David Simon on Writing, America, and TV


I've written about The Wire before, and its final season began last night, bringing a fresh set of dark themes to the series. In my previous post, I pointed to several interviews with and profiles of David Simon, the show's creator and head writer. But one of the best interviews -- a Believer interview by Nick Hornby from last August -- only had a brief excerpt available online. The full interview is now online, and it's worth a read not just for fans of The Wire, but for writers, and for anyone interested in how TV is made in America.

In the interview, Simon engages in several long-form rants (with plenty of expletives -- this is not for kids or those who disapprove of coarse language!) about the nature of writing, the state of TV, and even the War of 1812 -- he kicks in some interesting Baltimore trivia about that last topic.

Here's a sample of the Believer interview (David Simon is speaking), now available in its entirely online:

There are two ways of traveling. One is with a tour guide, who takes you to the crap everyone sees. You take a snapshot and move on, experiencing nothing beyond a crude visual and the retention of a few facts. The other way to travel requires more time—hence the need for this kind of viewing to be a long-form series or miniseries, in this bad metaphor—but if you stay in one place, say, if you put up your bag and go down to the local pub or shebeen and you play the fool a bit and make some friends and open yourself up to a new place and new time and new people, soon you have a sense of another world entirely. We're after this: Making television into that kind of travel, intellectually. Bringing those pieces of America that are obscured or ignored or otherwise segregated from the ordinary and effectively arguing their relevance and existence to ordinary Americans. Saying, in effect, This is part of the country you have made. This too is who we are and what we have built. Think again, [expletive]s. And the only difference between what we're doing and a world traveler getting off the beaten path is that our viewers don't really have to play the fool. They don't even have to put their ass out of the sofa. They now have a sense of what is happening on a drug corner, or in a homicide unit, or inside a political campaign—and our content, if gently massaged to create drama, is nonetheless rooted in accurate reporting and experience.

Read the entire interview (warning: much coarse language!), and check out my previous post on The Wire for more links.