Scien­tol­ogy doc­u­men­tary crit­i­cizes church, gives HBO a rat­ings boost


If the Church of Scien­tol­ogy was hop­ing that HBO’s wither­ing doc­u­men­tary on the reli­gion’s prac­tices would pass by with lit­tle no­tice, that turned out to be a mis­cal­cu­la­tion.

“Go­ing Clear: Scien­tol­ogy and the Pri­son of Be­lief” has been seen by more than 5.5 mil­lion peo­ple since its de­but two weeks ago. It is likely to wind up be­ing sec­ond only to a 2013 movie on Bey­once as the pre­mium ca­ble net­work’s most-watched doc­u­men­tary of the past decade, HBO said Mon­day.

It has been an ex­tra­or­di­nary two months for HBO’s film unit. The six-part se­ries on bil­lion­aire Robert Durst, “The Jinx,” was a sen­sa­tion with its cli­max reach­ing nearly 5 mil­lion view­ers. Durst was ar­rested for mur­der on the eve of the se­ries’ last episode, in part due to ev­i­dence un­cov­ered by the film­mak­ers.

The Church of Scien­tol­ogy ran a full-page ad­ver­tise­ment in The New York Times de­nounc­ing the film be­fore it ran, ques­tion­ing whether “Go­ing Clear” would turn out to be like Rolling Stone mag­a­zine’s since-re­tracted story about an al­leged sex­ual as­sault at the Uni­ver­sity of Vir­ginia.

“I didn’t think we ex­pected this kind of noise and this kind of en- ergy, but we’ll take it,” said Sheila Nevins, the vet­eran chief of HBO’s doc­u­men­tary unit. “I didn’t think it would be this con­tro­ver­sial.”

Direc­tor Alex Gib­ney made “Go­ing Clear,” based on the book by Lawrence Wright. Gib­ney also did “Mea Max­ima Culpa: Si­lence in the House of God,” an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into sex abuse in the Catholic Church, for HBO.

Although “Go­ing Clear” de­tails church at­tempts to re­spond ag­gres­sively to peo­ple ques­tion­ing their prac­tices, Nevins said she was sur­prised at how church lawyers and of­fi­cials ques­tioned the film and HBO be­fore it aired.

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