Rumors of an American Crime Story season based on the impeachment of Bill Clinton have long been floating around. Yesterday, FX announced that the third season would, in fact, be Impeachment: American Crime Story, and it would premiere on September 27, 2020, just about six weeks before the 2020 presidential election.
The Television Critics Association’s executive session with FX Chairman John Landgraf put the exec on the spot about airing a retrospective on a Democratic scandal in an election year. Indeed, if it runs for 10 episodes like most seasons, American Crime Story: Impeachment will run through the 2020 election.
Could American Crime Story: Impeachment Help Donald Trump?
After embargo lifted on the press release, reporters began to criticize FX’s decision to air this particular miniseries at that particular time. A TCA reporter read a tweet from writer Mark Harris to Landgraf, concerned that revisiting the Clinton scandal will help Trump’s re-election campaign.
There is nothing that Trump would like more than to turn the homestretch of 2020 into a revisitation of the Clintons. Don't do this, @FXNetworks. It's a disservice to our fragile political system and to the talented people involved in this show.
— Mark Harris (@MarkHarrisNYC) August 6, 2019
After a few more follow-ups, Landgraf shot down Harris’s concern.
“Let me just say something about the current environment,” Landgraf began. “When someone writes without even knowing what the script is, and I don’t even know who the person you referenced is… So this person knows what the show is, knows how the audience is going to respond to it, knows how it’s going to impact history, right? This certainty that says, ‘we can’t have conversations, we can’t make art, we can’t have nuance, I won’t even wait to pronounce judgment on it’ is toxic in the media environment. I believe very, very strongly in what we’re making. I’ve read it. I think it’s great. I don’t believe it’s going to determine who’s the next President of the United States. I think that’s a little hysterical from my standpoint, somebody saying that that’s going to influence the presidential election. From my standpoint I am insistent that I’m going to support artists who want to make great art at the time and place where people are going to watch it. 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 shout us down in terms of saying, ‘You can’t make that art. You can’t schedule it at the time the most people want to watch it.’”
Landgraf is correct on many levels. No one has seen Impeachment: American Crime Story yet. Nobody has even read the scripts beyond those inside FX. A network should stand by its artists. Nobody can predict how the public will react. Even as popular and acclaimed as The People Vs. O.J. Simpson was, what percentage of the voting public actually watches FX?
That said, Hillary Clinton lost her lead over Trump when James Comey reopened his investigation into her e-mails days before the 2016 election.
The Monica Lewinsky Story is Worth Revisiting
Bill Clinton was impeached over his extramarital affairs, which included Monica Lewinsky, Linda Tripp and Paula Jones. Beanie Feldstein will play Lewinsky in the miniseries, Sarah Paulson will play Tripp, and Annaleigh Ashford will play Jones. Whatever your political affiliation, whatever you think of Bill Clinton as a person or leader, we should hopefully agree the women involved in his scandal were not treated fairly.
“We look at moments in time that involve crimes that can be looked at much more nuanced and much more complexity in the fullness of time, through great writing and character looking back than it could be at the time,” Landgraf said. “I feel completely unabashed about my pride for Crime Story and believe that this is a completely valid cycle of American Crime Story. It’s an excellent story. The writing’s superb and the cast is superb. There’s just a lot of nuance in the story that people don’t know.”
Landgraf equatedImpeachment: American Crime Story with Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast.
“There’s a podcast that I really like called Revisionist History that’s much more broadly expansive,” Landgraf said. “It doesn’t just deal with true crime. It deals with all kinds of historical events. I think the way we look at American Crime Story is as Revisionist History.”
It wouldn’t even necessarily have to be revisionist, just more complete. The media coverage in the ‘90s was far more limited. There was 24 hour news, but not as many stations as there are now, and certainly no internet as prolific as it is today with social media. Lewinsky, Tripp and Jones can get a more evenhanded portrayal.
The timing was no accident. The goal of shows like American Crime Story is to illuminate the story to the largest audience possible. A political scandal in an election year does that .
“People are going to be very interested in this right around the presidential election,” Landgraf said.
It Will Be Told From the Female Perspective
What shouldn’t be lost in American Crime Story: Impeachment is that it will tell the story from the women’s perspectives. In the ‘90s, the narratives were controlled by Bill Clinton and investigator Kenneth Starr. American Crime Story takes Lewinsky, Tripp and Jones’s point of view, a female playwright is adapting Jeffrey Toobin’s book, and Lewinsky herself signed on as a producer.
“This American Crime Story season focuses on the events that led up to and through the Ken Starr special counsel investigation that resulted in President Bill Clinton’s impeachment votes in the House and the Senate as told through the point of view of the many women that were swept up in that maelstrom,” Landgraf said. “Sarah Burgess is a really, really gifted, talented playwright. She’s receiving a lot of deserved acclaim right now, comes from a younger female point of view, a feminist point of view.”
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