Tales of John Branca’s business acumen are plentiful. How he turned Michael Jackson’s over-budget “Thriller” music video production into a lucrative behind-the-scenes documentary. How he secured for Jackson the coveted Beatles publishing catalog. How he helped Jackson purchase Neverland ranch for $40 million less than the asking price. How 10 years after Jackson’s death, he and the estate’s other executor John McClain -- a childhood friend of the Jacksons who went on to manage sister Janet’s career and was a founding executive at Interscope Records -- built the artist’s music catalog into a $570 million asset.
Now, after HBO’s March airing of filmmaker Dan Reed’s Leaving Neverland -- with its disturbing and graphic first-person accounts of Jackson’s pedophilia -- Branca, 68, faces a new and arguably much more daunting challenge: protecting Jackson’s legacy and the successful businesses that it fuels from fallout over the powerful testimony presented in the film.
Branca, who is a partner at the law firm of Ziffren Brittenham, has been in this position before: allegations that Jackson sexually abused children first arose in the 1990s and Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who are the focus of Leaving Neverland, first alleged that Jackson sexually abused them in separate lawsuits that they filed in 2013 and 2014, respectively. (Both suits were dismissed and are being appealed.) What’s different this time is that Leaving Neverland brought Robson and Safechuck’s allegations directly to the court of public opinion -- via the cable network that brought the world Game of Thrones -- without giving the estate a chance to mount its usually aggressive defense. (According to Nielsen, part one of the film drew 1.3 million viewers, the third highest rated documentary of the past decade for HBO.)