FX’s Emmy-dominating American Crime Story franchise — of The People vs. O.J. Simpson and The Assassination of Gianni Versace fame — has delayed its third season, which is about Bill Clinton’s impeachment proceedings in 1998 and 1999.
The season, announced in August 2019, was initially slated to debut on September 27, 2020, about six weeks before the 2020 presidential election. The season will now likely debut in 2021, but no official date has been announced.
And while the initial premiere date had prompted anger from many who feared it would fan the flames of the 2020 election, FX Networks President John Landgraf insisted that response had nothing to do with the season’s date change during his executive session at the 2020 Television Critics Association winter press tour.
“[Executive producer] Ryan [Murphy], who is objectively the busiest man in show business, is not available to start production until March 21,” Landgraf said. “I don’t think [a September release date is] reasonable, given that we don’t plan to wrap until October.”
(You may have also noticed that President Donald Trump has been impeached since the season was announced, which can’t have helped.)
Despite 2018 reports that producer Ryan Murphy had lost interest in the idea of doing a season about Clinton’s impeachment, FX announced its existence during the 2019 Television Critics Association summer press tour. The season will be adapted by playwright Sarah Burgess (whose play Dry Powder made complex financial topics easy to understand), from the book A Vast Conspiracy: The Real Story of the Sex Scandal That Nearly Brought Down a President by Jeffrey Toobin. (Toobin’s earlier book The Run of His Life inspired The People vs. O.J.)
Perhaps most intriguing are the season’s early casting choices. Murphy mainstay Sarah Paulson (who won an Emmy for playing Marcia Clark in The People vs. O.J.) will play Linda Tripp, who taped Monica Lewinsky’s confessions of her affair with President Clinton. Lewinsky herself will be played by Beanie Feldstein (Lady Bird, Booksmart), while Paula Jones, who accused Clinton of sexual harassment, will be played by Tony winner Annaleigh Ashford.
To say much more would be reading tea leaves, but I do so enjoy reading tea leaves. The presence of Burgess as the season’s writer, the presence of Lewinsky as a producer, and the fact that the first three actors cast are all playing women who were embroiled in the scandal and — in the case of Lewinsky — came to feel that their concerns and accusations were exploited by a Republican Party that was thirsty to push Bill Clinton out of office suggests that the story won’t center on Clinton. Instead, it seems as though it will focus on larger questions of power, politics, and gender.
Indeed, Landgraf more or less suggested as much at his executive session in August 2019, when he said the season’s story would be told from the point of view of the women swept up in the Ken Starr investigation.
Telling the story of Clinton’s impeachment is a calculated risk for FX and the American Crime Story team, since Americans might be pretty burned out on politics after the 2020 election. But in a world where impeachment is back in the headlines, it’s a risk that just might pay off.