Michael Jackson wasn't the kind of dad you'd catch flipping burgers on the barbecue.
But cable channel TLC is out to prove that -- despite all the weirdness that enveloped his world -- Jackson was the kind of father they make phone-company commercials about.
Prince, Paris and Blanket, who are now 13, 12 and 8 years old, get their first, unauthorized TV special -- "Hidden Lives of Michael Jackson's Children" -- Father's Day night.
But the network means "hidden" in a good way, it seems.
"I think people are always going to say that [Jackson was strange]," says executive producer Wendy Douglas. "But I feel that if they . . . see some of the things he did with his kids, I hope they think a little less of that. They'll say he was a little weird, but was also a very hands-on father."The special, airing at 9 P.M., comes on the one-year anniversary of Jackson's death (June 25). It features behind-the-scenes footage seen before only in snippets -- including Jackson helping Prince recite his "ABCs" and playing chess with his oldest son.
The show has its tabloid moments, like former child actor Mark Lester saying that Jackson asked him to make a "donation" to help conceive Paris.
But the point of the special is that the kids behind the dark veils and (sometimes grotesque) masks were fairly average children.
"Footage of Michael and his kids was always protected. He never liked to release it," says Douglas.
"We were shocked we had this intimate footage, and I love it because it shows how much of a great father he is. You'll actually see how hands-on he was and how close he was to his children."
While no one interviewed on Sunday's special doubts that Jackson loved his kids, his child-rearing methods (including the veils and masks) are questioned by some -- including Vanity Fair writer Maureen Orth, who covered Jackson's 1993 child molestation case (eventually settled out-of-court).
(Orth's late husband, Tim Russert, hosted "Meet the Press" for NBC, which produced this special under its Peacock Productions banner.)
The true paternity of Jackson's children is also cautiously questioned. Lester admits that he could be Paris's father, but adds that "it doesn't really matter," since Jackson was her father in every other sense of the word.
Missing are interviews with any of the kids themselves.
"As you can imagine, that was something that would have been really challenging and difficult to get," Douglas says.
SourceErm . . . well, it's nice that they're not out to bash MJ and all, but at the same time, do these kids really need an hour-long TV special about their lives? Their dad was the famous pop star, not themselves.