NBC, ABC specs go head-to-head Monday

TV’s gone wacko for Jacko: ABC and NBC are now planning competing two-hour Michael Jackson specials for Monday night.

Alphabet has worked out a deal with VH1 which will let ABC serve up a repeat of the high-rated Feb. 6 Granada TV-produced special “Living with Michael Jackson.” Cabler, which has always had U.S. repeat rights to the spec, still plans to rerun the special this weekend.

ABC will encore “Living with Michael” Monday from 9-11 p.m. as part of a full night of Jackomania. From 8-9 p.m., the net will air a special “PrimeTime” focusing on the latest controversies circling the self-proclaimed King of Pop.

In response to ABC’s move, NBC has decided to expand “Michael Jackson Unmasked” into a two-hour edition of “Dateline NBC” that will air from 9-11 Monday. The special “Dateline” had been set to air from 10-11 Monday, but Peacock programmers decided Jacko was too hot for a single hour.

“We’ve always had 90 minutes of material that we were condensing into an hour; it’s just as easy to go the other way (and expand to two hours),” NBC Entertainment prexy Jeff Zucker said.

Zucker said expanding “Dateline” was less a response to ABC and more a reaction to Fox’s “Joe Millionaire” finale, which is expected to dominate Monday’s ratings.

“Both these (specials) are going to get killed (by ‘Joe’),” he said. “I’d be totally wasting a ‘Third Watch,’ so the choice was a ‘Fear Factor’ repeat or to expand this Michael Jackson ridiculousness.

“This is clearly one of the most ridiculous sweeps in modern American TV history,” Zucker added.

Indeed, Jackomania continues later next week when Fox airs its two-hour rebuttal from Jackson featuring the singer’s own videotape of his Granada interview.

For its part, CBS is staying out of the Jackson action.

“It appears CBS may be the last frontier for scripted programming on Monday night,” said Chris Ender, senior VP of communications for the Eye.

(The WB and UPN will also stick to their scripted series on the night.)

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