HBO Scientology Doc ‘Going Clear’ Converts 1.7 Million Viewers, Best in 9 Years

Sunday premiere is pay-TV channel’s most-watched documentary in nearly 10 years

HBO Scientology documentary “Going Clear: Scientology and The Prison of Belief” attracted nearly 1.7 million viewers on Sunday, according to TV By the Numbers. It had a 0.7 rating in the key 18-49 demographic.

The viewer total (more specifically 1.652 million) makes the film the pay-TV network’s most-watched doc premiere since Spike Lee‘s two-part 2006 Hurricane Katrina offering, “When the Levees Broke” (1.75 million viewers). (A Beyonce doc in 2013 got 1.8 million total viewers in its debut, but that was coded as a music special, so not technically an actual documentary.)

“Going Clear” also topped the individual airing’s Live + Same Day audience total of recent Robert Durst HBO doc “The Jinx.”

The Church of Scientology was not one of the film’s many fans. On Sunday, it ripped the movie in a lengthy exclusive statement to TheWrap, calling “Going Clear” “desperate,” “ludicrous” and “made-up.”

Afterward, documentary director Alex Gibney fought back against the full statement, saying: “The church claims it is innocent of all misdeeds. How credible does that sound?”

The reaction to the film itself was equally strong; readers can see a sampling of Hollywood tweets here.

“Going Clear,” based on the book of the same name by Lawrence Wright, featured commentary from prominent former Scientologists, such as Marty Rathburn, Spanky Taylor, director Paul Haggis and Tom De Vocht. It also covers the involvement of two of its most visible members, actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta.

The film takes an in-depth look at the religion launched by science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard. “Going Clear” not only presents a detailed history of the tax-exempt organization, but features former Scientologists who allege serious abuse and mistreatment at the hands of the Church’s senior leadership, including David Miscavige.

Gibney has claimed that those who appeared in the documentary have been threatened with violence.

“A major thing the church got by on for many years was intimidating people into silence, based on their threats of litigation and brutish psychological games,” Gibney said in an interview with TheWrap.

HBO only shares Live + 7 Day ratings these days.