A story in The Hollywood Reporter today breaks the news that AMC is developing a TV series based on Sally Jenkins’ book The Real All-Americans, which told the story of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School football program. The school’s team is associated with the legendary gridiron figures Jim Thorpe and Glenn “Pop” Warner, but they’re not the only boldface names attached to the project—Tommy Lee Jones is in talks to direct the pilot.
The AMC network is probably the most remarkable phenomenon in scripted TV in at least a decade; it is home to blockbusters Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Hell on Wheels, and Walking Dead. Television is an industry where a lot of stuff gets thrown against the wall and very little of it sticks; pilots come and go, and series are canceled at the drop of a hat. In that environment, AMC’s batting average (wrong sport, we know) is unusually good. The network’s president, Charlie Collier, described the approach to The Hollywood Reporter: “If there’s something we care enough about to get into the pilot process, we feel like we’re producing the first episode of the series. … And that requires a ton of rigorous development where we really take it ultra seriously.”
What this means for the legacy of Carlisle football, and that of Jim Thorpe and Pop Warner, is that there is a relatively good chance it will see the screen. Potential director Tommy Lee Jones is a suitable choice for at least two reasons. One, he played football in high school in Texas and in college at Harvard (where he was an all-Ivy League offensive tackle); and two, Jones has identified himself as having Cherokee ancestry (he told an interviewer for Cowboys & Indians magazine that his career has been “not bad for a little Indian boy”).
If the project goes forward, the most interesting questions will involve casting—with Johnny Depp’s Tonto weighing heavily on some viewers’ minds, the choice of who will (or should) play Jim Thorpe will be more fodder for debate.