Hollywood Buys WITSEC for TV Drama



My good friend, Gerald Shur, and I have received lots of inquires from Hollywood about  our nonfiction book, WITSEC: Inside the Federal Witness Protection Program since it was published ten years ago. For those of you who have not read it, Gerald is the Justice Department lawyer who came up with the idea of creating a government program that would protect mobsters and give them new identities in return for their testimony against their Mafia Godfathers.

 By the time Gerald retired in 1995, he had overseen the handling of such famous gangsters as Joseph Valachi, “Jimmy the Weasel” Fratianno and “Sammy the Bull” Gravano.  The witness protection program that he created helped shatter the mob’s code of silence.

Interested screenwriters and producers would call us and ask about WITSEC. But for a variety of reasons, we never sold the dramatic rights — until now.  The trade magazine, Publisher’s Weekly, announced the sale.

 WITSEC: INSIDE THE FEDERAL WITNESS PROTECTION PROGRAM, in which Gerald Shur, the man credited with the creation of WITSEC, teams with acclaimed investigative journalist Pete Earley to tell the inside story of turncoats, crime-fighters, killers, and ordinary human beings caught up in a life-and-death game of deception in the name of justice, optioned to Andi Bushell at Paradigm, by Erica Spellman Silverman at Trident Media Group.

Gerald and I are especially excited to be working with Andi Bushell, who is an accomplished television writer and producer with a long string of impressive credits.

The WITSEC sale comes only a few weeks after the Hollywood trade publications announced that my new book, The Serial Killer Whisperer, had been optioned by a writer with the successful Law & Order television franchise.

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to have sold several books to Hollywood.

My first, FAMILY OF SPIES: Inside the John Walker Jr., Spy Ring, was turned into a five hour mini-series shown on CBS in 1990 during sweeps month. It starred Powers Boothe and Lesley Ann Warren and was directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal. The five hour verison won an Emmy and did a sensational job of actually following my book. Unfortunately, that version was chopped to three hours when the DVD was released — a move that made the story much harder to follow and edited out many important scenes.

MGM Studio bought the rights to my book, CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE, and paid a screenwriter to do a script.  But between the time the book was bought and the screenplay was done, the studio’s top brass had been replaced and the screenplay was put on a shelf and forgotten. Over the years, others have expressed an interest in the story of how my friend, Bryan Stevenson, saved the life of a wrongly accused black man on Alabama’s death row. But nothing has happened. It’s a shame.

When the famous director, Oliver Stone,  flew me to California first class and put me up in the posh Shutters On the Beach Hotel in Santa Monica to discuss my book, CONFESSIONS OF A SPY: The Real Story of Aldrich Ames, I was sure I’d hit the big time. Sadly, poor communication led to me arriving at our meeting late and totally unprepared. I never heard back from Stone. Just the same, when MGM heard that Stone had shown an interest, it swooped in and bought the rights. This time, a major screenwriter with a long list of hits was hired to turn my book into a movie. He ended up ignoring the book. Instead, he wrote a screenplay that lashed out at the CIA. MGM dropped the project.

SHOWTIME came knocking next. It bought the rights to SUPER CASINO and hired a screenwriter to dramatize the story of a prostitute whose life on the famous Strip is chronicled in my book. Her story was certainly worth a cable movie and I was hopeful. But again, that project never got made.

My favorite novel, LETHAL SECRETS, caught the eye of a famous producer, but after months of negotiations, he passed on the project and instead, bought a book by my long time pal, Nelson DeMille.

I’m always grateful when Hollywood shows an interest. Of course, the book that I would most like to see made into a motion picture is CRAZY: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness. Exposing how our jails and prisons have become our new asylums and why that’s wrong would not only make for a tremendous film  -it could possibly lead to reforms in our mental health system. And that would be something to cheer about. 

It took ten years to sell WITSEC. My fingers are crossed about CRAZY.


About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.


  1. Gosh. Now they’ll be no talking to you. (grin). Congrats to you. Well deserved. Will order them all from Amazon now. dj

  2. Wow!  I am just now seeing this.  Congratulations!