This Week: Real Life Meets Reel Life
With David Simon
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2002; 1 p.m. EDT
"To me, the most oversold thing on TV is redemption by the end of the hour," says David Simon. As a result, "The Wire," Simon's latest TV police drama to be set in Baltimore, is single story unfurling over 13 episodes in a format he calls a "visual novel."
Simon, whose work on an episode of "The Wire" was chronicled in Sunday's Washington Post Magazine, was online Tuesday, Sept. 3 at 1 p.m. EDT, fielding questions and comments about his career and the program, which airs Sunday nights at 10 on HBO.
Simon grew up in Montgomery County. He spent 13 years as a police reporter in Baltimore before becoming an author and scriptwriter.
A transcript follows.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
Brooklyn, N.Y.: First, The Wire is by far the best show on television. Thank you.
My question is, to what extent have the residents of the "low rises" approached the crew to offer opinions about how the show does or does not accurately portray drug dealing in the neighborhood, e.g. to confirm that there is a similarly large dealing infrastructure in place? Alternately, have you or any of your staff reached out to anyone for feedback during filming?
David Simon: This kind of feedback has been minimal. The two people on the story are myself and Ed Burns. I covered crime and drugs for thirteen years for the Baltimore Sun and in 1993, I left the paper to spend a year in a West Baltimore neighborhood chronicling the drug trafficking there. I did so with Ed Burns, who had just left the police department after twenty years -- the last ten of which were spend doing the kind of prolonged cases depicted in the film.
Season One of The Wire is fictional, but most aspects of the case have been lifted wholesale from an array of Baltimore wiretap cases on which Burn worked. Some examples would be U.S. v. Boardley or U.S. v Melvin Williams et al. You could look the cases up at the federal courthouse and come away with a bit of deja vu if you watched the show.
So we're not really looking for feedback from residents as virtually all the material is culled from Ed's casework or from other cases that I reported on.
Having said that, I can tell you that many residents have come up to us and said they recognize portions of the story as being a part of say, the Boardley case, or the wiretap case involving Chin Farmer, or whatever.
Silver Spring, Md.: I love this show! I laughed my way through the scene, now many episodes ago, when Bunk and McNulty cursed their way through that cold crime scene exam. Awesome. Besides the obvious question of "will HBO pick up the show for another season?" is, how much time were you able to spend with Charm City's overworked homicide cops to do research? How much technical advice is there in the writing and shooting process? As a fan of cop shows and cops in general, I appreciate the extra effort towards reality and humor on the job that is implicit in the conversations the detectives have. Thanks!
David Simon: We are confident that the show will be picked up for a second season. It cannot be officially announced however until we are advanced enough in our second-season plans so that we know what to tell the various actors. in short, union rules require that we exercise options on actors ten days after an announced renewal. HBO will not announce any renewal until we better know the plan for season two, so that actors can be properly informed. In a week or two, though, we expect good news.
I spent a year following homicide detectives in Baltimore for a book I wrote and published in 1991 called "Homicide." Ed Burns was a Baltimore detective for twenty years.
Brooklyn, N.Y.: David,
I thought I read somewhere that the actor who plays Stringer is actually English. Is that true and, if it is, how easy or hard was it to get him speaking in an accent/dialect accurate to the Baltimore projects?
Keep up the great work on the show.
David Simon: Idris Elba is indeed a Brit. He nailed the accent from jump. Startling how good he is, I think.
Brooklyn, N.Y.: David,
What sort of ratings is "The Wire" getting right now? Not that it's the most important thing, but have you gotten a commitment from HBO for series two or is it generating as much buzz and popularity as other HBO dramas like "Six Feet Under" or "The Sorpranos?"
David Simon: Our ratings are healthy and climbing, though they are not in the realm of Six Feet Under or the Sopranos. But we are now posting in the range of a cable rating of say, 7 with a 12 share. Week before last, we were the third highest pay cable show behind Sex In The City and Arliss, which followed Sex In The City.
HBO tells us not to care about the numbers. They like the show. They value it. Pay no attention to ratings they keep telling us.
I hope they mean it.
Brooklyn, N.Y.: I love this show. Unequivocally, unendingly, love the show. I'm a little tired of being shouted down by my friends when I tell them I think it's every bit the series "The Sopranos" is, but that's okay.
