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Michael Jackson memorial: TV day starts with strain

From the Harlem Gospel Choir singing "We Are the World" in Times Square outside the ABC News studio, to CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker at Forest Lawn Cemetery quoting unnamed "sources" as to whether or not Michael Jackson was buried Monday night, the networks got up early Tuesday to kick off their national day of TV mourning.

Outside of weather and news at the "top of the hour," as the anchors says, the morning shows were jammed packed with Jackson coverage even if it was only 4 a.m. in Los Angeles when Today, Good Morning America and The Early Show hit the airwaves.

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Morning shows can be embarrassing on regular days, but when it comes to big events for which they don't have any kind of particular news access or exclusives, they can be downright pathetic. Count Harry Smith, co-host of the CBS Early Show, in that category for fawning over Entertainment Tonight's Mary Hart like she was Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein combined because Jackson invited her to some of his concerts and to dinner in his hotel suite and, in at least one case, gave her a "gift," according to Hart.

I am stretching the term, but Hart is, after all, part of the entertainment press corps, and we probably shouldn't be celebrating her for accepting gifts from the people she covers.

But Tuesday morning, anyone who knew or touched Jackson and was willing to get up in time to be on the morning shows, had a shot at network face time -- and being treated like a sage.

Like Bubbles, the chimp. Yes, NBC's Today offered a feature on Bubbles, the chimp whom once lived with Jackson.

Being an animal lover and wondering about Bubbles myself, I didn't criticize CNN's Anderson Cooper or any of the others on TV  who did the obligatory Bubbles story. But the one on Today Tuesday set a new record for loopiness.

The report showed Bubbles walking, and then, in voice over, compared his movements to Jackson's patented moonwalk. Then, a handler talked about Bubbles, who now lives in Florida, maybe knowing Michael was dead. The only thing they didn't do is have Bubbles move his lips and pipe in a voice singing one of Jackson's hits.

And then there was Micahel Okwu, the correspondent NBC News had at Forest Lawn, where Jackson is expected to be buried Tuesday. In describing the celebrities who are buried there, Okwu included actress Betty White.

Luckily, Meredith Vieira, a pro who kept her head throughout her coverage from the Staples Center, corrected Okwu, saying he probably meant Bette Davis -- since Betty White is still alive.

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