewer wants?
The show is drawing praise from people in the industry.
“This is certainly a lesson in advanced media,” Shelly Palmer, chairman of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Advanced Media Committee’s New York chapter, wrote in his Internet blog. “Transcribing a day of testimony, creating a script, casting, shooting, editorial, post, master, cut promos and ship . . . basically overnight . . . Hey guys . . . nice job!”
He told the News-Press on Wednesday, “This comes under the category of ‘disposable’ television. It is to be consumed like Twinkies are consumed.”
While Mr. Palmer is most interested in how a production is done rather than how much praise might be heaped upon it by critics, he says the immediacy of this show is “creepy.”
“Are you watching a fake trial or an historical re-enactment? Are they bringing you into the courtroom or sensationalizing an already sensational event? Can the highlights of a day in court be cut down to a meaningful half-hour that doesn’t have an editorial point of view?”
With so little time to prepare for each day’s episode, the actors most likely will bring their characters to life by trying to think like them, said Lorrie Hull, a Santa Barbara acting coach and former senior faculty member for Method acting visionary Lee Strasberg’s Theatre Institute.
Making “Michael Jackson” believable, although at this point he does little more than sit at the defense table, could be most difficult of all.
“If you’re going to do this character, you have to believe in his innocence and that he is being set up,” said Ms. Hull. “You might think ‘Gosh, did they ever set me up! How did I get myself into this?’ “