Fifth Estater

Writing the Lies That Tell the Truth

'Treme’s David Simon considers his ‘accidental’ career in TV 3/14/2011 12:01:00 AM Eastern

David Simon

Title:

Co-creator/ executive producer/ writer, Treme

Education:

B.A., U of Maryland, 1983

Employment Highlights:

The Baltimore Sun, crime reporter, 1983-1995
Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, author, 1991
Homicide: Life on the Street, writer, 1993- 99; producer, 1997-99
The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood, coauthor, 1997
The Corner, executive producer (EP)/ writer, 2000
The Wire, creator/EP/ writer, 2002-08
Generation Kill, EP/ writer, 2008
Treme, co-creator/ EP/writer, 2010-present

Personal:

b. Sept. 2, 1960; wife, author Laura Lippman; children Georgia Rae and Ethan

After a near 20-year career in television that includes
three critically acclaimed dramas, a cult-like fanbase and
a $500,000 MacArthur “Genius” Grant, David Simon, co-creator of HBO’s New Orleans drama
Treme, is still in denial.
“I expect to get thrown out of the
industry,” he confesses.

“I expect that
there’s an open window right now that’s
supposed to slam on my fingers. None
of this was planned.”

Simon, who spent 12 years as a crime
beat reporter and nonfiction author in
his native Baltimore before dipping his
toes into television, says his impulse is
still to be a journalist.

“My interest is, why is this happening?
The first job of doing this kind of
writing is picking up the paper every
day and absorbing information, then
figuring out what you want to say with
10 hours of television,” he says.

It’s that interest, combined with his
ability to craft richly textured narratives,
that produced the nonfiction novel Homicide:
A Year on the Killing Streets
, inspiring
the hit NBC procedural Homicide:
Life On the Street
; the HBO crime-drama-cum-social-critique The Wire, hailed by
many critics as the best television drama
of all time; and most recently, the highly
anticipated second season debut of the
post-Katrina drama Treme on April 24.

But Simon, who left The Baltimore Sun
in 1995 after becoming disillusioned
with the paper, says it wasn’t until he
saw HBO’s Oz, from Homicide writer/producer
Tom Fontana, that he was sold on
TV as a storytelling medium. “That convinced
me you could tell a dark, grownup
story that didn’t have to stop every 13
minutes for a commercial,” he says.

The nonfiction veteran also found he
had a lot to un-learn from journalism
when it came to writing for television.
But today, having worked with HBO
on the Emmy-winning miniseries The
Corner
as well as The Wire, the six-part
Iraq war drama Generation Kill and now
Treme, Simon knows that getting a show
up and running is actually the easy part.

“Seeing a show through the end, that’s
the terrifying high-risk in telling television
stories,” he says. “[With a novel],
you don’t have to go back to the publisher
to get money for each chapter. You
have the story from beginning to end.
The TV industry doesn’t encourage that.
That’s why some series get run into the
ground. Or they don’t get to finish.”

“We were sure The Wire was going to
be canceled after season four and that
Generation Kill would be our consolation
prize,” says Simon’s longtime executive
producing partner, Nina Noble.
“But David had a fifth season in his
mind all along. He thinks of his shows
like books. He pushed his sales pitch hard to complete the series, because he
really cares about his viewers.”

What Simon (still) doesn’t care about
is conventional industry success. Though
there’s a healthy buzz surrounding season
two of Treme—thanks to an Oscar win by
star Melissa Leo and writing from chef/
TV personality Anthony Bourdain—Simon
has no interest in catering to an Emmys
crowd that famously snubbed The
Wire
. He’s just grateful for HBO.

“If you pitch a show [like Treme] that
suggests the American empire is falling
apart and that institutions no longer
serve their purpose, broadcast is going
to laugh you out of the room,” Simon
says. “Now I can survive in an economic
model without whoring it out
or dumbing it down.”

Simon’s tastes as a viewer run counter
to his intense series. HBO’s Flight of
the Conchords
and “Stewie-heavy” episodes
of Fox’s Family Guy are favorites.
He champions The Daily Show and The
Colbert Report
as “mental health comedy
for moderates and leftists,” though he
says he was glad to see MSNBC’s Keith
Olbermann go. “He’d become a ranting
caricature,” Simon says. “What I really
want is a 24-hour news network [with] a
strong beat structure where people specialize
in understanding the nature of
problems and complexity of situations.”

Simon divides his time between the
New Orleans Treme set and Baltimore,
with his wife, Laura; their 10-month-old
daughter, Georgia Rae; and his
teenage son, Ethan. Despite his great
success, Simon, like any seasoned reporter,
will always be a skeptic.

“I want to stay with [television] as
long as I can, but I expect that at any
moment HBO will come to me and say,
‘It’s been interesting, but we’re giving
the money to somebody who might actually
be able to write a hit,’” he says.

David Simon

Title:

Co-creator/ executive producer/ writer, Treme

Education:

B.A., U of Maryland, 1983

Employment Highlights:

The Baltimore Sun, crime reporter, 1983-1995
Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, author, 1991
Homicide: Life on the Street, writer, 1993- 99; producer, 1997-99
The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood, coauthor, 1997
The Corner, executive producer (EP)/ writer, 2000
The Wire, creator/EP/ writer, 2002-08
Generation Kill, EP/ writer, 2008
Treme, co-creator/ EP/writer, 2010-present

Personal:

b. Sept. 2, 1960; wife, author Laura Lippman; children Georgia Rae and Ethan

September
October