Iranian state TV has broadcast a programme based on interviews with two Iranian-American academics who have been detained in Tehran since May.
Ms Esfandiari was dressed in a black Islamic veil and coat
Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh are being held on suspicion of spying and endangering Iranian national security.
The academics could face the death penalty if charged and found guilty.
Correspondents say the documentary, In the Name of Democracy, was an apparent attempt to implicate them in a plot to destabilise the government in Tehran.
The programme also included an interview with Ramin Jahanbaglou, an Iranian-Canadian who has been told he cannot leave the country.
The pictures of Ms Esfandiari and Mr Tajbakhsh in the documentary aired on Wednesday were the first of the two since they were detained two months ago.
The programme alternated between their interviews and dramatic pictures of recent revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia to suggest there was a US-led plot to overthrow the Iranian government.
Kian Tajbakhsh is a social scientist with the Open Society Institute
However, the BBC's Jon Leyne in Tehran says they did not make anything like a confession.
The academics talked mostly about academic conferences in the US, to which leading Iranians had been invited.
"The aim of the Iran programme was to plan sessions of lectures," Ms Esfandiari said in her interview.
"When people came to the US for lectures, policymakers listened to their lectures... and a network was formed."
Interviewed in comfortable surroundings, the two looked in relatively good health.
Our correspondent says that more may emerge in the in the second episode of the documentary to be broadcast on Thursday.
What is not clear, he adds, is whether this is a prelude to the academics being charged, or perhaps a way of preparing for negotiations or even their release.
The US has rejected the allegations against those being held.