If you keep up with releases in general, this week is probably all about the release of Independence Day: Resurgence, or maybe the new Red Hot Chili Peppers record. For others, however, this week is notable for the release of a book: Tavis Smiley‘s Before You Judge Me: The Triumph and Tragedy of Michael Jackson’s Last Days, a novelization of the final days of the pop icon before he passed away at the age of 50, seven years ago. Smiley, a PBS personality, will release the book tomorrow, June 21st, and already, the book has a bit of a legacy to live up to, as the book has been optioned to become a TV series.
Smiley will produce the series alongside J.J. Abrams under his Bad Robot banner, with a planned release for the project some time in 2017. There’s no word as of yet on who will be cast in the series or who will be filling up the film’s likely enormous technical crew to bring this inherently tragic and melodramatic material to the screen, but the fact that Abrams and Smiley are behind the project should at least secure that the series will look good. Whether or not the series will prove particularly compelling is a whole other matter.
I can’t attest to knowing much about Smiley’s output, beyond the fact that he’s already working with Abrams on an adaptation of Smiley’s book about Martin Luther King Jr. A regular guest on news networks, as well as The Daily Show, Smiley clearly has a personal relationship to what happened with Jackson. And to be fair, there’s a great story about fame and identity ready for plumbing in the story of Michael Jackson, one that a great writer and attuned director could really turn into something remarkable and unique. So, I’m very interested in how those particular roles are filled in this production, but frankly, Jackson’s career could fuel hundreds of fascinating films. The inimitable Spike Lee has made at least two great documentaries about the artist – Bad 25 & Michael Jackson’s Journey from Motown to Off the Wall – and that’s just covering the influences, experiences, and ideas that powered two of the icon’s releases.
Of course, the project Smiley and Abrams are backing will almost inevitably be more imaginative, especially considering Smiley’s book is a novelization, and that could either make for something far more striking or outright unwatchable. Regardless, Smiley and Abrams are on as executive producers, with Warner Bros. Television backing the whole thing, and the search for a network to host the special television event is currently underway. Fingers crossed on this one.