Why Are Networks Vying to Air Their Version of the Hillary Clinton Story?

By  · Published on August 21st, 2013

It’s getting increasingly hard to keep track of the competing Hillary projects. The movies got to the former Secretary of State first with Rodham, the 2012 Black Lister that features a 26-year-old HRC showing lackluster interest in her on-again, off-again boyfriend Bill (and helping ex-Secretary of Labor Robert Reich with his law school homework). Then came the announcements for a CNN documentary and an NBC miniseries about the self-described “pantsuit aficionado,” both slated for 2014. Like The Good Wife, the NBC miniseries would begin with public humiliation. Played by Diane Lane, NBC’s Clinton would remake her life after the Lewinsky scandal and eventually clinch the position of Secretary of State after losing the Democratic primary.

The CNN and NBC projects recently gained scrutiny, though not traction, when Republican Party leader Reince Priebus cried foul, threatening to ban both networks from the GOP primary debates if they gave what he considered an unfair advantage to Clinton in 2016. (Because Clinton presumably won’t be appearing in either the doc or the miniseries, neither program would trigger the equal-time law that mandates networks give candidates the same amount of airtime.) Then, on the heels of the GOP controversy came news that CBS was interested in its own Hillary-inspired show, wherein a “maverick” Secretary of State balances her domestic life with foreign policy. It seems everyone is hungry for her story.

Since leaving the Cabinet earlier this year, Clinton’s kept a low profile; her biggest media splash since has been signing up for Twitter. So what’s feeding the Hillary-mania now? Below are three theories.

(1) The biopic trend. Let’s get this out of the way: TV loves real people. In the last three years, the biopics Behind the Candelabra, Phil Spector, Hatfields & McCoys, Hemingway & Gelhorn, Game Change, The Kennedys, and Cinema Verite (about America’s first reality-TV stars) have delivered movie stars to the small screen and Emmy noms to their host networks. Not all were worthy movies or miniseries, but real-life people and events tend to attract a lot of attention and spike up ratings because there’s so much inherent buzz found in controversy and curiosity. For most of her career as a public figure, HRC has been an intensely polarizing figure, first as a trail-blazing FLOTUS (remember when she tried to reform health care?), then as a senator and Secretary of State. Where provocation leads, the networks tend to follow.

(2) The superhero narrative. Benghazi aside, HRC’s tenure as Secretary of State was the best thing that ever happened to her. Stepping into a role previously occupied by glass-ceiling crashers like Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice, Clinton used her highly visible position as an advocate for women’s rights around the globe and earned the highest approval ratings of her professional life. Though she hasn’t declared her intentions to run in 2016, she’s well on her way as the current Democratic primary frontrunner to becoming the first female president in American history. And as we’ve learned from summer blockbusters, every superhero needs an origin story.

(3) The Clinton fascination. I blame Shakespeare for this. Macbeth has set such an overwhelming precedent in the intersection of ambition and romance – specifically, the idea that the combination of those two things always ends in tragedy – that pop culture rarely veers from that template even four hundred years later.

Scandal, for example, provides just the latest example of a power-chasing couple hurtling toward destruction. In the second season (spoiler alert), President Fitz and First Lady Mellie spend most of their time together threatening to cannibalize the other’s career to advance their own. Fitz’s Chief of Staff Cyrus attempts to scare Mellie into docility by brandishing his Plan B: starting a whisper campaign that she’s a closet lesbian. Nursing her own presidential aspirations – and finding inspiration in HRC circa 1998 – Mellie reveals his affair on national TV, thereby using her husband’s infidelity to gain sympathy points (and hopefully votes in the future) for herself.

The implosion of Mellie and Fitz’s relationship is emblematic of the usual narrative we get of politics poisoning strategic marriages. Therefore, the endurance of the Clintons as a couple, now nearing four decades of matrimonial synergy, and the exceptional success of both their political careers make for such great storytelling fodder because the Clintons are so different from the tropes we’re used to – and how stories have told us things should be.

I’m not necessarily excited to see a fictionalized account of Clinton’s life – no movie or miniseries could do justice to the multiple lives she’s led in the spotlight – but it’s wholly understandable why so many writers and filmmakers are tempted to try.