The theatrical tour about the death of Martin Luther King Jr. that Tavis Smiley was slated to bring to Tampa’s David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts has been canceled in the wake sexual misconduct allegations against the broadcaster.
Death of A King: A Live Theatrical Experience was scheduled for March 25 in Ferguson Hall at the Straz Center. Based on Smiley’s book, the multimedia stage presentation was preparing to open Jan. 15 on a 40-city tour to commemorate the 50th anniversary of King’s death.
Mills Entertainment, the producers of the project, issued a statement Friday backing out of the tour.
"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."
This is the second time this month that a performing hall in the Tampa Bay area has had to deal with the fallout of such allegations against the headliner. The Mahaffey Theater canceled an upcoming performance by Garrison Keillor after allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced against the former host of A Prairie Home Companion.
PBS suspended Smiley Wednesday after multiple sexual misconduct allegations emerged. But Smiley is robustly denying the allegations and maintaining he was never given a chance to rebut the accusations.
Those who purchased tickets with a credit card will be automatically refunded, the Straz Center said. Those who purchased tickets by cash or check will be refunded within two weeks.
On his Facebook page, Smiley gave a lengthy defense saying he wasn’t aware of an investigation until he heard from former colleagues. "Only after being threatened with a lawsuit, did PBS investigators reluctantly agree to interview me for three hours."
He said the story broke almost immediately after that interview, leading him to believe their minds were made up.
In a Facebook video posted early Thursday morning, Smiley said he was "shocked" to hear PBS’s sudden announcement and intends to "fight back" against the network’s "so-called investigation."
"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," Smiley said. "The PBS investigators refused to review any of my personal documentation, refused to provide me the names of any accusers, refused to speak to my current staff, and refused to provide me any semblance of due process to defend myself against allegations from unknown sources."
In its statement, PBS said it had "engaged an outside law firm to conduct an investigation immediately after learning of troubling allegations regarding Mr. Smiley."
"This investigation included interviews with witnesses as well as with Mr. Smiley. The inquiry uncovered multiple, credible allegations of conduct that is inconsistent with the values and standards of PBS, and the totality of this information led to today’s decision."
Variety first reported the news on Wednesday afternoon. The probe revealed allegations that Smiley had engaged in sexual relationships with multiple subordinates, Variety reported, citing unnamed sources.
Some witnesses "expressed concern that their employment status was linked to the status of a sexual relationship with Smiley," Variety reported. They described the longtime TV personality as creating a "verbally abusive and threatening environment" and raised concerns about retaliation, according to Variety.
But Smiley says the situation has gone too far, "And I for one intend to fight back. PBS overreacted and they launched a sloppy investigation. It’s time for a real conversation in this country about where the lines are, about how men and women can engage each other in the workplace. And I look forward to actively participating in that conversation."