MOVE over Netflix. Hang on to that crown, Game of Thrones. There’s a new TV presence on the block.
In the face of documentaries like Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief and more recently Scientology and the Aftermaththe controversial Church of Scientology appears to be trying to take control of its own broadcast narrative with the launch of its own 24-hour TV channel.
Scientology TV launched in the US on Monday night with a rare public appearance by controversial leader David Miscavige, a vow that it will be “candid about every aspect of the church and its operations but isn’t seeking to preach or convert”; and a rapid-fire reaction on social media.
“There’s a lot of talk about us. And we get it,” Miscavige said as he introduced the first night of programming as Scientology TV switched on.
“People are curious. Well, we want to answer your questions. Because, frankly, whatever you have heard, if you haven’t heard it from us, I can assure you we’re not what you expect.”
Scientology was an “expanding and dynamic religion and we’re going to be showing you all of it,” Miscavige said from the “spiritual headquarters” in which he was standing in Florida — its churches around the world (yes, Australia, that includes here) and a behind-the-scenes look at its management.
Miscavige said the channel also will explore the life and philosophy of Scientology’s late founder “true-to-life genius” L. Ron Hubbard.
The church teaches that technology can expand the mind and help solve problems and claims 10 million members worldwide.
“Let’s be clear: We’re not here to preach to you, to convince you or to convert you,” Miscavige said.
“No. We simply want to show you, because after all, the first principle of Scientology is that it’s only true if it is true to you. So, take a look and then decide for yourself.”
The statement provoked ire and scepticism from many on social media, who noted that Scientology also didn’t want to debate or be questioned, if the fact that comments had been turned off on YouTube versions of the channel were any indication.
Others wondered if “suppressive persons” would be able to watch.
But there were supporters, with a number of wellwishers joining the new network’s Twitter feed.
Early reviews said the first hour of the new channel offered a slickly-produced taste of the series to follow from an in-house studio.
Those in-house program offerings include Meet a Scientologist, Destination Scientology and the three-part L. Ron Hubbard: In His Own Voice.
Miscavige noted that the church’s followers include “some of the most well-known artists and celebrities in the world”.
He didn’t name them, but Tom Cruise and Kirstie Alley are among long-time Scientologists.
The Scientology TV app says the network will have live streaming and “full episodes of your favourite shows,” though it’s unclear which shows those are — or if they could star other famous members like Elisabeth Moss, Danny Masterson, and John Travolta.
The channel is available on DIRECTS, AppleTV, Roku, fireTV, Chromecast, iTunes and Google Play.
The Scientology Network follows the launch of Scientology Media Productions in 2016, a two-hectrae broadcasting studio on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles.
Scientology spokesman Karin Pouw declined to answer specific questions about the network, theTampa Bay Times said.
Nobody is sure what it cost although “it represents a significant investment for the group”, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
As part of the countdown to the launch, the organisation even lit up Times Square on the day of launch to announce its presence.
It’s not Scientology’s first foray into spending big bucks on television: every year the church spend millions on a coveted 30-second commercial slot during the Super Bowl.
This year’s ad carried the same branding as the new TV network — the tagline “Curious?”
The ad sparked controversy among Superbowl viewers in light of accusations of abuse which are continually levelled at the church.
Scientology has no shortage of critics: several high-profile projects have investigated the church’s alleged abuses of former members.
The launch comes amid increased media scrutiny thanks to series like actor Leah Remini’s A & E docuseries Scientology and the Aftermath, Alex Gibney’s Emmy-winning documentary, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief.
Last September, Scientology and the Aftermath won an Emmy award for its series that detailed stories of physical, mental, sexual and financial abuses within the church to millions of viewers.
In 2017, UK documentary maker Louis Theroux was warned off, followed and “buried in legal letters” as he made Louis Theroux: My Scientology Movie.
Miscavige didn’t directly address critics as he launched the Scientology Network.
Instead, the channel’s debut offered interviews with church members who touted Scientology’s rewards, showed off its impressive facilities in cities including Melbourne, London, Tokyo and throughout the United States and its work with other churches and community groups.
Viewers were introduced to ethnically diverse members including blue-collar workers, professionals and business owners.
Critics remained sceptical.
“You should make it less confusing and just call it bulls**t.tv, offered one.
“Nothing but ads. Disappointing.” said another.
Stephen Kent, a professor of sociology at University of Alberta who has studied Scientology for 30 years, says the move is an attempt by Scientology to take control of the narrative,.
“It’s an attempt to get legitimacy; at the same time it’s an attempt to diminish the impact of extensive media criticism,” Kent said.
“The fact that Scientology is targeting its broadcasting through new media is indicative of the problems the organisation is having with its image,” Kent said.