Nothing quite like a sex trafficking cult tell-all to kick off the fall TV lineup! This Sunday, E! True Hollywood Story will premiere its new season, starting with an episode dedicated to the mysterious organization NXIVM, better known as the “sex cult” that boasted Smallville actress Allison Mack as one of its famous members.
According to E!, the episode, titled “NXIVM: Self Help or Sex Cult?” will focus on “the recruitment of women into the organization and its sub-groups, and the severe impact it had on their lives. This installment also uncovers the secrets and shocking behavior that led to the conviction of deceitful NXIVM founder Keith Raniere and the guilty plea and imminent sentencing of former actor and NXIVM member Allison Mack.”
To back up a bit: in 2017, The New York Times ran an exposé about NXIVM, an enigmatic organization that recruited young women with the promise of leadership training, with the provocative headline: “Inside a Secretive Group Where Women Are Branded.” In it, the report details how Raniere and co-founder Nancy Saltzman began what was marketed as a self-help seminar back in 1998, but what turned out to be an alarming cult in which some women were deemed “masters” and others “slaves.” Women previously involved with the cult came forward to detail some pretty raucous practices, including mental and physical abuse, as well as demeaning sex acts and even sex trafficking.
As a direct result of the exposé, networks and producers leapt forward at the chance to tell the story both fictionalized and factually: The first include an episode on A&E’s “A&E Investigates Cults and Extreme Belief” series, which has an entire episode dedicated to NXIVM, as well as a 2017 documentary titled NXIVM: Multi-Level Marketing, which actually features interviews with Raniere, Salzman, and other prominent current and former members.
Last April, The Hollywood Reporter exclusively announced that Annapurna Television had optioned the rights to the New York Times exposé, and was planning on creating a scripted one-hour fictionalized series about NXIVM. Actress Shannon Woodward of Westworld fame is set to executive produce the as-yet-unnamed series, alongside Annapurna’s Megan Ellison, Sue Naegle, and Susan Goldberg. A TV series starring former member and actress Sarah Edmondson and her husband, actor Anthony Ames, was also announced that same day, but it’s presently unclear whether the project is still underway.
Among the bigger networks that are currently working on projects revolving around NXIVM are Investigation Discovery, HBO, and Lifetime. HBO announced last April that it would start production on an untitled documentary series that would chronicle the lives of several people who had joined the organization. According to the network, the series is expected to “take a deep, nuanced look at experiences of its members, spotlighting their universal desire for personal growth.”
Several months later, ID ordered a two-hour special called “The Lost Women of NXIVM” just one day after Raniere was convicted of racketeering, sex trafficking, and other charges last June. It will follow the journeys of four women who were former members of the cult who either vanished or died under mysterious circumstances, and dive into the troubling conclusions that evidence from those investigations reveal.
Lifetime, the most recent to announce its project, was also the first of the three networks to debut it: the network released a fictionalized Lifetime movie, The NXIVM Cult: A Mother’s Fight to Save Her Daughter, followed by a documentary, Beyond the Headlines: Escaping the NXIVM Cult With Gretchen Carlson, on Saturday, Sept. 21. The movie told the true story of Catherine Oxenberg, whose daughter, India, was heavily involved with the cult, and focused on Oxenberg’s plight to get her daughter back. Andrew Roth played Oxenberg, Peter Facinelli played Raniere, Jasper Polish played India, and Sara Fletcher played Mack.
Suffice it to say, the NXIVM saga is not one that’s going away anytime soon.