Surviving R. Kelly is officially a huge success for Lifetime. According to Deadline, the Thursday premiere of the six-part docuseries netted 1.9 million total viewers, and posted the cable networks best ratings performance in more than two years across all key demographics—including 1.1 million adults in the coveted 18 to 49 category. It was also Lifetimes highest-rated unscripted program in more than three years.
As the title indicates, the series focuses on Kelly, who has faced increased scrutiny in recent years—particularly following allegations in 2017 that he held young women against their will in what at the time was described as a “cult.” Kelly denied those allegations. Last May, an alleged victim sued Kelly for sexual battery, false imprisonment, and failure to disclose an S.T.D. (Vanity Fair reached out to a representative for Kelly at the time and did not hear back.) So far, Kelly has yet to face any serious repercussions, beyond small concessions like Spotify removing his music from its official playlists. Kelly did, however, address the allegations last year in a 19-minute song.
The controversy surrounding Kelly—and the lack of legal consequences for his alleged actions—led to a surge in newly announced projects about him last year, as the #MeToo movement spread—in a similar fashion to previous true-crime obsessions O.J. Simpson and JonBenét Ramsey. Surviving R. Kelly has been marketed as an in-depth look at the singer, featuring firsthand accounts and new allegations. Of the docs more than 50 interviewees, only two are musicians (John Legend and Stephanie “Sparkle” Edwards)—a testament to how toxic any involvement in the narrative has become. In December, a Surviving R. Kelly screening was also evacuated following a shooting threat.
It is perhaps unsurprising, given all of this, that Surviving R. Kelly generated a considerable amount of social-media buzz on its premiere night. According to Deadline, it was the most social prime-time program (excluding sports) on its debut night, drawing over 743,000 combined interactions on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter—making it Lifetimes most successful social premiere ever, across all formats and genres. That might be why the show gained viewers from its first half hour to its last. Deadline reports that it gained 18 percent in total viewers, and 13 percent among adults aged 18 to 49.
Surviving R. Kelly will premiere parts three and four on Lifetime Friday night beginning at 9 P.M., before concluding on Saturday with parts five and six.
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