I curious as to how you've managed to get the cooperation of Baltimore's elected officials and people in the judicial system when you paint such an unflattering (if realistic) portrait of the system.
Also, when can we expect to see the second season of "The Wire" coming to us?
David Simon: Because of Homicide and the Corner, Baltimore is used to getting grief from me, I suppose. The city is grateful for a film industry that brings in millions a year in revenue and hundreds of crew jobs, so that mitigates their displeasure somewhat, I suppose. But I've had the mayor tell me I need to write some happier sh--.
I feel for the man.
Laurel, Md.: Turning an entire TV season into a continuous mystery story doomed "Murder One," one of the most critically-acclaimed new series of the last decade.
Can this concept work with HBO's uneven scheduling?
David Simon: I think it can only work because of HBO's multiple airings. If people only had one chance to catch an episode per week, I think we'd be dead. HBO's pattern gives us a fighting chance.
Flemington, N.J.: I stumbled upon your book "The Corner", and have since read it multiple times; I consider it one of the two books that have left a tremendous impact on me. (The other is "Life & Death in Shanghai").
Hearing that you wrote "The Wire" was enough to get me in front of that TV for the first episode, and I have not missed one yet. I hardly EVER watch TV, and I can't remember EVER planning my life around a TV show like I do with "The Wire!" (Not only on Sundays, but for every re-airing, too.)
PLEASE, PLEASE give us more of your work next season on HBO! If not a second season of "The Wire," then maybe something else? A prequel maybe? I honestly don't know what I am going to do, talk about withdrawal! I'm definitely going to be seeking out "Homicide" re-runs -- not being a TV person, I never saw it the first time around.
Okay, to pick one question to ask is tough, but what does endlessly haunt, me, is, wondering what happened to the folks from "The Corner" -- did Fran continue to stay sober? Did DeAndre make it? How is Ella Thompson? How did Tyreeka and little DeAnte make out? It would be great if you put together some kind of epilogue, have you ever considered it?
Your work is brilliant, moving, intelligent, and REAL. Keep it up, and Thank You!
David Simon: Thanks for reading the book and for the kind words. Ella died of a heart attack several years ago; it was very upsetting and it occurred right after she was recognized for her work by Baltimore Magazine as one of the city's unsung heros. Fran is doing great; she coordinates the loop group for "The Wire" as a part-time gig (you can see her name in the credits) and she works full time as a drug counselor. D'Andre is still struggling, but we continue to hope for him. Tyreeka and D'Ante live in the county near Fran; Tyreeka is an administrative asst. at a local hospital and is doing great. Blue is married and a homeowner. That's pretty much the good news.
Bad news is most everyone else who stayed on those corners are now dead and gone.
Charlottesville, Va.: Good afternoon, Mr. Simon. I think George Pelecanos is great as well, and have been lucky enough to see him twice this year, first at the Festival of the Book down here in Charlottesville, and then at a mystery writer's conference in Northern California -- both of which were great experiences. Both times, he talked about writing this episode of "The Wire," and was very excited about it, and by the work you were doing on the series as a whole, so I've been looking forward to this episode ever since (and delighted it aired before a holiday, so I could stay up and think about it, without necessarily dreaming about it all night -- a problem with "Six Feet Under" and "The Sopranos," too).
So, my question is, what did George Pelecanos end up thinking of the changes you had to make to it while he was away on vacation? Thanks -- oh, and by the way (not really a "by the way," but a corollary point of this e-mail), but I was very impressed by the overall show, writing, acting, directing, etc. It was very good and very moving and sad (almost as sad as the end of the article describing it, which I was very impressed by as well, with the little girls performing gymnastics over the discarded drug vials -- a haunting image to be sure, would that it were not also a reality). Thanks again for a great show, and for taking the time to answer questions such as these -- sorry to be so long.
David Simon: George is one of the best tough-guy novelists on the planet. And I am lucky to have his work on this show.
He showed an even keel with the changes that occurred, understanding that a lot of them were due to the nature of the show, in which inter-connected episodes often require continuous amendment because of changes in an adjacent episode.
There were lines that george wrote that were sharp and funny and telling and made it through the script, but didn't make the episode because we were eight minutes long and had to cut. That hurt, too. You'll notice that Poot finishes one scene in the Pit in which he says "Don't be f***-in' with my Sean John" -- a reference to his brand-name shirt. Bodie then points out that it says "Seen John" and that it's a knockoff. "Ain't you look at that sh-- when you bought it?" he asks Poot. Poot looks down and frowns, having been taken . It was a marvelous moment, and died only because of time considerations.
