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Scientology film brings HBO’s highest ratings for a documentary in nearly a decade

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Going Clear, Alex Gibney‘s two-hour exposé on the Church of Scientology that initially was shown at the Sundance Film Festival in January, took in nearly 1.7 million viewers during its premiere television broadcast Sunday night on HBO. According to the Hollywood Reporter, that’s the highest-rated documentary on the premium cable network since Spike Lee’s When The Levees Broke aired in 2006, his documentary on Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath in Louisiana.

The ratings will certainly grow for the new documentary, as HBO will be repeating the film on its various channels in the coming weeks.

Going Clear is an adaption of journalist Lawrence Wright’s 2013 best-selling book on the Church of Scientology and its cultish leader, David Miscavige. Miscavige succeeded Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard in 1986.  Wright first wrote about the church in the pages of the  New Yorker in 2011. That story focused on film director Paul Haggis and why he left the church after being a member for 34 years.

Going Clear was the second major book reporting on the issues inside the Church of Scientology in recent years. In 2011, Rolling Stone reporter Janet Reitman wrote Inside Scientology, which also evolved from a magazine article — in her case, a 2006 story featuring actor Tom Cruise.

Both books and the documentary owe a huge amount of credit to Tampa Bay Times reporters Joe Childs and Tom Tobin, whose 2009 series of stories on Scientology featured interviews with high-ranking defectors like Marty Rathbun and Mike Rinder, who had been Scientology’s main spokesman (and who also get considerable face time in the Gibney film). That series was notable in depicting stories of physical abuse.

Needless to say, the Church of Scientology has strongly denied those accusations. Its critique of the Gibney film can be read in a letter sent to the Hollywood Reporter.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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