UK broadcaster ITV has commissioned a primetime documentary following actor and presenter Ross Kemp as he goes in search of pop star Michael Jackson’s collection of exotic animals.
The 1 x 75-minute Searching For Michael Jackson’s Zoo is a co-production between UK factual indies Rare TV and Freshwater Films that sees Kemp explore what happened to the menagerie that Jackson acquired from captive breeders and animal poachers around the world, and kept at his Neverland Ranch.
At its peak, Jackson’s private zoo hosted 124 exotic animals, including zebras, giraffes, elephants, lions, tigers and his famous pet chimpanzee Bubbles. Following Jackson’s death in 2009, the zoo was dismantled and the animals dispersed.
As Kemp sets out on a journey across the US to find answers, he discovers that the pop star’s reputation as an animal lover masked a disturbing truth: that not only was Jackson largely indifferent to his animals’ welfare but that many of the creatures in his care were neglected and maltreated.
Commissioned by Tom Giles, ITV’s controller of current affairs, Searching For Michael Jackson’s Zoo was developed by Christian Broadhurst, Rare TV’s VP of US development working in conjunction with the US Department of Agriculture.
It is directed by Johnny McDevitt (Britain’s Tiger Kings: On the Trail with Ross Kemp; Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons), produced by McDevitt and Harri Davies, and executive produced for Rare TV by Alexander Gardiner. BossaNova Media is handling the worldwide distribution
Actor turned documentary presenter Kemp is well-known in the UK as a former star of soap drama EastEnders and scripted series such as Without Motive and Ultimate Force.
More recently he has fronted factual projects such as Sky’s Ross Kemp On Gangs and Ross Kemp In Afghanistan. He commented: “For obvious reasons, Michael Jackson’s legacy has been ruined for many people, but he remains an idol for millions. Part of that fascination comes from his Neverland home and one of its key features – bizarre for some, magical for others – was his extraordinary collection of animals.
“But so little is known about the fate of many that became celebrities in their own right during Jackson’s career. But after travelling nearly 3,000 miles across the United States, the search gave me a new insight into the singer, and opened my eyes to our continued uncomfortable relationship with wild animals.”