Today‘s Matt Lauer this morning interviewed filmmaker John Ziegler, who has spent a year poring through evidence in the Penn State pedophile scandal to make a documentary he hopes will clear the name of the late legendary head coach Joe Paterno. Now, Paterno’s only alleged transgression was not being aggressive when a graduate assistant (who’d later become a coach) brought to his attention an “encounter” in the football showers between former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky and an underage boy that sounded like molestation. We’ve written numerous stories on the subject, breaking stories about a feature film in the works that will likely re-team Scarface director Brian De Palma and Al Pacino for Happy Valley. That is the working title of a film based on Paterno, the book written by Joe Posnanski. Paterno was unceremoniously fired after the scandal shocked the nation, and the NCAA took unprecedented actions against the school, including stripping the coach of the distinction of being the winning-est major college football coach in history. All for the failure of Paterno and university higher-ups to do next to nothing to stop Sandusky, supposedly fearing bad publicity for the powerhouse gridiron program they presided over. Wall Street producer Edward R. Pressman has optioned the bestselling book Paterno by Joe Posnanski. Dave McKenna (American History X and Blow) is writing the script. The Edward R. Pressman Film Corp is backing the project. Pacino became attached to play Paterno when a package including the book was shopped by ICM last fall. Pressman will produce with Pacino’s manager, Rick Nicita, who was part of that original package. They are keeping a somewhat low profile on the focus of the film for now. “Happy Valley reunites the Scarface and Carlito’s Way team of De Palma & Pacino for the third time and I can’t think of a better duo to tell this story of a complex, intensely righteous man who was brought down by his own tragic flaw,” said Pressman in confirming the deal to Deadline.
Each time I’ve written about this project, it has been met with a huge outpouring from commenters that Paterno had been wronged, and that his Shakespearean fall from grace was undeserved. He died shortly after he was fired, and many felt it was from a broken heart as much as cancer.
While Lauer couldn’t match the superb interview Bob Costas did when Sandusky was dumb enough to get on the phone before his trial (Sandusky did not testify on his own behalf and was convicted of crimes that will keep him behind bars the rest of his life), Lauer certainly injected a lot of skepticism in interviewing the filmmaker who is widely described as a conservative who made an unabashedly positive film about Sarah Palin and whose work has been disavowed by the Paterno family. While it is creepy to hear Sandusky from behind bars in any capacity, it will be interesting how the continued reporting influences Paterno’s legacy. As well as Happy Valley, which in a way finds itself in a challenge similar to the one faced by the makers of Zero Dark Thirty. DePalma, Pacino and cohorts are also trying to make a permanent screen document out of a story that keeps changing, where there’s endless spin from partisan parties, and one that will continue to evolve when Penn State higher-ups go on trial. Here is Lauer’s interview: