The estate's attorney, Howard Weitzman, composed a scathing 10-page letter that refers to the film as a "one-sided, sensationalist program" that violates journalistic ethics and norms. The letter, addressed to HBO's chief executive Richard Plepler, did not include any legal threats, but it invited network officials to meet with the estate so that the parties could "discuss a solution."
"That HBO has now joined the tabloid media's 'Michael Jackson cacophony'—ten years after his death—is truly sad," the letter read in part. "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. We know that Michael's devoted fans, and all good people in the world, will not swiftly forgive HBO for its conduct."
Even before its premiere at Sundance last month, Leaving Neverland received a heap of criticism from Jackson's family and fans. The Dan Reed-directed documentary details the entertainer's alleged relationship with James Safechuck and Wade Robson, both of who were allegedly molested by Jackson decades ago. Weitzman's letter dismisses Safechuck and Robson's claims by challenging their credibility.
"[...] The two subjects of the film were indeed those two admitted perjurers who had filed lawsuits against the Estate, all of which have now been dismissed with prejudice," the attorney wrote. "[...] Had HBO actually complied with the most basic of journalistic ethics—rather than just accept their salacious allegations at face value—it would have discovered so much more long before it ever got involved in this disgraceful project. Obviously, that is the reason that Dan Reed and HBO’s producing partners initially tried to hide the identities of Robson and Safechuck [...] Dan Reed knew that Michael Jackson's family and friends, his Estate, and his millions of fans who are deeply knowledgeable about the case would have discredited Robson and Safechuck before filming began."
Shortly after the letter leaked, HBO responded.
"No, we are not meeting with them," HBO programming president Casey Bloys said on Friday, per Deadline. "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 also added that the networks has "no plans to change the airdate."
The first part of Leaving Neverland will premiere March 3 on HBO; the second part will air the following night.