UPDATE, 3:30 PM: Despite a scathing letter from the lawyer for Michael Jackson’s estate over the Leaving Neverland child sex abuse documentary debuting next month, HBO has no plans to sit down with reps of the deceased Thriller singer.
“No, we are not meeting with them,” the premium cabler’s programming chief Casey Bloys said Friday in response to the leak of the correspondence sent to HBO CEO Richard Plepler yesterday (see details from the letter below).
“The one thing I would say about this documentary is I would ask everybody to watch it and make their judgments after seeing it,” Bloys insisted outside HBO’s TCA presentation Friday. Circumspect about the controversy surrounding the film from Dan Reed, Bloys added that “there are no plans to change the airdate.”
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HBO said Friday that Leaving Neverland would premiere on the network over two nights March 3 and March 4.
As for the estate, it looks like they are warming up to take this battle to the courts with this week’s letter as the latest shot across the programming bow.
PREVIOUSLY, 2:54 PM: With the debut of the controversial Leaving Neverland documentary less than a month away on HBO, attorneys for the estate of Michael Jackson have ripped into the premium cabler.
“HBO is relying on the uncorroborated stories of two admitted perjurers over the weight of the American justice system,” said Howard Weitzman in a letter to HBO CEO Richard Plepler dated February 7.
“HBO apparently no longer cares about these ethical and normative checks on documentary filmmaking and journalism anymore,” the rarely nuanced Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump Aldisert LLP partner added in the letter (read it here). “If HBO does care about such things, this documentary will never air on HBO.”
Having been termed an “admittedly one-sided, sensationalist program” by Weitzman too, HBO today at TCA dated the small screen debut of the Dan Reed directed two-part film for March 3-4. With death threats against the director and amidst heighten security, Leaving Neverland premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last month.
The family and estate of the decade-long dead Jackson has been outspoken and scathing in its criticism of the film, sight unseen.
In his first direct correspondence with the premium cabler, Weitzman’s long and strongly word letter this week outlined the issues the estate have with the primary participants and their accusations against the Thriller performer. The five-pager did not directly threaten legal action against HBO over the planned airing of Leaving Neverland later this year.
However, it is clear from the deliberate leak of the letter today that a bruising battle could be getting started – on many fronts.
“That HBO has now joined the tabloid media’s ‘Michael Jackson cacophony’—ten years after his death—is truly sad,” the detailed letter from the Hollywood heavyweight attorney asserts.
Pulling all his horses in line, Weitzman then paints a picture intended purely to cast HBO in the most craven of contexts.
“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,” he says “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.”
HBO had no comment on the letter to Plepler when contacted by Deadline.
Since it was announced in early January that Leaving Neverland would open at Sundance, Jackson fans around the world have taken to social media and elsewhere to condemn the documentary. With the constant whiff of legal action in the air, representatives for the estate of Jackson — who died in 2009, four years after being acquitted of seven counts of child molestation and two counts of giving a drug to a 13-year-old boy — previously tainted Neverland as “just another rehash of dated and discredited allegations.”
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