Thursday, May 23, 2024

“Motown 60” TV Special: Smokey, Stevie, Diana, But Nary a Mention of Michael Jackson or the Jackson 5 Plus Lionel Richie Drops Out


When they edit together the three hour “Motown 60” for CBS (to air in April) it will have some brilliant moments and some headscratchers.

Mary Wilson, still Supreme

Just about completely missing from the show is anything about the Jackson 5 or Michael Jackson. I found it stunning that there was no nod to Michael’s Moonwalk from the 1983 “Motown 25” show. It felt like the producers of tonight’s show– taped at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles– missed a poignant opportunity to feature the Jacksons (Jermaine, Marlon, Jackie, Tito) as adults. One can only surmise that with the current Michael documentary airing soon on HBO, CBS wanted nothing to do with him. At least Michael’s face was shown in the In Memoriam section.

There were many other glaringly weird things going on at the show, but let’s concentrate on the good stuff. Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson demonstrated why they are premiere artists. The whole show could have been about them and it would be fine. Diana Ross was in fine voice but they will have to cut her fawning over Berry Gordy, which was surreal.

A surprise blast from the past was Thelma Houston, who kind of stole the show singing her massive 1977 hit “Don’t Leave Me This Way.” You will want to see that.

There are also two excellent filmed segments– one with the Motown writers Valerie Simpson, Eddie Holland-Lamont Dozier-Brian Holland, and Mickey Stevenson, along with Smokey. It’s the one time the show feels real. There’s also a very good filmed piece on the racism Motown groups encountered when they toured the South.

There are some things that would be best left on the cutting room floor including pieces with Cedric the Entertainer, and an audience karaoke segment that I thought was a waste of time– considering that many legacy Motown performers were in the audience, didn’t sing, and weren’t introduced including Mary Wilson of the Supremes and Otis Williams of the Temptations.

Again, when it’s all put together, “Motown 60” will look seamless, I’m sure. But where was Lionel Richie? I’m told he dropped out at the last minute. Gladys Knight is also not mentioned despite a run of massive hits like “Neither one of Us” and “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.” Well, you can’t have everything.

Despite the politics and scandals, one thing is true. Berry Gordy stamped his label “Motown” and invented a signal term for a kind of popular music. No one ever says ‘let’s put some on Columbia or RCA or Capitol Records.’ They say let’s hear some Motown. Six decades later, that’s quite a legacy.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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