PASADENA, Calif. — Don't expect Barry Levinson's film Paterno, premiering this spring on HBO, to definitively answer the question of what Joe Paterno knew and when he knew it.

The film, which stars Al Pacino as the late Penn State football coach, will largely focus on the two-week period surrounding the indictment of former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky on charges of the sexual abuse of young boys, Levinson said Thursday during the Television Critics Association's winter meetings.

It's framed by flashbacks that take place as Paterno, who died lung cancer not long after being diagnosed, undergoes an MRI, Levinson said.

"I think the film has to deal with the complexity of it all, rather than say he did this or he didn't do that. … The questioning of it is part of the fabric of the piece," he said. "It truly is a tragedy."

Pacino, who's played other real-life characters on HBO — Phil Spector, Jack Kevorkian in You Don't Know Jack, and Roy Cohn in Angels in America — said, via satellite, that in approaching such roles, he tries to ignore what he may have heard or known about them. "I just go by the script."

In the course of making the movie, Pacino said, he did come to some decision about what he thought Paterno knew about Sandusky's abuse. His conclusion, though, seemed to have more to do with the role than the real-life Paterno.

"I don't know anything about Joe Paterno," Pacino said. "I know about the character I played in the movie And that character was as close to a savant as I'd ever played," someone so focused that in one scene where his wife, Sue (Kathy Baker), is reminding him that Sandusky used to swim in the pool  with the Paterno children, he honestly has no memory of it, explaining that he was working at the time.

Riley Keough (The Girlfriend Experience) plays Sara Ganim, the reporter (and Penn State grad) who broke what eventually became the Harrisburg Patriot-News' Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the Sandusky scandal.

Ganim, now with CNN, is a consultant on the film. She told reporters she had a "mild panic attack" at one point watching Keough play a scene from her life.

Other news and notes on HBO's afternoon at TCA:

  • Journalist Ronan Farrow has signed a three-year, exclusive TV deal with HBO to do investigative pieces for the network in conjunction with his work for the New Yorker, which he is joining as a contributing writer. In October, the magazine published the results of Farrow's 10-month investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct against producer Harvey Weinstein.
  • Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement will return to HBO in May for a Flight of the Conchords special, nine years after their two-season musical comedy special came to an end.
  • The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling, a two-night documentary from Judd Apatow about the late comedian and Larry Sanders Show creator/star, will premiere March 26-27.
  • Elvis Presley: The Searcher, a three-hour, two- film examination of Presley's musical journey, will premiere on April 14.
  • Two Dope Queens, based on the Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson podcast, will launch the first of four TV specials on Feb. 2
  • Ramin Bahrani's adaptation of Ray Bradbury's Farenheit 451, starring Michael B. Jordan (Creed), Michael Shannon (The Shape of Water), and Sofia Boutella, will premiere this spring.
  • Documentary filmmaker Susan Lacy, creator of PBS's American Masters, now works at HBO, where she last year profiled director Steven Spielberg. Her film Jane Fonda in Five Acts will premiere later this year. The film draws on 21 hours of interviews with Fonda, whose Netflix series Grace and Frankie returns Jan. 19.
  • Succession, a new series produced and directed by Malvern's Adam McKay (The Big Short) and written by Jesse Armstrong, will premiere in June.  Brian Cox stars as an aging media mogul with a complicated family life.