Monica Lewinsky, the world's most infamous intern, approached HBO last year with what she thought would be an enticing offer: a tell-all special that would begin the process of clearing her name once the restrictions on her immunity deal with former independent counsel Kenneth Starr expired Jan. 22.
At first, the network's executive vice president of original programming, Sheila Nevins, thought the country had already heard more than it wanted. There had been, after all, the detailed Starr report, a 1998 Vanity Fair photo spread and the widely seen Barbara Walters interview on ABC, in which Lewinsky described, among other things, her experience with phone sex.
But Lewinsky, 27, insisted there was more, and the pitch ultimately persuaded Nevins to order "Monica in Black and White," a 100-minute mix of archival footage, soul-baring admissions, even an imitation by Lewinsky of Clinton inviting her into a back room. The project launches a new season of the cable network's acclaimed documentary series "America Undercover" this Sunday.
HBO will not disclose the budget of the documentary or how much was paid to Lewinsky, who had no control over the final product. A representative for Lewinsky said she was pleased with the documentary but would have liked to see more time devoted to the ways in which her privacy was invaded.
"Originally, she had wanted to focus on the legal aspects of this runaway investigation," said Fenton Bailey, who produced and directed the documentary along with Randy Barbato. "But what was interesting was that these law students (shown questioning her) wanted to know about her relationships and dynamics with the president, not in a prurient way."
In the program, Lewinsky sits onstage at Cooper Union University's auditorium, wearing a black pantsuit with an ivory-colored blouse and her hair combed straight. It was a look the crew maintained over three days in January during which she sat for a total of 10 hours of questioning from an auditorium filled with HBO staff, professors and students of American history, law, psychology and women's studies.
Lewinsky answered every question asked of her during production. She also agreed to appear at an HBO news conference in January to promote "Monica in Black and White."
A spokesman for Lewinsky said that the documentary is "not perfect, but it's an honest, objective account," adding that his client would have preferred more time be dedicated to issues that were "very profound to her."