Thursday, July 18, 2024

Michael Jackson Estate Sues HBO Over “Leaving Neverland” Citing Breach of Contract from 1992 Non-Disparagement Clause


HBO may yet have to reconsider broadcasting “Leaving Neverland.”

Today the Michael Jackson estate sued the cable company to prevent them from showing the controversial two part documentary. The Estate claims breach of contract stemming from a 1992 non disparagement clause HBO signed with Jackson when they produced one of his specials.

The Estate writes in the complaint: “In those non-disparagement provisions, HBO promised that “HBO shall not make any disparaging remarks concerning Performer or any of his representatives, agents, or business practices or do any act that may harm or disparage or cause to lower in esteem the reputation or public image of Performer.” Other provisions in the Agreement require HBO to notify and consult with Jackson and Optimum Productions if it wishes to air additional programming about Jackson. HBO agreed that the covenants by which HBO promised to be bound would run both during and “after HBO’s contact or HBO’s relationship with Licensor and/or Performer.”

The complaint zeroes in on Richard Plepler, who was then the head of the company’s corporate communications and today runs HBO.

“Plepler must have known, or should have known, about HBO’s contract with Jackson, as Michael Jackson in Concert in Bucharest: The Dangerous Tourwas the biggest event for HBO that year. Yet in his desperation, Plepler willfully ignored HBO’s obligations to Michael Jackson.”

They add: “HBO’s Film violates the plain words of Agreement with Jackson and Optimum: The Film makes false and “disparaging remarks concerning [Michael Jackson] [and] disparage[s]or cause[s] to lower in esteem the reputation or public image of [Michael Jackson].”

The Estate continues: “The fact that HBO’s CEO, Richard Plepler was fully aware of HBO’s contractual relationship with Jackson and Optimum and yet willfully ignored them is inexcusable. HBO’s airing of the film, including its double-faced depiction of the Dangerous World Tour, constitutes a malicious and willful breach of the anti-disparagement covenants in the Agreement. As Richard Plepler himself once said, ‘A lie goes halfway around the world before the truth puts its boots on, and we bear some responsibility for that.’ Indeed.”

You can read the complaint here.

I don’t know why HBO has gotten involved with “Leaving Neverland,” which I haven’t seen and can’t make a judgement about yet. I’ve known Richard Plepler a long time; he’s one of the good guys. But this is hardly the look HBO usually engages. This whole episode just rings with extreme negativity at a time when cable is fighting for its life vs. streaming and other innovations.

At the same time, “Leaving Neverland” has unleashed the rogues gallery of ex-Neverland employees from the 1990s who were totally unmasked as grifters. They sold their stories in the 90s and they continue to sell them now even though no court of law would recognize them. That part is really unnerving and venal.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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