The bottom line is that television is an imperfect vehicle for presenting pure writing. It is a collaborative process and sometimes, an actor does something that works even better than the script. The important thing is to be open to the process.
George understands a lot of this because he's been involved in screenplays for a number of years and I was able to truthfully assure him that more of his stuff saw the light of day than any other freelance script I ever commissioned. He is really good with these voices.
Burtonsville, Md.: I'm still stunned from the recent episode where Kima Gregg was shot. I can't remember when I've found myself caring so much about the characters in a TV show. Sonja Sohn's Gregg is just one. There are so many unforgettable characters, not the least of which are Andre Royo's Bubs, Wendell Pierce's Bunk, Larry Gilliard Jr.'s D'Angelo Barksdale, Wood Harris' Avon Barksdale, Idris Elba's Stringer Bell, Clark Peter's Lester Freamon, Delaney Williams' Sarge, Wendy Grantham's Shardene, and I don't remember a killer as complex and as fully-realized as Michael K. Williams' Omar (Too bad I had to go to the IMDB movie database to find out who played whom, since the credits don't tell us anything). I watched every single episode of "Homicide: Life on the Streets", and most of "The Corner" (which I found relentlessly bleak). I've also read all 10 of George P. Pelecanos' D.C. noir novels, so I was delighted to see his participation in last night's episode. I'm completely disappointed by HBO's complete lack of promotion of "The Wire," especially as compared with it's trumpeting of "Sex in the City," "Six Feet Under" and "The Sopranos," all of which I love by the way. Guess I'll just have to angst over renewal of "The Wire" the way I did each year for "Homicide." Just wanted to celebrate a show that has moved me tremendously, and thank you for bringing it about.
David Simon: Thanks.
But I do think HBO has done right by The Wire. There's been a lot of promotion for the show from them. Now, it's up to word of mouth to bring people in.
Alexandria, Va.: When he was a rassler Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura once performed in Baltimore and told fans that they lived in a "city of losers."
Will you be depicting our urban neighbor to the north as inhabited by lower-class uneducated folk of various ethnicities? Why did you set your crime drama in Baltimore?
David Simon: I love Baltimore. I have lived here and worked here since 1984.
We have problems in this city. As a journalist (I still feel like one anyway) I regard the television work as a loose extension of my reporting on those problems. But I am a Baltimorean and am proud of that fact.
As to your question about "lower-class uneducated folk" -- many of the people I have met in my reporting have been poor and uneducated; their humanity and their worth, however, was never in question. That's a point inherent in The Wire and I'm afraid, from the tone of the question, that you may have missed it.
I set the story in baltimore because these are stories I know in a city I know.
Alexandria, Va.: Do stars of hit HBO shows like James Gandolfini and Sarah Jessica Parker make as much as they would on hit network shows?
David Simon: I don't know what anyone makes except on my show and that, I'm afraid, is between myself and the individual. Sorry.
Alexandria, Va.: How does HBO judge the success of its new shows? Does it use ratings like the on-air networks?
David Simon: No, they don't worry about ratings.
HBO judges success on whether a show is compelling enough to convince a certain segment of its audience to lay out the monthly fee for programming. Maybe some people do it for the Sopranos. Others for Oz. Others for the Wire. Others for Sex In the City, or boxing, or comedy specials, or Springsteen or whatever. But if enough people do it for whatever reason then the network is viable and profitable. In that sense, they are happy with the Wire because the audience is so committed. And because the audience is growing -- up maybe 70 percent off the early episodes.
Chicago, Ill.: Mr. Simon:
Congratulations on one of the best shows on television.
Being a newly retired Chicago police sergeant with over 20 of my 33 years in this type of work (detective, intelligence, tactical, etc.), I can see and appreciate the research that went into creating such a "down to earth" police drama.
My police friends and I truly enjoy your show and your loyalty base is growing in the "windy city."
David Simon: Thank you.
I had friends in the Chicago department because of Homicide. There was a Det. Sgt. there that used the book in his death investigation course. The chapter on interrogation especially. Carroll was his name, I think, though he retired a few years ago and now runs a consulting firm out of Fla.
I got a kick out of that. I have to say.
