FX Boss Defends Lewinsky-Clinton 'Impeachment: American Crime Story'
By Philiana Ng
Shortly after announcing the next installment of American Crime Story, which will focus on the 1998 Monica Lewinsky-Bill Clinton sex scandal and the impeachment trial that followed, FX was put in the hot seat about its decision to move forward with Impeachment amid the 2020 presidential election.
Impeachment: American Crime Story aims to tell the national scandal that swept up Paula Jones (Analeigh Ashford), Monica Lewinsky (Beanie Feldstein) and Linda Tripp (Sarah Paulson) as principal characters in the country’s first impeachment proceedings in over a century. Additionally, Clive Owen has been cast as Clinton, ET has learned. The story will be written by Sarah Burgess and will be based on Jeffrey Toobin's book, A Vast Conspiracy: The Real Sex Scandal That Nearly Brought Down a President.
“People are going to be very interested in this right around the presidential election," John Landgraf, chairman of FX Networks and FX Productions, told reporters at the Television Critics Association summer press tour, when asked about the conspicuous timing of Impeachment.
“The way we look at American Crime Story is as Revisionist History," Landgraf said, referring to Malcolm Gladwell's political podcast. "We look at moments in time that involve crimes that can be looked at in a much more nuanced and a much more complex in the fullness of time, through great writing and character looking at with time. I feel completely unabashed about my pride for American Crime Story and my belief that this is a completely valid cycle of American Crime Story. It’s an excellent story. The writing is superb and the cast is superb, and there’s a lot of nuance in the story that people don’t know.”
When the new installment was first announced, it was slated to premiere Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, two months before the presidential election. Pressed on the possible influence Impeachment could have on the presidential election following some immediate Twitter backlash regarding the timing of the series, Landgraf was firm in his response, passionately expressing his belief that a dramatic television program won't play a role in electing the next leader of the country.
“This certainty that says we can’t have conversations, we can’t make art, we can’t have nuance, that I won’t even wait to pronounce judgment on it is toxic in the media environment. And I believe very, very strongly in what we’re making. I’ve read it and I think it’s great. I don’t believe it’s going to determine who is the next president of the United States," he vowed. "I think that’s a little hysterical."
"Somebody’s saying that that’s going to influence the presidential election and from my standpoint, I am insistent that I am going to support artists who want to make great art and they want to put on at the time when people are going to have the time and place where people are going to watch it," he continued. "I will stand up here as long as I’m here and I will stand for artists and I will stand for art. No one will shut us down in terms of saying, ‘You can’t make that art. You can’t schedule it at most times that people want to watch it.’”
Months, later, at the 2020 Televisions Critics Association, Landgraf revealed that the series “won’t make it by September,” he said, adding, “we can’t start [filming] until March 21 of this year and we won’t physically be done until October. So it’s a long production.” He also clarified that the change was not a result of pushback about influencing the election, “but Ryan’s scheduling. It’s really his availability and the timing of the production.”
An installment dedicated to the Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton scandal was first put into development in early 2017, and at one point, was understood to no longer be in contention for American Crime Story. Landgraf revealed why this iteration of the story that they landed on was appropriate for exploration on the small screen.
“More than anything, the reason it’s back is because the producers Brad Simpson, Nina Jacobson and Ryan Murphy really stayed focus on their belief that there was something worth making there," he explained. "It comes from a younger female point of view, a feminist point of view. If you went back and you saw the way that that story was covered at the time, you will see that the way we perceive many aspects of it but particularly the women, the female characters that played a role in that story, has really been transformed by the ensuing history -- by the period of time, by the #MeToo movement.”
Speaking more specifically to having Lewinsky as a producer on Impeachment, Landgraf was complimentary of how she has handled herself in the two decades since the national scandal she was at the center of.
“I find Monica Lewinsky extremely impressive. I find the way that she’s risen from the early trauma that frankly could have buckled anyone… and she’s come back," he said. "What brought it back around was really Sarah Burgess’ reinterpretation of the material through the prism of these women, not just Monica but Linda Tripp. I think the fact that Monica herself wants to be involved with it -- when you’re talking about a period of her life that was traumatic as you could possibly imagine -- maybe tells you something about the quality of the material and the vibrancy of the revisionist history that that material can provide now.”
With Impeachment meant to be told through the perspectives of the women involved in the Lewinsky-Clinton scandal and the impeachment trial that followed, Landgraf was asked whether the Clintons have been approached to participate in any capacity. "Not as far as I know," he said, confirming that FX has no plans to reach out.
[This story was originally published Aug. 8, 2019. It has been updated to reflect updates to the cast and premiere date.]