When critics act like Starrs

Lewinsky, interviewed about HBO documentary, gets tough questions about sex scandal

Monica Lewinsky battled both tears and television critics last week in Pasadena, Calif., where she fielded questions on her new HBO documentary and what she called "la scandal."

Monica in Black and White, premiering March 3, features Lewinsky in a Q&A session with 250 New York City college students. Lewinsky approached HBO with the idea in September 2000 and was compensated; neither side would disclose the amount. "Not enough to quit my day job," said Lewinsky, who designs a handbag line.

And not enough to endure critics, perhaps. After she made brief remarks at a Television Critics Tour session, her composure fizzled as the scribes fired questions. She apologized several times, teared up and stammered nervously. Once she said to Sheila Nevins, HBO executive vice president of documentaries, "You told me they would be nice."

It didn't stop there. Lewinsky, flanked by producers Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey, said several times that the documentary would answer most of the reporters' questions now that a gag order from special prosecutor Kenneth Starr has expired.

But reporters kept on. Asked how she felt to be the object of sex jokes, she tried again to refer them to the film. When a reporter persisted, she snapped at Nevins: "It's not my decision. This is you guys … don't blame me." The critics chided Nevins, accusing her of coaching Lewinsky. "Why'd you bring her here?" one jeered. Nevins finally directed Lewinsky to answer the questions.

Lewinsky said the documentary will help clear up misconceptions. The biggest: "That I sought this celebrity by seducing the president and going to the White House with an agenda" that would make her a rich celebrity.

Minus scandal and star power, other networks used the junket to unveil a host of upcoming documentaries, variants on reality programming:

  • Actresses, athletes and politicians will revisit childhood for WE: Women's Entertainment's Women's History Month stunt,When I Was a Girl, in March.
  • Comedy Central explores contributions of comics like Richard Pryor and Chris Rock in its five-part series
    The Heroes of Black Comedy,
    to air February for Black History Month. Comedy Executive Vice President and GM Bill Hillary said future series may do Jewish and female comics.
  • A&E's casting a wide net in its new slate, from natural history in Gorillas: Primal Contact
    to pop culture in New York at the Movies. OngoingMarried in America
    follows nine newlywed couples director Michael Apted will revisit biennially.
  • Even last year's reality genre is being billed as documentary. TNT's The Residents
    follows UCLA med residents. "It's not trendy reality," said Turner Broadcasting President Brad Siegel, "not a gimmicky game show. This is pure non-fiction drama."