New York, N.Y.: Can you tell us if a second season for the series has officially been greenlighted and if so, what will be the production startup dates in Baltimore?
David Simon: Answered earlier: We are confident of a second season but there has been no official announcement yet. Maybe in a couple weeks, I would guess.
Los Angeles, Calif.: How do you know and capture the street dialogue?
David Simon: I go out in the street.
Seriously, I spent thirteen years as a crime reporter for the Baltimore Sun. Unlike some, I did not spend all those years in the newsroom on the phone. I got out and met people on their own terms. In 1988, I took a leave to spend a year with the homicide unit and was able to learn more about the police culture. In 1993, with Ed Burns, my cowriter on The Wire and a former homicide detective, I went to the corner of Fayette and Monroe streets in West Baltimore and spent a year following people in the drug culture. Those two books "Homicide" and "The Corner" gave me more of an appreciation for how people in those worlds talk and think and live. And pretty soon, I guess, I'll need to do some more reporting on some other aspect of the world because otherwise, my dialogue and my stories are going to start to get thin.
In short, I guess, the research is really, really important to me and I wouldn't dare try to write characters I didn't think I knew well enough.
David Simon: Unless I messed up, this entry was blank.
David Simon: Ditto
washingtonpost.com: David answered a few questions early. He'll be back at 1 p.m. to continue.
Berkeley, Calif.: Hi Mr. Simon,
I didn't expect to like "The Wire." In fact, I hate all cop shows. But over the past few months I've become completely entranced by your show.
And I was wondering why this show hasn't really generated that much buzz. I mean, it seems like I'm the only one watching, along with, of course, the TV critics. Nobody's even reviewing it at Television Without Pity , a web site that reviews just about every show.
I was wondering how much of it had to do with the subject matter or the race of the characters? If the drug dealers were all white, would it be different, do you think? People like "The Sopranos, " after all.
The narratives and the office politics transcend race and drugs.
David Simon: I do think that race is one aspect of why people are surprised by the show, or perhaps, fail to consider the show.
The New York Times gave the show a very lackadaisical review originally and then a few weeks ago, Margo Jefferson weighed back in with a rethink piece in which she noted that the black gangsters had as much weight and substance to them as Mafia Dons.
This, I think, was regarded as remarkable. In my own small mind, I'm thinking: Gee, who knew that black villains and black cops and black people of all classes could actually be portrayed as thinking creatures.
A lot of people come to show and I'm guessing with all the black characters and the inner-city dialect, they just figure they can pigeon-hole this as a ghetto drama.
Actually, this first season is about Enron. And the Catholic Church. And what institutions and bureaucracies do to people that serve them.
But not many people go past seeing it as another variation of new jack city, I guess.
San Francisco, Calif. Bay Area: What do you think of the new detective shows that have been grabbing the headlines lately? "The Shield"? "Monk"?
I really liked "The Shield," but your show ruined it for me. It's hard to watch Michael Chiklis' character easily "haul in" criminals and solve cases after watching the nitty gritty complications of your show.
Keep up the good work.
David Simon: We're doing two different shows.
The Shield is about what happens when an individual is bigger than an institution in which he serves. The Wire is about what happens when institutions don't give a damn about the people serving them.
Phila, Pa.: The cast of "The Wire" is the best cast on television. I think the actors who play Daniels, Greggs, Freemon and Bell are worthy of Emmy nominations. I would love to see Clark Johnson reprise his homicide detective role on "The Wire." Any chance? He was the best actor on the show.
David Simon: I enjoyed Clark immensely on homicide. I thought his character was among the most credible cops on the show and I loved writing for him.
That said, I don't want to cross The Wire with Homicide references. It's a similar environment but a very different take on the culture of drugs and violence.
Silver Spring, Md.: To what extent are your characters fictional, or composites of several people?
David Simon: The characters are fictional. But they are in many ways composites of cops and dealers that Ed and I have known. There is a certain amount of homage being done to real people and real cases.
Glen Burnie, Md.: Hi David. Big fan of "The Wire," "The Corner," and "Homicide." With HBO putting shows like the "Sopranos," "Oz," and "Sex and the City" on DVD are we going to be able to pick up "The Wire" in this format? Thanks for putting Baltimore on TV all these years.
David Simon: I expect they will put out the season on DVD. The Corner is going to be released on DVD next year. It took a long time because some musical clearances took a while to secure.
