EXCLUSIVE: It’s turning out to be an interesting week for projects based on organized crime. Just as HBO’s Boardwalk Empire was renewed for a second season after one superb Martin Scorsese-directed pilot episode, I’m told that there’s a hot new TV project in the offing: a series version of Goodfellas, the 1990 Scorsese mob classic written by Nicholas Pileggi. My sources tell me that Pileggi’s likely to write at least the pilot episode. Warner Bros TV is in lead position to grab the series — the studio distributed the original pic — though several studios want it. Scorsese’s participation is unclear, but Irwin Winkler is likely to be the TV exec producer.
This information came my way on the same day that John Gotti Jr announced he’s set up his rights for a feature film that purports to tell a “father-son story” about growing up the son of John Gotti Sr, the Dapper Don who headed the Gambino crime family. Gotti Jr has aligned with Fiore Films, which claims it will start production in March. “During the past 20 years, there have been numerous made-for-television movies, books and other representations about me, my father and our family,” Gotti Jr. said in a statement. “None of these projects were done in cooperation with my family and in most cases did not accurately reflect our lives. This film will not be a mob expose, but rather the true story of my life and relationship with my father.”
I previously wrote about Gotti Jr’s plans to pen his memoirs and set up a feature film and documentary just before he gave that 60 Minutes interview. Based on how little he said in that interview last April, I’m not sure what Jr is bringing to the table. He spoke as if he was anticipating frustrated federal agents and prosecutors to look for a way to try him again. Gotti Jr. went through four criminal prosecutions that ended in mistrials, with the feds finally announcing they’d given up and wouldn’t seek a 5th. Gotti Jr did serve a total of 9 years in jail, 3 in solitary confinement, accused of heading the Gambino crime family despite his claim he’d left the crime game for good in 1999.
But will any major studio or distributor want to be associated with a film that puts a positive spin on Gotti Jr or his father, or that puts money in Jr’s pockets? When Sammy “The Bull” Gravano wrote a memoir with Peter Maas, survivors of his victims reportedly filed $25 million in damages lawsuits. While Jr’s plan has been to use proceeds to pay his past legal bills and fund a youth center to steer kids from lives of crime, there will be inevitable controversy.
Authorized crime stories are tricky, and Goodfellas was a rare occasion when access to a participant led to paydirt. In this case, it was Henry Hill, played in the movie by Ray Liotta and who eventually ratted out the mobsters played by Robert De Niro and Paul Sorvino. (Joe Pesci’s character had already been bumped off by then). Pileggi, who first told Hill’s story in a book, told me a few years ago why things worked out so well for him and Scorsese: “In Goodfellas, Henry Hill opened up and gave up everything,” Pileggi said. “He had the pressure of testifying under oath, and, if they caught him in a lie, he was going to prison and he’d have been dead in 10 minutes. I was just lucky enough to be like a stenographer as this guy talked about what it was like to want to be gangster. You could never have made that stuff up.”