Michael Jackson Film Ordered at Lifetime

The cabler also is collaborating with James Franco for a second two-hour film.
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Michael Jackson

Another Michael Jackson TV project is already in the works.

Hours after U.K. channel Sky pulled the plug on an upcoming scripted program featuring a representation of the late iconic pop star due to criticism, Lifetime announced Friday at the Television Critics Association's winter press tour that it has ordered a biopic about Jackson.

Michael Jackson: Searching for Neverland (working title) centers on the final years of the performer's life as told through the eyes of his trusted bodyguards. Navi, the No. 1 Michael Jackson tribute artist, will step into the title role, with Chad L. Coleman (The Walking Dead) playing one of his most trusted bodyguards, Bill Whitefield.

The project hails from executive producer Suzanne de Passe (The Jacksons: An American Dream), who worked with Jackson and the Jackson 5 early in her career as a creative assistant to Motown head Berry Gordy, and is based on the book Remember the Time: Protecting Michael Jackson in His Final Days. De Passe will exec produce with Madison Jones and Robert Teitel (the Barbershop franchise), with Silver Screen (The Craigslist Killer) attached to produce. Elizabeth Hunter (Beauty Shop) wrote the script, and Dianne Houston (Take the Lead, Surviving Compton) is set to direct. Production begins next month in Los Angeles, with the movie set to premiere sometime later this year.

Early Friday, U.K. pay TV channel Sky said it would not broadcast an episode of Urban Myths centered on Jackson's fabled cross-country trip from New York to Los Angeles with Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando after Jackson's daughter Paris said she was "incredibly offended" by Joseph Fiennes' portrayal of the "Thriller" singer. Her comments came after the trailer for Urban Myths, featuring Fiennes as Michael Jackson, was unveiled Tuesday.

Searching for Neverland is one of several new films Lifetime unveiled Friday. The A+E Networks-owned channel will collaborate with James Franco again for the romantic thriller High School Lover. Franco stars in and exec produces the film, about a father (Franco) who tries to intervene when his 17-year-old daughter (Paulina Singer, Orange Is the New Black) falls in love with an older man (Francois Arnaud, Blindspot) to stop her crush from turning into a dangerous obsession. Produced by Elysium Bandini Studios for Lifetime, Franco executive produces along with Vince Jolivette. Amber Coney, who also wrote Franco's first Lifetime movie, Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?, penned the script with Jessica Dube (Smack). Jerell Rosales (Life in Black and White) will direct the film, set to premiere Feb. 4.

Recent Golden Globe winner Viola Davis will exec produce and star in Custody, along with Hayden Panettiere, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Ellen Burstyn and Tony Shalhoub. The film revolves around three women brought together when a hard-working single mother, Sara Diaz (Moreno), has her children taken from her after she is suspected of injuring her son. Recent law school grad Ally Fisher (Panettiere) is assigned to represent the case before Judge Martha Schulman (Davis), a veteran of the Family Court System. Pulitzer Prize winner James Lapine (Into the Woods) will write, direct and produce, with Julius Tennon, Jeff Elliott, Chad Moore, Gregory P. Shockro, Daryl Roth and Sandy Robertson also attached to exec produce. Custody will debut March 4.

The three new films join the previously announced Beaches remake starring Idina Menzel and Nia Long, and Britney Ever After, centered on the rise and fall (and rise) of pop star Britney Spears. The film, which stars Natasha Bassett (Hail, Caesar!) in the title role, will premiere Feb. 18.

In addition to its movie slate, Lifetime also unveiled a new scripted drama in development from Greg Berlanti and a new unscripted game show from Jason Biggs and Jenny Mollen.

“Lifetime has an exciting 2017 ahead with big programming swings and initiatives that are dedicated to understanding the state of womanhood today, including what women want to watch and what they care about most," said Lifetime executive vp and head of programming Liz Gateley. "As we continue to be a destination for all things female, we can’t wait to debut these projects that place the highest-caliber talent at the center of all we do.”