Even years after his death and even when the spotlight on him is anything but flattering, pop mega-star Michael Jackson continues to draw massive audiences, as witnessed by the reaction to HBO’s documentary Leaving Neverland, which has set a record for the premium cable channel’s third-most-watched documentary in its 47-year history. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the two-part documentary outlining what allegedly transpired over years of systematic sexual abuse of a series of young boys by the beloved “Billie Jean” singer racked up audience numbers rarely seen for documentaries, much less for documentaries of such a dark and disturbing nature.
Part one of the two-part movie totaling four hours brought in an audience of some 1.29 million, ranking behind only Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (1.7 million) and Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds (1.6 million). The conclusion of the film, which was aired on Monday night, brought in an audience of 927,000 viewers, giving the documentary an average audience of around 1.11 million for its entirety. And much of the audience stuck around afterward, tuning in for an Oprah Winfrey special titled After Neverland in which she interviewed the documentary’s director Dan Reed and the two men who are featured in the film and allege that they were abused by Jackson as children. That show, which was taped before an audience of sexual abuse survivors and their families, brought in an audience of 780,000.
Those men, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, are featured throughout the film, both in contemporary interviews as well as in archive footage of them with the King of Pop. Both were befriended by Jackson as children, and each was separately brought into Jackson’s circle via dancing in imitation of Jackson’s moves. The documentary paints a disturbing but compelling picture of how the men allege Jackson ingratiated himself with each of them as well as their families, and gradually grooming them, building trust and intimacy, and finally sexual contact.
The documentary follows the story of Jackson as suspicions about the “Thriller” singer begin to emerge, and features footage of him in public with a series of young boys, and eventually being arrested for suspicion of child molestation. It also conveys just how rabid Jackson’s fanbase was and in some ways still is, showing footage of legions of screaming, weeping fans outside his hotel rooms, and scenes of Jackson and Safechuck darting through a pack of fans from a hotel into a limo when he was on tour with Jackson.
The Jackson estate has filed a $100 million lawsuit against director Reed and HBO for allegedly violating a non-disparagement contract dating back to a 1992 concert film the cable channel aired.