By: Briana Phipps
Leah Remini isn’t backing down. Nearly four years after leaving the Church of Scientology, the controversial religion’s most high-profile defector is ramping up her effort to blow the whistle on stories of abuse, misconduct and retribution — locking in a renewal deal for an expanded second season for her A&E exposé, Scientology and the Aftermath.
“The way the organization has responded without taking responsibility for what they do to people, I need to continue,” Remini tells THR. “It would be another [scenario] if they stopped trying to discredit everyone’s stories and said, ‘If you don’t like it, don’t be part of Scientology.’ ”
Though there has been no formal action taken by the notoriously litigious organization, Scientology reps continue to dismiss A&E, Remini and the other former members who have appeared on the series thus far. The attention only has been a win for the cable network. Drawing strong ratings, with an average of 3 million viewers (1.5 million of them adults 18-to-49), Scientology and the Aftermath has done one better in bringing some prestige back to A&E. Head of programming Elaine Frontain Bryant says the breakout fits in with the current push for “authentic and distinctive storytelling.” An aggressive Emmy campaign is said to be in the works as well. The network is submitting the show to compete in the Informational Series or Special category, where it will go head-to-head with the perennial favorite, CNN’s Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown.
Scientology and the Aftermath‘s second season, already in preproduction, will consist of 10 episodes. Sources say the network is eyeing a summer return. It will be executive produced once again by Remini and her No Seriously Productions, alongside The Intellectual Property Corp.’s Eli Holzman and Aaron Saidman. There should be no shortage of new material: Remini says people started lining up to participate as soon as the first season premiered — thanks, in particular, to involvement from former Scientology official Mike Rinder. He departed the church in 2007, appeared in all of season one’s episodes and is credited as a consultant on the show. Remini says Rinder now gets hundreds of emails a day from other defectors.
That’s not to say it has been easy on everyone involved. While A+E Networks topper Nancy Dubuc said in January that she had been trolled on Facebook over the show, suggesting the church had paid for negative comments, Remini, 46, insists her reception on social media has been overwhelmingly positive.
And, even if it were more difficult, Remini gives the distinct impression that it would not slow her down. “I have a stage for people to listen,” she says, adding that she believes Scientology’s power has been weakened by Alex Gibney’s film Going Clear and mounting documentation of misconduct. “Until the day I no longer have this platform, I won’t be silent.”
As for Remini’s day job, the actress recently booked the lead on NBC pilot What About Barb?, a female-focused update on the 1991 black comedy starring Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss. She starts filming this week.