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‘Leaving Neverland’ Draws 2 Million Viewers in U.K. as Jackson Fans Protest

About 2 million viewers tuned into controversial Michael Jackson documentary “Leaving Neverland” in Britain this week as the pop superstar’s fans took to the streets and plastered London buses with messages protesting his innocence, and his nephew sought funding for a series refuting the sex-abuse allegations made in the film.

The two-part documentary was broadcast on Wednesday and Thursday nights on free-to-air network Channel 4, which produced the film along with HBO. Part 1 peaked at 2.4 million viewers and averaged 2.1 million. The second part was down slightly with a peak of 2.2 million and 1.9 million average, which equates to a 12% share of the British audience. Those figures are more than double the usual audience for Channel 4’s 9 p.m. slot and eclipsed the viewership numbers on HBO in the U.S.

However, the documentary was beaten both nights by Jeremy Clarkson’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” reboot on ITV and by a Comic Relief charity version of “The Apprentice” on BBC One on Thursday night. “Leaving Neverland” also faced tough competition Wednesday from Richard Gere’s return to TV in the BBC Two drama “MotherFatherSon,” which performed about the same as “Leaving Neverland.”

To counter the allegations by James Safechuck and Wade Robson, who were befriended by Jackson as young boys, that he sexually abused them for years, fans of the late singer have plastered posters on London’s double-decker buses reading “Facts Don’t Lie. People Do.” The same message was on a banner unfurled by a clutch of protesters outside Channel 4’s London headquarters Wednesday.

The posters, which have a picture of Jackson with an “innocent” sign over his mouth, direct people to the mjinnocent.com campaign website, which itself provides a link to a separate crowdfunding site launched by Jackson’s nephew. Taj Jackson, who has been in the British media in recent days defending his uncle, says he is seeking funding for an “untitled Michael Jackson Documentary Series” that would “defend Michael Jackson’s name and legacy from vicious and calculated lies.” So far it has raised about $75,000 toward its goal of $777,000.

Much of the social media reaction to “Leaving Neverland” in the U.K. focused on the role of Safechuck’s and Robson’s parents and whether they should have left their children in Jackson’s care.

The BBC reported that a statue of Michael Jackson had been removed from the National Football Museum in the northern English city of Manchester. The statue had originally been commissioned by former Harrods department store owner Mohamed Al-Fayed, a friend of Jackson’s, when Al-Fayed was chairman of the Fulham soccer club.

The BBC quoted a museum spokesperson as saying that plans had been under way “for a number of months to remove the Michael Jackson statue from display as part of our ongoing plans to better represent the stories we want to tell about football [soccer]. As a result of this, the statue has now been removed.”

Viewers in Asia and Latin America, Australia, France, Germany, Spain, and Sweden will soon get to make up their own minds on “Leaving Neverland” after broadcasters in those regions and territories acquired the Kew Media-distributed documentary.

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