Written Interview: Nick Hornby & David Simon
#screenwriting #film #television
““The Wire” is the best TV series ever. And if you do a Google search of this site, you will find multiple posts about the series and its creator David Simon. Indeed a prized possession of mine is Simon’s 1991 book “Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets,” one of the best non-fiction works I’ve ever read and the basis of my second favorite TV series “Homicide: Life on the Streets.”
So I was thrilled when @webacion tweeted this interview Simon did with another of my favorite authors Nick Hornby (“Fever Pitch,” “High Fidelity,” “About a Boy”).
NICK HORNBY: Can I start by asking you something about the writing? How did you kick it off? All the seasons have had very unconventional shapes and paces to them, I think. Did you have something different in mind before you started, or did that happen during the creation of the series?
DAVID SIMON: I think what you sense in The Wire is that it is violating a good many of the conventions and tropes of episodic television. It isn’t really structured as episodic television and it instead pursues the form of the modern, multi-POV novel. Why? Primarily because the creators and contributors are not by training or inclination television writers. In fact, it is a little bit remarkable that we ended up with a television drama on HBO or anywhere else. I am a newspaper reporter by training who wrote a couple long, multi-POV nonfiction narratives, Homicide and The Corner. The first became the basis for the NBC drama of the same name; the second I was able to produce as a miniseries for HBO, airing in 2000. Both works are the result of a journalistic impulse, the first recounting a year I spent with the Baltimore Police Department’s Homicide Unit, and the second book detailing a year spent in a drug-saturated West Baltimore neighborhood, following an extended, drug-involved family. Ed Burns, my coauthor on The Corner and co-creator on The Wire, was a homicide detective who served in the BPD for twenty years and, following that for seven years, a seventh-grade teacher at a Baltimore public school. The remaining writers—Richard Price [Clockers], Dennis Lehane [Mystic River], and George Pelecanos [The Night Gardener]—are novelists working at the highest level of the crime genre. Bill Zorzi covered state and municipal politics for the Baltimore Sun for twenty years; Rafael Alvarez, another Sun veteran, worked as a merchant seaman and comes from two generations of port workers. So we are all rooted in a different place than Hollywood.
We got the gig because as my newspaper was bought and butchered by an out-of-town newspaper chain, I was offered the chance to write scripts, and ultimately, to learn to produce television by the fellows who were turning my first book into Homicide: Life on the Street. I took that gig and ultimately, I was able to produce the second book for HBO on my own. Following that miniseries, HBO agreed to look at The Wire scripts. So I made an improbable and in many ways unplanned transition from journalist/author to TV producer. It was not a predictable transformation and I am vaguely amused that it actually happened. If I had a plan, it was to grow old on the Baltimore Sun’s copy desk, bumming cigarettes from young reporters and telling lies about what it was like working with H. L. Mencken and William Manchester.
Another reason the show may feel different than a lot of television: our model is not quite so Shakespearean as other high-end HBO fare. The Sopranos and Deadwood—two shows that I do admire—offer a good deal of Macbeth or Richard III or Hamlet in their focus on the angst and machinations of the central characters (Tony Soprano, Al Swearengen). Much of our modern theater seems rooted in the Shakespearean discovery of the modern mind. We’re stealing instead from an earlier, less-traveled construct—the Greeks—lifting our thematic stance wholesale from Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides to create doomed and fated protagonists who confront a rigged game and their own mortality. The modern mind—particularly those of us in the West—finds such fatalism ancient and discomfiting, I think. We are a pretty self-actualized, self-worshipping crowd of postmoderns and the idea that for all of our wherewithal and discretionary income and leisure, we’re still fated by indifferent gods, feels to us antiquated and superstitious. We don’t accept our gods on such terms anymore; by and large, with the exception of the fundamentalists among us, we don’t even grant Yahweh himself that kind of unbridled, interventionist………”