Diamondback.: You wrote an editorial on the death penalty way back when. It was the best thing I ever read in that paper.
David Simon: You are Will Scheltema. You worked with me at the Diamondback. You are a good writer in your own right and an amusing and provocative motherf----- and you are throwing me meatball pitches here in front of an unsuspecting audience.
I will only say that I owe you a beer for the effort.
Silver Spring, Md.: What are the prospects for another 13-or-so episodes series with much the same cast as appeared in "The Wire?"
David Simon: I replied to this earlier in saying I am confident of a second season. Will the cast be the same? To some extent. But the premise of the show requires another prolonged investigation, probably of a fresh target.
Greenbelt, Md.: Hey it's Matt. We went to Maryland together. Hope all is well. I have two quick questions.
1. What was it like working at the Ritz while it was being investigated by the cops in real life?
2. What is your next project?
David Simon: If we knew that Mr. Lee had been indicted when we filmed the pilot, we would've filmed somewhere else. For the simple reason that we were afraid of the U.S. Marshals palocking the place before we were done with the season, which would've meant building a replica set on extremely short notice. Other than that fear, which did not come to pass because Mr. Lee wasn't sentenced until after filming, it was business as usual. The girls were very nice, and from our point of view, professional. Although Mr. Lee was accused of illegally importing many from Eastern Europe, we only met ladies from Eastern Bawlmer.
Portland, Ore.: If the show is picked up next season is it likely George Pelecanos will contribute? I thought his writing on Sunday's episode was great, it had his unique style, but still felt like it fit the characters.
David Simon: George will write for this show if I have to go to his front door and drag the pages home with me.
David Simon: Also, I just realized that my old college buddy Will sent me a different e-message, not the one I answered. So, oops, I better answer Diamondback honestly.
I don't recall what I wrote about the death penalty in college. I do know that right now, I am against the death penalty on the premise that events have shown us that our judicial system is capable of placing the wrong man on Death Row routinely. Absent a better system of assuring that the ultimate penalty -- from which there is no release or parole -- is given to those truly deserving of it, or even guilty of the crime, the death penalty cannot stand on any moral basis.
Greenbelt, Md.: Dave: This can be done privately, off-line. It's Matt Neufeld, from the University of Maryland. Hey, I would love to catch up and talk and touch base with you. Would it be possible to leave your name and number or e-mail with the producer? I'll call later and get it. Thanks, Dave, and I look forward to talking with ya' soon. And congrats on all your success. See ya', -- Matt.
David Simon: Hey, Matt.
Hope things are well with you.
I'm on hiatus after this interview and will be traveling for a couple months. When I get back, you can call the production office in Baltimore and get hold of me.
We're switching offices, but the number will be available through HBO after say, October. Talk then.
Washington, D.C. Will: Dave: Long time no see/hear (I don't have cable). Do you think fiction and dramatic techniques allow you to tell a more accurate story?
David Simon: This is Mr. Scheltema, then.
Okay, wiseguy, in response to your question, a softball if ever I swung at one, I can only say:
It is perverse, but some of the more important truths I feel I have ever managed to convey about the city I covered for years as a journalist have occurred in the realm of dramatic fiction. I don't know why this is, or why journalism so often falls short of saying what feels most important or most true, but does anyone doubt that the best piece of journalism on say, the Dustbowl Years came from Steinbeck. Or that Richard Price wrote the best account of the crack epidemic in "Clockers?" I love journalism and admire it when it is done well; but a lot of very honest, very deliberate reporting somehow fails to convey the heart of the matter. Go figure.
Shakima and Omar: I have always been a big fan of yours, including assigning "The Corner" to students pursuing a career in public interest law and criminal defense. The question I have is about your characters Shakima and Omar. Among my gay friends, there has been much discussion about whether Omar considers himself gay or is he on the "DL"
Why did you decide to throw an out lesbian and a "gay" dealer into your mix of characters?
David Simon: Because gay people exist.
Some of the better policewomen I knew in Baltimore were gay. A couple of famous stickup boys were openly gay. It is real.
Could Omar be openly gay and part of an established drug crew? Probably not. It is because he makes his living outside of the crews (he's a stickup artist, not a dealer) that he is able to live life on his own terms, indifferent to others.
But in truth, you might as well ask why I made the other eighteen characters heterosexual.
