The provocatively titled show “Killing Michael Jackson” pieces together the investigation into the pop superstar’s death a decade later and examines his relationship with his personal physician, Conrad Murray, who was imprisoned for involuntary manslaughter in 2011. U.K. producers Zig Zag secured access to case files and the audio recording of a police interview with Murray for their one-off documentary.
The starting point for the project was a meeting between Zig Zag’s founder, Danny Fenton, and Los Angeles police detective Orlando Martinez, who helped get two other detectives who worked on the case, Dan Myers and Scott Smith, on board. The officers’ involvement was crucial to getting access to the primary source material. “Orlando is still active in the LAPD and got the consent of the commissioner of the LAPD,” Fenton says. “He was able to go into the lockup and bring out all of the evidence that has been gathering dust for the last 10 years and represent it to us on camera.”
With the LAPD’s consent, the producers then took the material to an undisclosed site, where the detectives reconstructed the unfolding of the investigation. “We get an understanding of how the police detectives piece together the case,” says Matt Graff, Zig Zag’s managing director. “It’s really getting that firsthand account that is so fascinating.”
Fenton says that “a bone of contention is why did Conrad Murray only get charged for manslaughter when, according to the three detectives, they feel they had a case for second-degree murder, which would have led to a longer prison sentence?” He adds: “Part of the theory behind that is that, because they had had a number of high-profile cases such as O.J. [Simpson] where it hadn’t ended in a positive outcome for the LAPD, they wanted to get a quick result. The district attorney wanted a quick result.”
The producers set out to examine the co-dependent relationship between Jackson and his doctor. Murray’s team offered to have his lawyer participate in the documentary, but Murray declined to take part himself. A crucial element of the documentary is the audio recording of the police interview with Murray days after Jackson died on June 25, 2009.
“About 11 minutes of that interview were heard in court, but the detectives and LAPD obviously have access to the full transcript,” Fenton said. “It was in that that Murray gave himself away as doing things that didn’t sit right with the detectives – and key bits of evidence such as Murray’s doctor’s bag that contained all the drugs that the police had not found. And he ended up telling the police about because he presumed they would have [already] found it.”
The film tackles a different chapter of the Jackson story from that covered in the recent Channel 4 and HBO film “Leaving Neverland,” which detailed the singer’s alleged sexual abuse of two boys. Kew Media sold the two-part film widely internationally.
“Leaving Neverland” stoked strong feelings among both fans and detractors of Jackson, and has made channels nervous about other Jackson projects, Fenton says. “Killing Michael Jackson” was originally destined for ITV, Britain’s biggest commercial broadcaster, but it backed out. Discovery bought the Zig Zag film for the U.K. as well as Italy, Germany and the Nordics. Polsat has acquired it for Poland, TVNZ for Belgium, and Medialaan for Belgium. U.S. rights are still on the table.
“This film does not judge Jackson on his music, his lifestyle choices, on the allegations,” Graff says. “This film is a detective story about the murder investigation around a superstar. There is a huge fascination, and there will continue to be with Jackson.”
For anyone interested in the work, life, and legacy of Jackson, there is one underlying message in the film. “You realize he could still be alive – whether to face justice or continue his career,” Fenton says.