Lifetime was always keen for its Surviving Jeffrey Epstein docu-series, which looks at the case of the convicted felon through the eyes of the victims, to air around the one year anniversary of his death.
What the network and the filmmakers, Anne Sundberg and Ricki Stern, didn’t expect was that his alleged co-conspirator Ghislaine Maxwell would be arrested a month before its premiere.
This forced the team, which included producers Bungalow Media + Entertainment, to refocus the fourth hour of the series, which will air across two nights on August 9 and 10, to include the latest developments.
“It was crazy timing as we were coming to the finish line as the arrest happened. We had a different form of conclusion,” said Sundberg. “This story is not over.”
Stern, speaking on a virtual TCA press tour panel, added, “We ended up filming with all of these women during COVID during the past two to three weeks so our story continues right up to now. The fact that Ghislaine has been arrested adds a much more uplifting ending. This is just the beginning, I’m sure there will be follow up.”
The docuseries tells the stories of eight survivors, with insights from those close to Epstein. It comes as Maxwell’s trial has been set for July 2021.
Epstein, the billionaire New York financier, is alleged to have used his connections to the rich and famous to shield his predatory behavior with young girls.
It includes the stories of survivors such as Kiki Doe and Rachel Benavidez, who were both part of the Lifetime panel. Benavidez said that the filmmakers were “very respectful of boundaries”, particularly as the filming and the aftermath was an “emotional rollercoaster”. “It’s a hard thing to do to go on television and be vulnerable and tell your story,” she said.
Doe said it’s “empowering” every time she tells her story but that sharing “intimate trauma experiences” with strangers is tough. “The way [the filmmakers] handled it, I can only imagine how difficult it was, you have to handle everything with kids’ gloves and they did a great job,” she said.
Exec producer Bob Friedman said that there had been no political pressure to drop the project and revealed that they took the story to Lifetime because of the way the A+E Networks cable station handled Surviving R Kelly.
In referencing whether there would be any viewer fatigue, given the release of Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich on Netflix, he added that the “lens with which the story is told on Lifetime is very different”. He said that the Maxwell news updates their series and they have a number of characters, including Maxwell’s former friend Chris Mason, that the Netflix series did not.