Harrisburg, Pa.: Your experiences as a police reporter should provide much preparation for your latest venture. How did you make the transaction to writing for television? Was this something you decided to do, or did it happen unexpectedly?
David Simon: My TV career is an absurd happenstance.
I wrote a non-fiction book about Homicide detectives in Baltimore. Barry Levinson, from Baltimore, bought it and turned it into a TV show along with Tom Fontana. Tom and Barry gave me a chance to write a script. I did so.
They offered me a job as a story editor and later, as a producer, at the same time that my newspaper, the Baltimore Sun, had become the playground of a couple hack, tone-deaf, Pulitzer-hungry cheeseeaters who made the newsroom an ugly fleshpit full of like-minded hacks and sycophants. In short, I took the new gig.
Tom taught me everything he could and then turned me loose on HBO, where he himself had proven that raw, rough material like Oz could have a home. I owe Tom a lot.
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia: Will there be a second season of The Wire?
David Simon: I think there will be a second season. I think we'll likely announce such in a couple weeks.
Washington, D.C.: Did the Baltimore police chief do a cameo in one show? I swear one of the detectives looked just like him.
David Simon: Police Commissioner Ed Norris has appeared as Homicide Det. Ed Norris in four episodes. He's a pretty good, dry actor.
He did so because it showed the 3,000 cops in his department that there was a fictional aspect to the show and so they shouldn't take things personally. (i.e. if he's Det. Norris then he isn't the commissioner, and if he isn't the commissioner, then it isn't the current BPD.)
Norris' first scene has him uttering this line: "Show me the sonofab---- that can fix this department and I'll give back half my overtime..."
I love a man with a sense of humor.
Harrisburg, Pa.: One thing shows like yours are missing is the positive critical review from a group such as the now defunct Viewers for Quality Television. This was a group composed totally of television viewers who rated shows on their merit and praised what was good about shows. They helped save shows like "Cagney and Lacey." It seems many of the "viewers groups" that remain are ones that are critical of shows and lobby against good shows that may have scenes their members find objectionable. Does your show receive much critical mail from such viewers, and does HBO listen to or essentially ignore comments from people who are easily offended?
David Simon: We don't have much bad feedback from viewers. Initially, there was some talk that our show was very profane.
F--- it. Life is profane. At least in West Baltimore.
Moreover, it was important to the theme of the show that members of both the police and street bureaucracies speak exactly the same, debased language. We are trying to make a point that the bureaucracies are compatible in their effect on people. So the language was carefully considered.
Note: Only Omar does not curse. As he only is not beholden to either bureaucracy and can live by his own code. Get it?
Amherst, N.Y.: Not a question but a couple of comments.
I wanted to say how much I loved "Homicide: A year on the Killing Streets." It's a book my husband and I have read over and over. I liked the TV series too but the book is awesome.
I'm a new convert to "The Wire" and am thoroughly enjoying it when I can understand what is being said. I especially enjoy the multi-layering of the plots. Keep up the excellent work.
David Simon: I know some people have trouble hearing all the vernacular. I write that way on purpose. My feeling is that by allowing the characters to embrace the real vernacular, the scenes feel less staged and more like verite.
I know that sometimes viewers get confused, but invariably, if they stay with it, they catch up. If they don't stay with it, I'm probably not gonna keep them by making it more like a TV show anyway.
Bowie, Md.: As another former Diamondbacker, I laughed out loud when I read in the Post Magazine's article that "Simon, whose years of newspapering hardened him into a force to deal with for editors..."
As I recall, you were "a force to deal with" during your years at the Diamondback. I know you scared the hell out of me my freshman year there. It was a relief to deal with Emilio Garcia-Ruiz (who was no picnic, either).
In fact, I have the two of you to thank for my now being completely desensitized to the f-word.
On a professional note: From the Baltimore Sun to books to commercial TV to paid TV -- what's the next challenge you'd like to try?
David Simon: Who are you that I terrorized? A lot of what we did at the Diamondback was pretend bluster. How else to keep a staff working to put out a daily newspaper on peanuts a day? I was scared of Paul Berg and Joe Raeder, the editors when I first came on. Years later, I got to know Joe better and realized that it was all Wizard of Oz, man-behind-the-curtain sh--. Ah well.
Next challenge? Homicide: The Musical.
