Amid allegations, Smiley’s Proctors show is canceled
PBS suspends host after claims of harassment BY BILL BUELL Gazette Reporter
Tavis Smiley’s scheduled Jan. 18 appearance at Proctors in Schenectady has been canceled.
“Death of a King: A Live Theatrical Experience,” Smiley’s latest project that was supposed to have its world premiere in New York City on Jan. 15, has been scrapped, at least for now. Smiley, who was the host of PBS’s “Tavis Smiley” for the past 14 years, was indefinitely suspended by that network after sexual harassment allegations were lodged against him earlier this week.
Proctors confirmed that the show was canceled, and Mills Entertainment, producers of “Death of a King: A Live Theatrical Experience,” issued the following statement Friday morning.
“In light of the recent allegations concerning Tavis Smiley, Mills Entertainment will not be moving forward with the “Death of a King” project at this time. We believe deeply in the message of this production and the importance of commemorating Dr. King in this crucial moment; however, we take seriously the allegations and will be suspending our relationship with Tavis Smiley and T.S. Productions.”
“Death of a King” was based on Smiley’s best-selling book, “Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Final Year.” The book and the theatrical production were commemorating the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination in Memphis in April of 1968. After opening in New York City on Jan. 15, the production was going to travel to Boston for a performance on Jan. 17 before making Proctors stop No. 3 on a planned 40-city tour throughout the U.S. in 2018. Walmart, another sponsor of Smiley’s book and the show, has also cut ties with him.
Smiley, who has denied the allegations, was suspended by PBS after an independent investigation uncovered “multiple, credible allegations of conduct that are inconsistent with the values and standards of PBS.”
Smiley responded with a Facebook statement, saying that PBS “overreacted” and called the suspension “a rush to judgment.” He added, “Let me also assure you that I have never groped, inappropriately exposed myself or coerced any colleague in the workplace ever in my 30-year career. If having a consensual relationship with a colleague years ago is the stuff that leads to this kind of public humiliation and personal destruction, heaven help us.”
“Tavis Smiley” aired locally on PBS affiliate WMHT Monday through Friday at midnight.
“We heard about it just like everybody else, and our temporary replacement now is the BBC World News, which we run earlier in the day,” said WMHT President Robert Altman. “We were obviously dealing with the programs that are available to us, and come January we hope to have a longer-term replacement in place.”
Smiley spoke to the Gazette earlier this month about “Death of a King: A Live Theatrical Experience.”
“It tells the story of King’s last year, which a lot of people don’t know about,” said Smiley, who was going to be joined on stage by jazz artist Marcus Roberts. Tony Award-winning director Kenny Leon (“A Raising in the Sun,” “The Mountaintop,” and “August Wilson’s Fences”) was serving as creative consultant.
“A lot of people, including almost 60 percent of black people, had turned against him because of his opposition to the Vietnam War,” said Smiley. “It’s later that his reputation was restored. This production is a cautionary tale about what happens to society if they ignore their truth tellers.”
KATIE FALKENBERG/LOS ANGELES TIMES
Tavis Smiley, author of “My Journey with Maya,” speaks at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.