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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 June, 2005, 07:08 GMT 08:08 UK
Michael Jackson: Trial of the century?
Michael Jackson's court case was expected to be the "trial of the century" - but after just three months and few of the promised celebrity witnesses, has it lived up to its billing?

Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson did not give evidence himself
There are few stars more famous than Michael Jackson and few charges more serious than sexually abusing a young boy.

Yet there is a sense that the singer's trial has not caught the public's interest as much as many had expected.

"Forget the century, it wasn't even the cultural story of the spring," says Robert Thompson, professor of popular culture and director for the centre for the study of popular television at Syracuse University.

"It turns out more people were talking about American Idol by a long shot."

The assumption that 24-hour news channels would go into a constant "Michael cycle" was wrong, he explains.

Actor Edward Moss as Michael Jackson in court reconstruction
TV reconstructions have been filmed in the absence of real footage
"It turns out that as a massive news story over here, as another trial of the century, it really didn't live up to it. It was no OJ, by any stretch of the imagination."

For news channel CNN, there has been big interest in what is "a very important story on many different levels", according to Nick Wrenn, managing editor of CNN Europe, Middle East and Africa.

"There's been a fair degree of coverage - but not the kind of wall-to-wall you would have expected. Certainly not the kind of coverage we saw with the OJ Simpson trial."

That is partly because Judge Rodney Melville refused to let the trial be televised, saying he did not want it to become a "circus".

So, reconstructions aside, people have been unable to get hooked on following the soap opera-like drama in their living rooms every night.

When the OJ Simpson case became a media event as well as a murder trial 10 years ago, action such as Simpson trying on a pair of blood-stained gloves in court kept viewers hooked.

But this time, there has been little on-screen excitement, except Mr Jackson shuffling into court in his pyjamas.

"Even if there was complete access to cameras in the court, I still don't think this would have reached that [OJ-like] level of cultural penetration," Prof Thompson says.

Previous accusations

"What was happening in the courtroom was not that new or all that interesting to people who had been hearing about this Michael Jackson business since 1992 when the first accusation came in."

In the courtroom, there has been some drama amid proceedings that have ranged from the banal to the surreal.

But it has not been compelling enough for most ordinary observers to want to read or hear blow-by-blow accounts every day.

The dramatic moments included appearances by former wife Debbie Rowe, actor Macaulay Culkin and Janet Arvizo, mother of Mr Jackson's teenage accuser Gavin.

Court TV correspondent Diane Dimond outside Michael Jackson trial
TV correspondents have been camped outside the court
Gavin and his brother Star described the alleged abuse - but such detail made many want to squirm in discomfort rather than discuss it with friends.

"There hasn't been a great deal of appetite for some of the quite graphic nature of the evidence that's been coming out," Mr Wrenn says.

"People have been inclined to switch off rather than switch on because it's been a bit too sordid."

For Mr Jackson, keeping up his performance and image became less important as the trial went on, and he chose not to take the stand in what would have been a fascinating finale.

But his image has become so bizarre that few people are shocked by anything he does any more.

And on the other side, the Arvizo family were not easy for the public to relate to or sympathise with either.

Mr Jackson was not the only celebrity missing from the witness stand.

Stars barred

At the start of the trial, we were promised stars including Elizabeth Taylor, Diana Ross and Stevie Wonder would come to defend their friend.

But the judge decided not to allow character witnesses, restricting the celebrity count to just Culkin, Jay Leno and Chris Tucker.

Although the trial has not gripped the global audience, it has still not been far from the top of the news agenda.

Mr Wrenn says viewers wanted to know about the main evidence, but not "a drip, drip, drip daily update".

CNN has "got that bit right", he says. But Prof Thompson adds the media as a whole has still given the story more time than it deserves.

"Even the amount of Michael Jackson coverage that was given was disproportionately large given its importance in any kind of rational journalistic universe," he says.


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