Cable channel A&E’s homage to The Jackson 5 — without Michael — could have been called the Bickering Four.
The Jack5ons: A Family Dynasty (back-to-back episodes premiere Sunday, 9 ET/PT) largely chronicles the plans of Jackie, Jermaine, Tito and Marlon Jackson to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the group’s rise to musical prominence with a concert tour and new album.
Jermaine, 55, who has served as media point man for the family, says the brothers are happy with their reality series. “For so many years, we’ve never revealed who we are and how we go about everyday life,” Jermaine says. “We got a chance to be ourselves. That’s what we’re excited about.”
But as events unfold in early shows, the brothers aren’t exactly harmonious. Squabbling and bickering weighs almost as heavily as their despondency over Michael’s untimely death in June.
Jermaine annoys his siblings as he skips key meetings, attempts to organize his own tribute concert and bags a brothers’ trip to their childhood Indiana home. At one point, they erase studio tracks he has recorded for a possible album.
Jermaine’s professional breakaway in 1976 — he remained with the Motown record studio while the rest moved to CBS Records — also is revisited. An on-camera moment captures a teary-eyed Jermaine rationalizing his decision at the time. Brotherly hugs ensue. But later, Marlon, 52, Tito, 56, and Jackie, 58, are less charitable when Jermaine, citing an eye infection, fails to show up for a promotional photo shoot.
The Jack5ons was conceived in 2008 as an hour-long special but has been expanded to at least six episodes and maybe more, depending on viewer interest, to reflect broader family story lines and more about the lives of the brothers’ children.
Michael had no plans to appear, although he lent support to the concept, Jermaine says. A&E’s promotional spots capitalize on interest on Michael and the emotional fallout on the family.
The first episode, wrapped before Michael’s death, was recut with a tacked-on ending mostly reflecting news stories. After production was halted for several weeks, film crews taped interviews with the distraught brothers for Episode 2, “The Aftermath.”
The show-must-go-on attitude may appear to some as exploitive and self-serving, perceptions Jermaine acknowledges. But abandoning the series wasn’t considered: “We never had any question in our mind to stop; we felt it was the best connection to keep the legacy alive in a dignified way. There was never a question not to go forward.”
A&E, which is enjoying ratings success with reality series such as Hoarders and Steve Seagal Lawman, expects strong interest. “This is a family under the microscope that people haven’t gotten a glimpse of before,” programming chief Rob Sharenow says. “The process of watching them and their journey is compelling. I’m confident this is going to succeed in a big way.”