‘Michael Jackson Loved Halloween’: John Branca On CBS Animated Special

Michael Jackson will always will be synonymous with Halloween. The late pop star’s music still resonates deeply with fans all over the world and his music videos such as “Thriller” and “Ghost” demonstrate that Jackson had a strong affinity for the scary and spooky in life. On Friday, October 27, Jackson’s fans will be able to hear his music in a brand new way when CBS premieres “Michael Jackson’s Halloween” at 8pm EST. Produced by John Branca and John McClain, the executors of Jackson’s estate, this one hour animated special features some of the King of Pop’s most iconic tracks.

Branca spoke with CBS Local’s DJ Sixsmith about how the project came together, what it was like to work with some of the biggest names in Hollywood and his long professional & personal relationship with Michael Jackson.

DJ Sixsmith: How did this animated special come to life and why did it make sense to do it on CBS?

John Branca: Michael loved Halloween, he was a big fan of it. In a way, Michael was a big kid. If you look at some of his music videos for “Thriller” and “Ghost,” they reflect that. What he did for the California Raisins commercial, he used to like to have fun. Every October, there is a huge interest in Michael and “Thriller.” We thought it was natural and logical to do something that Michael wanted to do. We surveyed the field and picked Hammerhead Productions because they are one of the best animation studios in town. In terms of CBS, we talked to Jack Sussman, who took an immediate interest in the project. CBS is obviously the best network out there. Michael had a long history of doing projects with CBS, so it was a natural combination.

DS: You mentioned how much Michael loved Halloween. What would he think of the final product you guys created?

JB: I think he would’ve loved it and had a lot of fun with it. Michael appears as several characters in the show. He appears as a pumpkin man, as a Halloween cat and as a spider and they perform some of Michael’s great dance moves. He really would’ve liked this.

DS: Lucy Liu, Jim Parsons and Alan Cumming were all part of this project. What was it like working with some of the top talent in Hollywood?

JB: They really were our first choices. Lucy Liu, Jim Parsons and Alan Cumming were all on the list of actors that CBS provided us. We were really fortunate to get them.

DS: You knew Michael for a long time. How would you describe your relationship with him?

JB: I met Michael in January of 1980 after “Off the Wall” had just been released. We worked on “Thriller” together, “Bad”, “History” and a number of his albums and tours. Michael was a perfectionist. We all know what a genius he was and a great entertainer he was. Not everyone knows what a perfectionist he was. He worked very hard to get the results that he got and for that we all really respected him.

DS: Michael’s music is still synonymous with Halloween. How did you guys incorporate his music into this animated special?

JB: We hired Kevin Antunes to put the soundtrack together. Kevin worked with us on the two Michael Jackson Cirque Du Solei shows in Las Vegas and on Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour. Kevin has been a Michael Jackson fan all of his life and he has also been a musical director for Madonna. The show uses over 25 songs of Michael’s and they’re woven throughout the show and help to tell the story. If all you wanted to do is listen to the music, I think you’d really enjoy the show.

DS: When people watch this special, what do you want them to walk away thinking?

JB: I want them to walk away with a smile on their face. It’s fun. We were all just trying to have fun with this project and celebrate Michael and Halloween. There’s a lot of double entendres in this show, so it’s good for kids and good for adults.

DS: When you think about Michael’s legacy and his career, why do you think his music is still relevant?

JB: Michael was universal. He’s one of the few artists that you can say is popular in every country in the world. His music is timeless. It’s been influential to subsequent generations and current artists. Really, all the top artists today look to Michael for inspiration. New generations are continuing to discover him. We find that kids enjoy Michael’s music just as much as adults do. I think his videos are part of that as well.

“Michael Jackson’s Halloween” premieres this Friday, October 27 at 8pm EST on CBS.

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