The 1983 NBC special “Motown 25: Yesterday, Today Forever” became legendary almost instantly after Michael Jackson stopped the show with his moonwalk, as he sang his new song “Billie Jean.”
Now T.J. Lubinsky, producer of so many PBS music shows, starting with the “Doo-Wop” reunions, is bringing “Motown 25” back to broadcast TV, airing it on PBS stations nationally Feb. 28, including Detroit Public Television WTVS.
“Motown 25” was the first big reunion of Motown’s great stars of the 1960s and 1970s, and almost everybody was still alive. Jackson’s performance is sizzling, as is Marvin Gaye; the Temptations, Supremes, Miracles and Four Tops are all in the house; Diana Ross is at the peak of her solo fame; Smokey Robinson hosts.
Lubinsky was in town Wednesday filming segments with Mary Wilson of the Supremes and Martha Reeves that will air on the national broadcast.
“I just know that I love this show so much,” Lubinsky said Wednesday. “This was the show that started ‘Doo Wop 50.’ Everyone talks about the key moment being Michael Jackson doing the moonwalk — that certainly was a moment for me as a kid, but I was waiting for the Miracles reunion. That was everything for me, to see Smokey with Pete (Moore) and Bobby (Rogers) and Claudette (Robinson). Seeing the Tempts and Tops do the battle, seeing the Supremes back together, that set the impression in my mind.
“I needed this show to come back. I’d seen a clip of Marvin doing that big speech (in “Motown 25”), it was right after all this stuff was going on in the news I said, ‘Man, you know what? This musical healing has to come back.”
For Wilson and Reeves, “Motown 25” was memorable because it brought them together with all of their old friends.
“It was a reunion of all the people that I grew up with,” Wilson said. “We grew up. We were kids together, many of us, and to see the professionalism that was acquired by all of these people — well, now everybody can see that in one show.”
Reeves said: “What a reunion it was. Everybody performed to their best.”
Even though the show kicks off with her song, “Dancing in the Street” performed by dancers, with Robinson singing, Reeves is philosophical.
“I took it as a tribute,” she said, laughing.
Wilson laughed, too.
“It was like a family reunion, you see old cousins and aunts and uncles, and some were drunks and some were crazy, it’s the same kind of thing. You’d just hug ‘em and kiss ‘em and say, ‘Girl, did you see that?’”
After its premiere Feb. 28 on PBS for Black History Month, “Motown 25” will be repeated on PBS throughout March.