On the eve of the Dec. 13 premiere of A&E’s reality series “The Jacksons: A Family Dynasty,” I had a chance to talk to Marlon Jackson to get his take on the six-part series that takes a behind-the-scenes look at the famous musical family. Marlon also talks about some of his other projects along with his feelings about potentially appearing onstage in a Jackson 5 reunion tour without his late brother Michael.
TOM UMSTEAD: Why did the family feel this was the right time to do a reality series?
MARLON JACKSON: We have hundreds of millions of fans across this globe internationally that have supported us all these years so we thought it was time to give them something a little different – a look at our private side but not our private, private, private side. As you know, we’re no different than any other family and we don’t mind opening ourselves up a little to our fans … they’ve supported us throughout the years and without them we wouldn’t be who we are today. That’s why we decided to do something like this.
TU: At least from the two episodes that I’ve seen the series is also tied to a 40th anniversary celebration of the Jackson 5. Does that theme continue throughout the series?
MJ: I would say yes and no. First of all, we’re very grateful and thankful to have been around for 40-something years, not only domestically but internationally as well. But at the same time, we’re leading our normal lives and the brothers have various other projects going on at the same time.
TU: You started filming the series in January, but with the death of your brother Michael in June did you consider pulling the plug on the show at all?
MJ: No, because we’ve always been taught that once you commit yourself to do something you need to finish it; and we already had executed agreements to do it. We took some time off to mourn and deal with the situation, but we always knew we would get back to it and finish it up. That is something that Michael would want us to do anyway whether or not he was part of the show.
TU: Were you satisfied after taping the six episodes that you got across the message that you wanted to convey through the show?
MJ: There was no message for me. It was my life — this is the way I live. If you like it, great; if you don’t, I’m still fine with it … that’s me.
TU: Is your family part of the show?
MJ: Some of my family members are … my wife elected not to be in it and I respect that. But if I told you all of that then I’d be revealing everything that’s on the show (laughs).
TU: If the show is successful would you consider coming back for a second season?
MJ: That depends on if I can fit it into my schedule given all the other stuff I’m doing in my life. My family has taken a back seat while I’ve been doing all of this, so I have to weigh all of those things out.
TU: This series is a homecoming of sorts for you back to the cable industry given your prior ownership association with the Black Family Channel. Do you miss being on the content distribution end of the industry?
MJ: I’m going to be honest with you; when you create things it becomes a part of you. The cable industry is a part of me now after creating the Black Family Channel. As I’ve told you before, I would do another [cable channel] and I am going to do so one day. But there are so many other things I need to get done. This series would have been great for the Black Family Channel but it didn’t work out. But someone told me that when the Lord closes one door, He opens another door for another reason, so I look at it that way and forge on.
TU: You mentioned all of the other things that are going on in your life – I understand that you have a project developing in Africa. Can you talk about that?
MJ: I’ve always felt that someone needed to preserve our African history. When I took a trip to Nigeria I visited where slaves were placed on slave ships and taken across the waters to the journey of unknown and were never seen again back in Africa. There’s a lot of history there that has not been told, and I think that our history is important, not only to our race but to the world. If we don’t preserve it, it’s going to get lost somewhere down the road. So we’re building in [Nigeria] museums and pavilions that relate to preserving our history. It’s a huge undertaking but we’re doing it. It’s going to be about a 10- to 15-year project … we’ll be creating over 100,000 jobs for the indigenous people of Nigeria and that’s a blessing in itself.
TU: Looking ahead to 2010, will we actually see a Jackson 5 40th anniversary tour and album?
MJ: Everything is possible and anything can happen. But once that does take place, I think for myself with regards to entertainment that will be it for me. I have too many other things that I have to do and for me it’s not the same. When we used to do shows, there was always camaraderie amongst all my brothers; but there was a different kind of synergy between my brother Michael and I onstage because we were the ones who were mostly out front doing most of the dancing. We pretty much gave each other energy on stage; we vibed off each other on stage and took each other to various levels. It won’t be the same for me, but that doesn’t mean I still can’t get down, Tom.
TU: I don’t doubt that at all. In fact, when are we going to see the next album from Marlon Jackson?
MJ: I don’t know. In my life I’m more interested in uniting people together on a global front more than entertaining. It’s something the world needs and I think the Lord has put my family in a position to entertain and unite people together. There’s all kinds of ways you can do that – through cable, the Internet or other avenues – you just have to pick the right avenue that will be the strongest for you.
TU: Do you see the show as the right avenue to start accomplishing that goal?
MJ: Yes, and that’s one of the reasons that I elected to do it.