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Jackson comes back swinging

Michael Jackson has done something that even he might find bizarre: He has single-handedly resurrected the prime-time documentary, thus making him a spiritual heir to revered journalistic names such as Murrow, Cronkite, Newman and Stossel.

In fact, Jackson has given this tired television format a new face and a new look Ñ aspects with which Jacko obviously has some experience.

But there's more to it than that. He has done what no person, no war, no burning issue, no final episode of 'Joe Millionaire' has ever done. Only Jackson could have brought about a brand-new programming trend: dueling documentaries.

On Thursday, Fox (it just had to be Fox, didn't it?) airs a two-hour special 'Michael Jackson Take 2: The Interview They Wouldn't Show You.' It's Jackson's rebuttal to ABC's '20/20' airing the documentary 'Living With Michael Jackson,' which just happened to be that week's most-watched TV program when it ran two weeks ago, attracting 27 million wide-eyed viewers.

After the Feb. 6 program, the ABC Web site showed a 37 percent increase in traffic, proving conclusively that during a time of national jitters, there's nothing like star power. Or perhaps it's simply that there's an untapped and unquenchable appetite for information about a 44-year-old man who likes to relax by sitting up in a tree.

No idiot, that Jacko. He rolled his own video of the interviews conducted by Martin Bashir for the original documentary. (The networks call them 'specials' because 'documentary' conjures up something a little more serious than a man with a Ferris wheel in his back yard.) Airing the outtakes from the first show will, Jackson believes, put him in a better light and show people that his lifestyle isn't that odd after all.

By sucking up to Jackson and telling him that he has a great relationship with his children, Bashir was able to squeeze out the admission that Jackson slept with kids who weren't his own. It's an old reporter trick and a sleazy one at that: Heap compliment upon compliment on the subject, hoping he'll think he's got a friend and confidant. When the story comes out, it's a whole different story (so to speak) Ñ one shorn of all the flattery that built the bond between reporter and subject.

A Jackson spokesman said the other three networks expressed interest in nabbing 'Take 2,' which is what you'd expect in a business that knows a gold mine when it sees one. Not content with sitting on the sideline, NBC's 'Dateline' rolled out a special Ñ 'Michael Jackson Unmasked' Ñ that included an interview with the former office partner of Jackson's plastic surgeon.

I'm anxiously waiting for the two-hour rebuttal by the surgeon.