Michael Jackson Estate Wants HBO Meeting; Letter Warns 'Leaving Neverland' Will Be HBO's Greatest Shame

HBO chief executive Richard Plepler is told the documentary has violated journalistic ethics and norms and shouldn't be aired in March.
Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Just as HBO sets a March 3 premiere date for Leaving Neverland, the documentary that left audiences at the Sundance Film Festival in tears with tales of Michael Jackson sexual abuse, the late pop star's estate has sent a blistering 10-page letter to HBO to address problems in the documentary and requesting a meeting to discuss a "solution."

The Hollywood Reporter has obtained the letter, which can be read in full below.

In the letter, addressed to HBO chief executive Richard Plepler from attorney Howard Weitzman, Leaving Neverland is characterized as "an admittedly one-sided, sensationalist program" that ignores journalistic ethics. In particular, the Michael Jackson Estate is upset that documentarian Dan Reed didn't seek out the Estate's views on allegations from Wade Robson and James Safechuck and tells HBO that litigations with these two accusers "made it unequivocally clear that they had no credibility whatsoever."

The letter avoids explicit legal threats for airing the film, but does attack HBO's decision to do so.

Weitzman writes that HBO "is being used as part of Robson's and Safechuck's legal strategy," as the two are currently seeking appeals, and slams the network and filmmakers for "intentionally" choosing not to interview anyone that would detract from their story.

The letter conveys the case that Michael Jackson's two accusers have been "caught lying" in testimony and slams HBO's decision to bolster their credibility.

Weitzman writes, "Given all of this, which are facts readily available to anyone doing minimal due diligence, why would HBO produce a documentary based solely on the words of these two liars and director/producer Dan Reed? Why would HBO produce this documentary without even seeking comment and response from the Jackson Estate who spent years successfully litigating these false allegations with Robson and Safechuck? Is there any other artist who HBO would do this to? Is there any other artist who HBO would not even seek comment from when making such serious accusations?"

The Michael Jackson Estate asserts that if HBO cared about ethics, it would not air the documentary.

"That HBO has now joined the tabloid media’s 'Michael Jackson cacophony'—ten years after his death—is truly sad," continues the letter. "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."

HBO on Friday sent THR a statement in response to the letter: "Our plans remain unchanged. The two-part documentary, LEAVING NEVERLAND will air as scheduled on Sunday, March 3rd and Monday, March 4th. Dan Reed is an award-winning filmmaker who has carefully documented these survivors’ accounts. People should reserve judgment until they see the film.”