Tonight’s “Motown 60” special on CBS is a mixed bag. It’s certainly worth seeing, but what went on backstage and in the negotiations is far more interesting.
Back in 1983, the 25th anniversary of Motown was the place where Michael Jackson did his Moonwalk to “Billie Jean,” and became a monster celebrity forever. Contrast to this show, where Michael isn’t mentioned and the Jackson 5 are a footnote. It’s jaw dropping. In the Seventies, Motown lived off Michael and the Jacksons.
“Motown 60” features a repeat of Jennifer Lopez’s god awful Motown medley from the Grammy show in February. If you didn’t like it then, you won’t like it now. But to get Lopez, a “contemporary” star, on the Motown special, the producers had to give her a spot on the Grammys.
Ditto Diana Ross, who got a big spot on the Grammys and no one could figure out why. That was her trade off for doing the Motown show. Ross, even at 75, doesn’t want to seem like an oldies act– even though she is one. (A good one, mind you.) And her contribution to the Motown show was NO SUPREMES. So Diana sings from “Lady Sings the Blues.” She doesn’t go near the Supremes. (One Supremes song is sung in a medley by Meghan Trainor.)
But Ross’s NO SUPREMES decree may have backfired. During the taping, we saw clips from an interview with beloved ex-Supreme Mary Wilson. When the interviews were taped, Mary wasn’t dressed properly, had no make up or stylist. Mary, however, really knows the Motown history. Producer Ken Ehrlich saw that, and invited Mary back to L.A. from Las Vegas. Wise Ken re-interviewed Mary all dolled up, and paid all her expenses. We may see the fruit of that interview Sunday night.
What a nice thing to do considering Mary was among many Motown performers who were left out of the 60th anniversary show entirely. Some of them were in the audience– like Mary, Otis Williams of the Temptations, Scherrie Payne, who sang with the Supremes from 1973-78 — but were seated far away from Diana Ross and Motown founder Berry Gordy. Duke Fakir, the only living member of the original Four Tops, wasn’t even invited to the taping– and he was in L.A. Insane! Mary and Otis were treated very badly at the taping. They got their revenge last month when “Ain’t Too Proud,” Otis’s musical about the Temptations, opened on Broadway. Mary came in, too, and was given a huge shout out from the stage.
There’s no denying Berry Gordy’s amazing contribution to our culture with Motown. It’s astonishing. Gordy is 89, and he deserves a Kennedy Center honor. But Motown suffers from revisionist history all the time. If you want to know the real stories, you have to read out of print books like Gerri Hirshey’s “Nowhere to Run” or Mary Wilson’s “Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme.”
We’ll see what made the final cut for Sunday (tonight’s) show.