Washington, D.C.: Why didn't the detectives arrested the other drug dealer on last night's episode? They arrested the head guy but the other guy was left standing in the room. Please tell me what have I missed. I have followed the show from the very beginning but somehow I got a little confused last night. By the way this is the best show ever, keep up the good work. Thanks
David Simon: Avon was arrested because the cops caught him on video in the rear office of the club, ordering D'Angelo to go to NY and get a raw kilo to resupply the crew. When D'Angelo is arrested on the NJ Turnpike with the drugs in his car, Avon is also vulnerable to the charge.
Stringer Bell was not arrested because he was not a party to that conversation. And in all the wiretap conversations involving Stringer he has been careful not to implicate himself thus far: i.e. Stinkum: "We just lost four to five-oh." Stringer: "What you tellin' me for?" Stringer is very careful in what he says and to whom.
The cops did have Stringer tied into the murder of Brandon, Omar's lover. But when Wallace is killed, that case crumbles...so Stringer is, as of now, in the wind.
Branchburg, N.J.: Mr. Simon, first let me say I love your work! I love the nuances and intricate little twists in the plot of "The Wire." I watch the re-runs, and I catch something new every time.
I was wondering, when you have done your on-the-street research in with neighborhood folks, if it was difficult to see some of these tragedies up close and personal? How attached did you become to people? And did it take any kind of toll on you personally?
David Simon: It is difficult to watch people struggle. And it is a joy when good things happen as well.
When I was writing The Corner, Gary McCullough died of an overdose. I loved Gary. I loved his mind, his heart, his sense of the world. I miss him now, writing this.
But Fran Boyd is alive and well. So is Blue. And Tyreeka. And DeRodd. And DeAnte. We remain friends and they are valuable to me not just because of what they went through, but who they are and who they've become. If you go to different places and meet different people -- even if they are places and people in great distress -- you are being given a gift. A have a son DeAnte's age and they play together as friends. That is a gift. For my son as much as for DeAnte.
Parkway Deli, Md.: David –-
Just wanted to say you’re making the old Colston Drive/Grubb Rd. neighborhood proud! When you were blowing the lid off the ease of on-campus marijuana purchases as editor of B-CC high school’s Tattler newspaper, did you ever imagine your current crime-based television career?
On a personal note, thanks for steering me down the path of Creedence/Rolling Stones and away from the evils of the KC and the Sunshine band genre,
David Simon: I hope you remember my editorial position as to on-campus marijuana sales and use: It is inappropriate. You can smoke as much of it as you'd like, but please, not on school grounds.
An editorial position ahead of its time for 1978, I'd like to think. Glad to know you are doing well. What're you up to?
Lyme, Conn.: I understand most TV shows don't want the writers or creative people on the set. As that the case with "The Wire," or is the advice of the creative people used during filming?
David Simon: No, in TV the writer-producer controls the product. We write, cast, pick directors, go to set, edit and have the final say over the final cut. It has to be that way because of continuity issues in television drama. The directors come and go with every episode and the actors are dependent on a continuing story, so...
In features, the writer is on the bottom rung. But television, the writer rules. Happy to say.
Homicide: The Musical: Oh yeah. Sounds good. Put some Kix and Crack the Sky in there and we'll have an authentic Bawlmor experience Hon!
David Simon: Sweeney Todd worked, so what the hell.
Largo, Md.: HI David -- I love the show. Thanks to HBO for airing it several times weekly. I would be too upset it I missed an episode. Who chose the opening and closing music? It's great. The opening score gets me hyped and excited in anticipation of what's to come, and the ending music is just what I need to calm the heck down.
David Simon: Closing score was written in-house by our music coordinator and he did excellent work. Opening score is the Blind Boys of Alabama doing a Tom Waits song that I have long loved.
Raleigh, N.C.: In the show why is there not more to explain the Barksdale family. From some of the snippets I guess they are a family with a long history of dealing drugs.
David Simon: We try to provide as much back-story as is needed to propel the story forward. Too much back-story is like too much flesh draped on the skeleton. The thing then moves too slowly. Too little and you don't have sense who you're watching. We tried to give enough hints at the back-story of the Barksdale clan to give you a sense of their place, if not the story as a while. A little more is coming in Episode 13 though.
Chantilly, Va.: Hi David, former Mobtown resident here.
I finally caught my first ep of The Wire and loved it. (We just got HBO.)
