‘Surviving R. Kelly’ Boosts Ratings and Donations, Inspires Possible Legal Action

By Sameer Rao Jan 09, 2019

Millions of people tuned in to Lifetime’s "Surviving R. Kelly" during its premiere run last week. Nielsen data cited by Chicago Tribune and other media outlets yesterday (January 8) counted nearly 1.8 million viewers for the first episode on January 3, which grew to 2.3 million by its January 5 conclusion. These numbers, along with the program’s influence on social media conversations, bolstered what Lifetime representatives told the Tribune was its “strongest nonfiction series in seven years.”

The impact of "Surviving R. Kelly" also extended beyond the screen. Scheherazade Tillet, executive director of Chicago-based A Long Walk Home, told the Tribune that the nonprofit organization collected nearly $10,300 in donations from January 3-8. She said that the series and accompanying social media attention amplified the group’s work to end violence against women and girls.

“For us, being a grassroots organization, it’s nice to see that [the series] is actually reaching us,” said Tillet, who co-founded A Long Walk Home with sister Salamishah. “You actually see a shift from the mainstream #MeToo movement to reaching our young [Black] girls in Chicago, and I think this [series] is allowing these conversations and dialogue to happen.”

"Surviving R. Kelly" may also lead to legal consequences for the singer’s alleged widespread sexual violence against Black girls and women. NBC Chicago reported yesterday—Kelly’s birthday—that Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx encouraged more survivors to come forward during a press conference. TMZ adds that the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office opened an investigation into Kelly’s reported abuse in Atlanta. A lawyer for the family of Joycelyn Savage, a survivor featured in the series, told CNN that the Atlanta office contacted him.