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Crying Time In Prime Time for Monica Lewinsky

By Lisa de Moraes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 23, 1999; Page C1

See Monica laugh. See Monica cry. See Monica for two whole hours on ABC next week.

Barbara Walters's sit-down over the weekend with presidential gal pal Monica Lewinsky turned out to be so compelling and so "educational," ABC News President David Westin said yesterday, that the network decided to blow out its 9 p.m. entertainment programming on Wednesday, March 3, to get in every educational moment. The Lewinsky interview will air on "20/20" from 9 to 11 p.m.

"This takes us through the relationship from its earliest days through her feelings about him at this point," Walters said in a telephone news conference yesterday.

Walters's landing of the Lewinsky interview was considered the biggest TV news coup of the presidential scandal, though its impact may have been diminished by Lewinsky's videotaped testimony during the Senate impeachment trial.

But what people who watched that testimony didn't see was Walters making Lewinsky cry. Nobody can make an interview subject cry like Walters and viewers love watching her do it; it's made her one of the most watched, and best paid, interviewers in television.

"There are times when she is very emotional and where there's tears. . . . This is not a sobbing interview," Walters said.

And though Walters promises we'll hear about Lewinsky's "torment," "her terrible fright," her feelings about independent counsel Ken Starr, her feelings about Hillary Rodham Clinton and "that famous thong," this is not "a huggy, kissy piece."

We'll also learn whether the former White House intern is still in love with President Clinton, Walters said. We'll even learn something new about Jan. 16, 1998, the day Lewinsky was subjected to hours of questioning by federal officials over her relationship with him. Lewinsky is restricted per her immunity deal with Starr from discussing how the president treated her. Not a problem, Walters said, since the incident is a matter of public record. Lewinsky will contribute "how she felt and what her feelings were about that night and those people," Walters said.

While her American interview will be about feelings, her British interview, which was conducted on Sunday, was about being "raped by the American Constitution," says Jon Snow of Britain's Channel Four.

Lewinsky did not cry during this interview, he said. It was conducted over eight hours in her mom's penthouse overlooking Central Park.

The resulting hour-long broadcast will air March 4, less than 24 hours after Lewinsky's talk with Walters, and the same day her book, "Monica's Story," goes on sale. It's penned by Brit author Andrew Morton, who also wrote the bio of Princess Diana that was largely credited with rehabilitating her reputation.

Lewinsky is reportedly getting $660,000 for her Channel Four interview and 75 percent of the proceeds from its sale to other countries. She's getting a $1.5 million advance for the book. She's not getting a nickel for her ABC interview, Westin reiterated yesterday.

Westin called that interview "educational," saying it taught him that the story is "more complicated and subtle" than it has been portrayed. "The press," Westin said, has given the story a "cartoon quality." However, when asked if that included ABC's coverage, he said, "There's nothing that jumps to mind now in our reporting that strikes me as having been inaccurate or unfair."

March 3 is the final day of the current sweeps period, when the networks schedule their biggest ratings-grabbers and audience levels are used to set local ad rates. Walters won the interview last November -- also a sweeps month -- but Lewinsky couldn't talk until permission was granted by Starr (who gave an in-depth interview last fall to Walters's ABC colleague, Diane Sawyer).

Expanded to begin at 9 p.m., ABC's Lewinsky interview will compete against CBS's "60 Minutes II." CBS decided to preempt "Chicago Hope" that night to stage what it calls a "good Monica vs. bad Monica battle" at 10. The network confirmed it will air "Touched by an Angel," starring Roma Downey as an angel named Monica, in the time slot.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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