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Michael Jackson estate urges HBO to pull abuse documentary

By | Published on Monday 11 February 2019

Michael Jackson

Continuing its campaign against new Michael Jackson documentary ‘Leaving Neverland’, the late musician’s estate has now set its legal team on the film’s maker HBO. In a damning letter to the broadcaster’s CEO Richard Plepler, lawyer Howard Weitzman accuses the company of making a sensationalist film in an opportunist bid to gain ground in its battle against Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

Weitzman’s lengthy letter, published by Deadline, damns HBO, the documentary’s director Dan Reed and the two men who appear in the film accusing Jackson of sexually abusing them as children, Wade Robson and James Safechuck. He urges Plepler to reconsider broadcasting the film later this year and asks for the broadcaster to meet with representatives of the estate “to discuss a solution”.

“The estate first learned about this programme in early January when its premiere at Sundance was announced in the press”, he writes. “As you must know, contrary to all norms of documentary filmmaking, the estate was never contacted by the supposed ‘documentarian’, Dan Reed – or anyone else associated with the programme – to provide the estate’s views on, and responses to, the absolutely false claims that are the subject matter of the programme. Likewise, no one else who might offer evidence to contradict the programme’s premise was consulted either, as Dan Reed has publicly admitted”.

Weitzman claims that Robson and Safechuck are both easily discredited and are attempting to gain support through the media to aid litigation against the Jackson estate. “Sadly, it appears that HBO – a once great and respected network – has now been reduced to the pay television version of ‘Hard Copy’, with a little mix of ‘The Jerry Springer Show'”, he says. “Most pathetically, HBO has been reduced to a pawn in part of Robson’s and Safechuck’s attorneys’ litigation strategy”.

Continuing the heavy-handed attack, Weitzman goes on: “That HBO has now joined the tabloid media’s ‘Michael Jackson cacophony’ – ten years after his death – is truly sad. We know that HBO is facing serious competitive pressures from Netflix, Amazon and other more modern content providers, but to stoop to this level to regain an audience is disgraceful. We know HBO and its partners on this documentary will not be successful. We know that this will go down as the most shameful episode in HBO’s history. We know that Michael’s devoted fans, and all good people in the world, will not swiftly forgive HBO for its conduct”.

The lawyer concludes by offering to meet with HBO in order to present “further information and witnesses that would expose these two [accusers] for who they are”, saying that the media firm “owes an obligation to the public – not to mention the deceased Michael Jackson with whom HBO had previously partnered with during his lifetime – to actually investigate these matters”.

In a statement to Deadline, HBO’s Head Programmer Casey Bloys said that “we are not meeting with them” and “there are no plans to change the airdate”. He added: “The one thing I would say about this documentary is I would ask everybody to watch it and make their judgments after seeing it”.

‘Leaving Neverland’ is set to air on HBO over two nights at the beginning of March. In the UK it will be shown on Channel 4 the same week.