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HBO is becoming a key channel for original programming, which includes hit shows like Game of Thrones and Girls, but also original documentaries. The subscription cable channel recently signed on for a Scientology documentary following the rise of L. Ron Hubbard’s belief system and its popularity in Hollywood. It’s based on the controversial book written by Lawrence Wright called Going Clear. Now, the nature of the book has led HBO to hire 160 lawyers to look over the film.
Networks want to have all of their ducks in a row when releasing documentaries, but at first glance, 160 lawyers seems extremely excessive. However, HBO is apparently taking the Church of Scientology’s huge arsenal of lawyers into consideration. Going Clear never even made it to publication in the U.K., thanks to the persuasive nature of Scientology’s legal team. In the U.S., it was a finalist for the National Book Award. But despite its acclaim in the States, HBO seems to be prepping for legal warfare, and with good reason.
The book, which features interviews as well as historical background on the Church of Scientology, has been criticized by members of the church thanks to its incorporation of reports of abuse and more. While we know some celebrities, including Leah Remini, have been outspoken about the church’s problems, Scientology leaders claim Wright’s book is filled with falsehoods. And, according to THR, if the Church of Scientology feels there are problems with HBO’s documentary, it stands to reason that the Church will actively work to halt its premiere. Back in 1998, protestors showed up at HBO’s New York headquarters to protest another documentary looking at mental illness called Dead Blue: Surviving Depression and that documentary wasn't even pointing fingers at the group.
Despite all of the problems HBO might have to deal with, Going Clear is moving forward. Finding Fela director Alex Gibney is helming the new project, and the movie is already pretty close to being finished. HBO hopes to get it on the air sometime in 2015.
HBO’s documentaries might not have as much prominence as some of the network’s other original programming, but most of them touch on interesting (and sometimes controversial!) subject matter. In recent months, we’ve seen the network put together a James Brown documentary called Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown, which was, interestingly enough, also directed by Alex Gibney. Over the summer, we also saw the subscription cable network put together a huge slate of original programming, including The Case Against 8, 112 Weddings and more. Lawyers or no, it looks like Going Clear will be added to HBO’s original programming, too, and we’ll let you know as soon as the documentary gets a premiere date.