Great to see you using Doug Roberts! Nice to see a face made for radio get some screen time.
David Simon: Doug did real good as the state's attorney. Why would anyone from Bawlmer wind up in Chantilly?
Baltimore, Md.: Hi David. I love your work and feel that "The Corner" was one of the most valuable books I've ever read. I assume you focus on Baltimore because of your background, but was wondering if you feel there is anything particular to Baltimore that makes it so ripe for its myriad of problems (and fodder for books and TV shows)?
David Simon: Baltimore is a great town. Lotta heart. I couldn't go back to Washington now if they paid me.
I think in many ways, Baltimore works as a vehicle for talking about urban issues because it is not atypical, but typical. Speak on Baltimore, and they understand you in St. Louis, Cleveland, Philly, etc.
Former DBKer: Hi David:
It's been a pleasure to follow your career since you terrorized me as a freshman at the Diamondback.
Do you have any projects looming with David Mills or any of the rest of the Diamondback staff? Foresee any of them becoming part of your writing team?
David Simon: David Mills, one of the best writers anyone could work with, got himself a big-a-- development deal after we did The Corner together. He has a pilot that he filmed for NBC called "Kingpin" that is as sharp and smart as anything on TV now and NBC has ordered more episodes. If not for that, I'd have him on The Wire. And if not for The Wire, I'd probably be working for him on Kingpin.
Forestville, Md.: I thought this was on at 1:00! That's what the Post Web site says.
I am intrigued by something noted time and again in the article. The frightening side of life that your books and TV shows portray will never improve. How can one say that? Look at the number of unsupervised children wandering around your sets at all hours of the day or night. Have you considered following a group of kids for a while to chronicle what their lives become? Unfortunately, I think it will still turn out to be a crime tome.
David Simon: The tragedy has been thirty or forty years in the making and through a series of public policy failures including the drug war, white flight and suburbanization and the collapse of a working-class manufacturing base in cities like Baltimore, we have made it happen as if it were a plan.
You can hope for individuals to seize control of their lives: those people who survived the Corner are proof of that and I am grateful to have witnessed their individual victories. But policy wise? The people down there where you live keep telling us that with a little more money, a few more cops, more prisons and another Omnibus crime bill that makes another twelve felonies punishable by the death penalty, we can win the drug war. I would like to drive John Ashcroft to Fayette and Monroe street and throw his ass out of the car.
Arlington, Va.: Hi David, please allow me to gush for a moment: I was kind of ambiguous about "The Wire" until I heard you were part of its creative force, and since then I have made Sunday night appointments with my TV. A question- do you think that the Wire will be sold as a DVD set, as the other HBO series are? Or at least, do you anticipate a full rerun of the season, so I can tape them?
David Simon: I imagine it will be released on DVD sometime during season two or season three, if God willing, there is such a thing. HBO tends to release its DVDs and videos on that schedule.
The Corner, as I mentioned, is coming out next year on DVD sometime.
Arlington, Va.: How closely are characters such as Stringer Bell, D'Angelo Barksdale, Bubbles, Poot, etc. based on real people you have met?
David Simon: Ed and I recognize aspects of real people in all of the characters. Sometimes, though, a character is a composite of two or three or four different people.
Arlington, Va.: Without giving up too much of a spoiler for next week's finale, will we see Omar again this season, or is he stored away for the next time out?
David Simon: Not telling. Omar follows his own code. He might just turn up anywhere. He might not. Can't really say.
Arlington, Va.: I postulated this on the HBO discussion boards and wanted to know your thoughts: was the Wire originally meant to be a miniseries but then later changed to allow future seasons? That was my guess as to why there was no episode last week.
David Simon: No. The Wire has always been planned as a continuing series for HBO. It was preempted last week because HBO needed Sunday to premier its own movie.
David Simon: thank you. do you want to quit it, or should I answer the remaining questions and you stop people from posting fresh ones. or what?
Arlington, Va.: Where did you go to find so many extraordinarily talented unknown actors for this show? Larry, Idris, and Michael Jordan in particular come to mind.
David Simon: Alexa Fogle, casting agent. She did a great job, didn't she?
Arlington, Va.: Do you have any particular character you enjoy writing dialogue for more than other ones?
David Simon: I like 'em all, but Bubbles and Omar and believe it or not, Sgt. Landsman, are a lot of fun.
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