Behind the Empire: Keeping Michael Jackson’s Legacy Alive

Behind the Empire: Keeping Michael Jackson’s Legacy Alive

By William Glanz

John Branca, co-executor of Michael Jacksons estate, sits beneath a photo of the King of Pop. (Photo courtesy of A. Smith via Wikimedia Commons.)

When CBS broadcasts Michael Jackson’s Halloween on October 27, it will provide another sign that the King of Pop’s brand remains as alive as ever.

Jackson died more than eight years ago, yet his legacy endures in large part because of the efforts of John Branca and John McClain.

The two men were appointed co-executors of the singer’s estate following his death and are charged with protecting and promoting Jackson’s brand. Their role gives them authority to generate income for Jackson’s heirs – his three children.

“There’s definitely a never-ending and huge desire to see and hear Michael Jackson, and for good reason – Michael Jackson was the best,” Branca said in a phone interview. “Michael is beloved. He’s very influential with all of today’s artists, and we are doing our part to try to keep his legacy alive.”

Putting the Estate on Solid Ground

After Jackson passed eight years ago, the singer’s estate faced tough financial times. But a string of deals negotiated by Branca and McClain helped put the estate on solid ground.

The Cirque traveling show, called Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour, featured many of Jackson’s band members, ran for three years, and grossed $400 million in box office revenue. Michael Jackson ONE is a permanent Cirque de Soleil show in Las Vegas.

The estate also brokered a deal for the film This Is It, the November 2009 release about Jackson’s preparations for his final tour. The film generated more than $500 million in revenue and is the highest grossing music documentary in history.

The estate also negotiated a $250 million deal with Sony to release 10 albums featuring old and new material from Jackson.

It’s likely that no deal comes close to the agreement to sell Jackson’s share of Sony/ATV Music Publishing to Sony. The estate sold its stake in Sony/ATV for $750 million.

As a result of those deals and other efforts, the crisis mode the estate faced in 2009 has long since ended.

“Michael’s estate is robust and healthy, and now we get to make choices based on what we think is best as opposed to what we needed to do,” Branca said.

New Projects

The latest effort to keep the King of Pop’s legacy alive revolves around three Halloween-themed projects.

Michael Jackson’s Thriller 3D premiered at the 74th Annual Venice Film Festival in September. Epic/Legacy Recordings also released a new album, Michael Jackson SCREAM, in September. The album is a compilation of 13 songs including “Thriller,” “Dirty Diana” and “This Place Hotel,” the single written, composed and arranged by Michael Jackson.

Michael Jackson’s Halloween represents the third part of that effort. The animated special will include music by Michael Jackson and include an animated Michael Jackson. It airs on CBS Friday, October 27, at 8 pm ET.

“Michael was a big kid. He loved to have fun, and what we tried to do with Michael Jackson’s Halloween is have fun,” Branca said. “It’s an opportunity for family fun, to introduce Michael to new generations of fans and for those of us who are already Michael Jackson fans, we’ll get to hear Michael’s music in a very different way.”

The estate is also working with partners to convert the 1996 short film Michael Jackson’s Ghosts to 3D and premiered a new video for Jackson’s song “Blood on the Dance Floor” Tuesday, October 24, at a huge party for 900 fans at the TCL Chinese Theater in Hollywood.

Protecting Jackson’s Legacy

But not all deals make sense. Branca and McClain are fierce defenders of Jackson’s legacy, his music and his heirs. That means declining numerous proposed deals.

“We are approached and pitched all the time, and quite frankly it’s more important to say ‘no’ than it is to say ‘yes.’ We try to be very careful and pick great partners to work with. Great partners make you look very good,” Branca said.

All requests to use Jackson’s music must go through Branca and McClain because the estate retained ownership of Mijac Music, the company Jackson founded that owns his own published works (as well as the works of Sly and the Family Stone and other artists).

But don’t expect new Michael Jackson music in the near future. While some unreleased Michael Jackson music exists, Branca said the estate will be “very judicious” about releasing new music.

“L.A. Reid had a philosophy for the Escape album, and that is that we should only work with those unreleased songs where Michael sang full vocals, because we know those are songs Michael cared about and put work into,” Branca said.

Read our earlier post commemorating Michael Jackson’s 59th birthday.