NFL Films' Pete Frank Talks About Upcoming Special On Eddie DeBartolo
NFL Network tonight will debut “Eddie DeBartolo: A Football Life,” a profile of the controversial former owner of the 49ers. NFL Films Senior Producer Pete Frank, a 19-year veteran at the company whose credits include “America’s Game,” “Hard Knocks” and "Inside the NFL,” produced and edited the DeBartolo installment of the serial documentary show. Frank was the one who originally pitched the idea of profiling DeBartolo. Frank: "I always knew that it would be a great story and I had always wanted to do it. We really never had the vehicle to do it because we didn’t have a biography-style show."
Q: Was DeBartolo receptive to the idea of profiling him, or was he hesitant?
Frank: It was hard at first. He and his people were reluctant. I just gather that they’ve been approached by other people about doing his story, too. I think they knew us from his time as an owner and that certainly helped that there are actually people in this building here who know him and who know some of the other 49ers front office folks. We did tell them, “Listen, this is not a whitewash. We have to ask you about all aspects of your life, one of which is why you are no longer the owner of the 49ers.” They said that they were fine with that. There were no stipulations as to what we could or couldn’t ask and Mr. DeBartolo answered every question that we asked to him. He didn’t decline to answer anything.
Q: Was there any pushback from the NFL about profiling DeBartolo, who left as 49ers owner after a highly publicized corruption case involving former L.A. Gov. Edwin Edwards?
Frank: No. All the ideas that get submitted, somebody sees them somewhere and there was actually (no pushback). I did wonder about that at first too, given the way that Eddie D left the league. I didn’t know if there was any problem and apparently it turned out that there’s not. We haven’t had a single problem. [Frank said the league had no editorial input and did not require final approval before the broadcast aired].
Q: The whole tone of the broadcast was very positive and conciliatory in terms of his legal troubles. Was that by design and was anything cut that may have given a negative spin to him?
Frank: That’s just the way that it turned out. When we were doing the piece, we started with his early football career and all the players that we interview from that time all love him and they all love that time. In the segment on Louisiana we just wanted to lay it out there what actually happened and that’s why we used the actual news clips and we were not trying to soften anything.
Q: The list of personalities appearing in the broadcast -- Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones, Redskins Owner Daniel Snyder, 49ers CEO Jed York, U.S. Sen. and former S.F. Mayor Dianne Feinstein, former 49ers President & CEO Carmen Policy, singer and Bay Area native Huey Lewis -- is impressive. Were there any difficulties in getting people to speak about DeBartolo?
Frank: No. In fact, everybody was very willing to talk about Mr. D and that’s how you see how much he meant to a lot of these folks in their lives. There wasn’t one interview subject that turned us down. Everybody that we asked said 'sure.'
Q: Were there any interview subjects you wanted to appear on-camera that declined?
Frank: I can’t think of anyone who just flat-out said no to us. To be honest, some of the players said that they would talk all about him. They really didn’t want to get into the legal problems but they would talk about his life.
Q: Do you foresee DeBartolo ever getting back in the NFL in an ownership capacity?
Frank: We asked him that in the interview and he said no. ... Snyder and Jones said that they’d love to have him back, but Eddie’s answer was no. He said he’s happy with his life with the way it is and that’s the sense I got interviewing him ... although he certainly, I think, does miss the game itself and the players.
Q: In relation to other episodes in the “A Football Life” series, was this a harder or easier project to produce?
Frank: I would say it was more challenging than the normal shows that we do simply that we had a lot of outside footage in there. We had to go find an awful lot of things we didn’t have. For example, the news reports from the Louisiana section. Typically we edit with what we have here in-house, things that we shot, and in this case these shows have enough money behind them that we can actually go out and try to get some outside footage. In this case, we certainly needed it.
Q: Do you have a favorite in the “A Football Life” series?
Frank: I like the ones that are the behind-the-scenes looks, like the Ray Lewis one we did this year. That’s a little bit different than the rest of them in that that’s one where we follow a player around for a season or a part of a season. The other ones are more historical documentaries.