Impeachment Showrunner Sarah Burgess on Sending Scripts to Monica Lewinsky, Writing Monica and Linda’s Last Moment at the Mall


American Crime History: Impeachment Showrunner Sarah Burgess talks about portraying the worst day of someone’s life in the Emmy-nominated episode, “Man Handled.”

Showrunner Sarah Burgess had no shortage of research material for the Accused episode “Man Handled”, which is nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie. Between Monica Lewinsky’s memoirs, documentaries and reports, she had a wealth of information to boil down to one 60-minute TV episode.

“It’s such a well-documented event,” Burgess says. “The Office of Independent Counsel has produced numerous reports on this subject. There’s an official government report that I had on hand, and it’s literally a time-stamped timeline, starting in the morning and continuing into the night. I felt like I had to incorporate all of that and it really involved a very clear structure and timeline for the event.

Because she had these settings, almost everything you see in the episode is exactly as it happened. Burgess says she would have moral reservations about deviating from the timeline for any reason related to entertainment or theatrics, especially when writing about a terrible day in someone’s life. However, she says it was the fastest script she wrote for the show while locked up in Villa Carlotta in Hollywood, pre-COVID.

“The events and the timeline flowed naturally because they really happened and you’ll never question it because I knew things that Monica had said in public and in private. It’s something that never happened. should never have happened to him, and you’re not going to deviate from events by writing it in. I hesitate to say that it was great to have those settings because the reason I had those settings was terrible. It’s very unusual in that regard.

Getting Notes from Monica Lewinsky

CR: Tina Thorpe/FX

Not only did Burgess have the responsibility of portraying one of the worst days of someone’s life, but she also had to show that person scripts about that day and the events surrounding it.

“I finished the script and then we pitched to her and she gave me notes. I ended up working in such a good process because I was able to engage with the material and all that s went from all of those perspectives. We’re at Linda Tripp, Ann Coulter, and the elves, Mike Emmick. There were some things she remembered that were different from what I originally wrote. I really wanted to know where she emotionally. Whatever she wanted to share, I let her come to me with it. I was not put in a position, nor did I feel it was appropriate, to send her an email about it.

Shortly after the FBI catches Monica at the mall, she asks to make a call and comes across Linda Tripp herself, the woman and former friend who started this mess in motion.

“She really fell for Linda. I know it sounds like something I made up and thought was so cool,” Burgess laughs, “but I think that’s the last time they saw each other. It went very well like that. Linda had shopping bags.

It’s a moment that feels scripted, only because it’s so perfect. Monica is going through hell and Linda goes to get some body butter from The Body Shop. Burgess remembers exactly what she wrote in the script.

“Yeah, I do it because I’m an obsessive maniac. I remember listing the bags Linda had. It was important to imagine it visually, which is always true for screenwriting, but I was obsessed with it in a unique way. Monica obviously has reason to be scared and follows people around the mall as she walks around. We’re in her perspective taking this footage in the mall, and she rushes back and then she sees teenagers chatting and browsing, and then Linda. It didn’t seem necessary at the time to describe the emotion of the moment because what had happened was relatively clear.

On breaking what could be a bottle episode

Given that the episode takes place in almost one location, the Ritz-Carlton hotel room, it might have the potential to be a bottle episode, but Burgess is still committed to going home with Linda.

“It also really happened, that Paula Jones’ attorneys came to her house that night to get information from her for their Presidential deposition the next morning. They said Linda Tripp was very shaken and scattered , which was unusual for her.

Burgess also says the story of how Ann Coulter and the elves got Linda Tripp’s tapes could be an episode on its own, with her sneaking them to her lawyer and “walking zigzags through parking lots.” Apparently Ann Coulter also had an amazing sound system because she was a huge Grateful Dead fan (go figure).

“I felt committed to the scope of the show like that,” Burgess says of adding other characters in this episode. “I think Ryan did a spectacular job as a director and Beanie is so wonderful in the role. When you come back to them [Monica and the FBI in the hotel room], you feel like they’re the backbone of the episode and we’re in this sweaty, exhausting hotel room with them. Because a lot of this is just waiting for her mom and not fully understanding what’s going on, and then we go for a walk around the mall – which is surreal because it’s a fun, feminized space that’s suddenly terrifying – I think it was useful to be able to get into the points of view of these other major characters and come back to them. The passing of time and everyone becoming tired and increasingly flustered was actually very important to land at the end of the episode.

In addition to the episode being a turning point in the event, it also turns out to be a turning point for Monica Lewinsky as we know her in the limited series. She’s never the same after “Man Handled.”

“It’s terrible because I feel like it would be the worst day of someone’s life, but very soon she’ll wake up and she’ll be in the headlines. Seven months ago ensue before the real story is revealed, so there’s this long period where the United States thinks Monica made it all up. The show is so Monica and Linda together, and now they’re never together again.

But “Man Handled” also proves how much the FBI underestimated Monica Lewinsky.

“They totally thought that in 20 minutes she would go to bed. They weren’t prepared for her emotionality, but they didn’t expect her to get up. She refused to betray those people she knew.

American Crime Story Impeachment is available on Hulu.

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