Q & A With the Creator of The Wire

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David Simon, the creator and producer of HBO’s The Wire made a special appearance at Northwestern’s Block Gallery for a Q&A session last night. As a big big fan of The Wire and Homicide: Life on the Streets (a show I still miss), I was very interested to hear Simon talk about television, the production process, and perhaps share a few
behind-the-scenes tidbits.

The audience was filled with students,
journalists, aspiring journalists (Simon was a crime reporter for the Baltimore Sun for thirteen years) and fans from the community. Here are some highlights from the evening:

  1. If you thought The Wire was a depressing, harsh program before, wait till you hear what Simon says is the program’s overarching theme: With every passing day, human life (our lives) are worth less. And with that loss of value, comes the loss of dignity. It holds true whether your a cop or a drug dealer, a school teacher or a school kid, whether you live in a third world country or the inner city of Baltimore. Feel better? A sobering premise, for sure.
  2. Currently the show is in its fourth season; there will be five in all. Each season is set in a different section of Baltimore and deals the breakdown of different institutions. The final season will address the media; why no one speaks aloud these failures of modern society and why we don’t listen. He said The Wire has been liberating to show how these institutions are failing and falling apart.
  3. The Wire isn’t concerned with good and evil, but with the process.
  4. He had nothing good to say about commercial television, which according to him is all about selling products and making money. Cable TV allows for true storytelling, giving creators a forum to create complex stories and rich characters, free from ratings, sponsors, popular opinion, and star personalities.
  5. Simon despises the Tribune Corporation (parent company of The Chicago Tribune, WGN and his hometown newspaper The Sun) which he says is sucking the lifeblood out his paper to maximize profits. He slammed the Tribune a number of times (“They’re destroying my town’s paper”); many people I know would agree with his criticisms of their business practices.
  6. Anyone (reporters) who think they’re going to write something that will effect change and make the world a better place is fooling themselves. He learned this lesson early as a reporter when he uncovered a scandal at the University of MD involving a basketball coach. Rather than firing the guy, he was given a slap on the wrist and a five-year contract and Simon learned a harsh reality.
  7. His mantra: “To come to the campfire with the best tale you can tell.” Good words to live by.

Simon also spoke about local reaction to shooting the show in Baltimore (the mayor hates it), working with child actors (who say and do some pretty intense stuff on his show), and the parallels between characters real and imagined. Simon is an engaging and frank speaker who didn’t come off as down and depressing as it may sound here. The Wire is a dark and intense. It also demands of the audience a level of engagement that’s unfortunately all too rare on the small screen. It’s also filled with humanity and humor, stellar acting, writing and cinematography that earn The Wire critical praise and a loyal audience four years running.

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