Michael Jackson may have been the king of pop, but he was also responsible for some of the most indelible TV moments of the past quarter-century. (And I'm not counting his Jackson 5 appearances on the Ed Sullivan show.) Here are some highlights:
* If there was a moment that made Jackson a superstar, it was his May 1983 appearance on the NBC special "Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever." He wore a fedora and one glove, sang "Billie Jean," and introduced the moonwalk to a crossover audience of slack-jawed suburban kids and their parents. Junior high dances were never the same after that.
* MTV once named "Thriller" the greatest music video of all time, and despite the cheesy makeup and the horrible acting and the I-don't-endorse-the-occult disclaimer, it's probably the truth. The 13-minute behemoth wasn't especially good -- though that final zombie dance was certainly influential -- but it proved how important music videos had become. I still remember staying up late to watch the world premiere on NBC's "Friday Night Videos" in December 1983. (Disclosure: I was 12.) And I think I must have seen the hourlong "Making Michael Jackson's Thriller" documentary 150 times.
* If there's one thing you remember about the 1985 video for the goopy tribute song "We Are the World" -- co-written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie -- it's The Pan. The sole fancy shot was the slow pan up Jackson's entire body, from his sparkling socks to his glittery glove to his brocaded jacket to his serious, world-saving face. In a roomful of stars wearing sweatshirts and bad '80s sweaters, he was the brightest light, uncontested, and dressed accordingly.
* Thanks to heavy rotation on MTV, I can recite lines from "The Jacksons: An American Dream," the 1995 film about the beleaguered boys in the Jackson 5, starring Angela Bassett as Michael's mom. Watching this fictionalized version of a talented boy with a lost childhood somehow made all of the real-life weirdness make more sense.
* Not even the Real Housewives of New Jersey go on shopping sprees like the one Jackson showed us in Martin Bashir's shocking and strange documentary, "Living With Michael Jackson," which aired on ABC in 2003. It's probably most famous for helping to spark his child molestation trial -- since Jackson said he let boys who visited his ranch sleep in his bed -- and for the images of his two sons, wearing masks to preserve their anonymity. But the part seared in my memory is his breezy trip through a Las Vegas furniture, when he cheerily pointed to one over-the-top statue after another, and apparently bought them all.
* We didn't get to see much of the Jackson's actual 2005 molestation trial, but we did see the media circus that surrounded it -- and we got E!s strange, low-budget reenactments of each day's events, in which the judge was played by a guy who had been a Vulcan on Star Trek. Then we all got to gather around our TV sets, O.J.-style, to hear the verdict.
* Thursday was another collective TV experience, as people gathered in living rooms across the country to process Jackson's shocking death. In the first hours after the news broke, without much information to go on, the cable TV anchors spent their time revisiting Jackson's career, playing his music, showing clips of his great television moments and his ever-changing face. The images were just as compelling as ever.
About Viewer Discretion
ContributorsMatthew Gilbert is the Globe's TV critic.
Sarah Rodman is a staff TV and music critic for the Boston Globe.
Michael Brodeur is the assistant arts editor for the Boston Globe, covering pop music, TV, and nightlife.
Katie McLeod is Boston.com's features editor.
Rachel Raczka is a producer for Lifestyle and Arts & Entertainment at Boston.com.
Emily Wright is an Arts & Entertainment producer at Boston.com.