PASADENA, Calif — Friday on the TV critics tour there was a Madam Secretary session. Not the series — Hillary Clinton.
The former First Lady, secretary of state and popular vote winner was here to promote the four-hour Hulu documentary Hillary. It will be features at Sundance and Berlin film festivals before premiering on Hulu and Crave in Canada on March 6.
There was more security than usual in the press tour hotel. Helicopters were hovering overhead, but that might just be traffic choppers here in greater Los Angeles — the session started during the morning rush. Extra personnel in dark jackets stood by the entrance to the ballroom and in front of the stage, scanning the room. The pack of paparazzi and autograph hounds that usually gather by the entrance of the hotel were all rounded up and shot.
Clinton has been at this hotel for two nights. The beds are comfy here at the Langham, and you can get two items laundered each day for free.
A short clip from the doc was shown at the start of the session. It began with crowds shouting “Lock her up!” and images of the politician being burned in effigy for daring to suggest things such as universal health carel. Clinton apparently sat for 35 hours of interviews, mainly with award-winning Buffalo, N.Y., filmmaker, director and executive producer Nanette Burstein (“The Kid Stays in the Picture”).
Clinton was smartly dressed in a stylish black and tan tweed jacket and black slacks. Would I have described what was worn if it was Bill Clinton in the house? Highly unlikely. All part of the challenges for women to be taken seriously, even in a relatively woke era.
There were a few unfamiliar voices in the room asking questions. There is a foreign press presence now at TCA, a shame in some ways because this room used to ask a very unique and TV-centric set of questions. For example: nobody asked if she watched Madam Secretary, or if she might host a revival of The Apprentice. A moment lost.
The session ended promptly, and I did not get the mike in time to ask about her recent Howard Stern appearance. That candid and relatively laid-back visit with the King of All Media seemed to move the needle on Hillary’s likability. The fact that these things go viral nowadays, I wanted to ask, might have led to an Arsenio moment had Clinton joined Stern prior to the 2016 election. (Clinton’s husband Bill got a big boost in the polls after appearing on Arsenio Hall’s late night talk show — and playing the sax with the band — in the ’90s.)
Hillary did talk about how polarizing TV coverage is nowadays. Positive moments on entertainment shows might easily be smothered by aggressively partisan reporting on 24-hour news networks and on social media.
The press conference got off to a laugh when the presenter announced that there would be no scrum after the session. Said Clinton, “I was kind of looking forward to the scum. Scum away!”
Clinton said nothing was off limits when it came to the documentary. Why did she do it? “I’m not running for anything, not in office, why don’t we give it a try?”
She didn’t realize the cameras would stay on as she got made up, but Burnstein defended those shots, saying the all access pass helped counter the persistent impression that the Clinton’s tightly control every message. Still, Clinton said, “it’s really hard watching yourself for four hours.”
Clinton spend much of her time on stage urging reporters to help get out the vote this November. She steered very clear of singling out any of the Democratic candidates, and ducked a question about complicity and First Lady Melania Trump.
She never mentioned Donald Trump by name, but made clear her feelings about her election rival.
“I want people to take their vote very, very seriously because Lord knows what will happen if they don’t retire the current incumbent and his henchmen.”
The doc will air on Hulu smack in the middle of the election primaries. If it has any impact, Clinton hopes it will alert viewers that we are in a mean-spirited time in terms of political discourse, and to “try to vote for the person who is most likely to win — and not just the popular vote.”
She also threw gas on the social media bonfire. “It wasn’t that long ago that we didn’t have to worry every morning when we woke up about what was going to happen that day or what crazy tweet was threatening war or some other awful outcome.”