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September 24, 2012 6PM EST

Q&A with David Simon

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  • Q

    Please welcome Treme co-creator David Simon. David, what was your favorite part of shooting Season 3?

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    David Simon says:

    Finishing, standing around with the crew outside the last location in Algiers on a warm night, drinking champagne. My favorite working moment might be the scene that ends the first episode, the one with Fez Man, riding away from Colson on that amazing bike. When the props guys -- New Orleans natives all -- brought that thing out and flicked on the switch, I thought I was gonna cry. They were proud. They brought that thing onstage as if it was New Orleans itself.

  • Q

    Why do you associate jazz with decay and even dying in Treme?

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    David Simon says:

    I'm not sure I do in any way. I wish I could ask you to elaborate, because I'm surprised you see a connection that I don't actually embrace.

  • Q

    Which of the five interpretations of The Wire's theme song was your favorite?

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    David Simon says:

    The kids. Season three.

  • Q

    How accurate are the Indian rituals in "Treme"?

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    David Simon says:

    Everything is abbreviated, of course. Film requires a shorthand way of saying anything, but within the limitations of time, we are resolved to listening carefully to the Mardi Gras Indians who have been our consultants on the project.

  • Q

    To expand on Stéphan Constantial's question: Are Baltimore and New Orleans characters of equal stature in the two cities? NOLA seems much more of a character in Treme.

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    David Simon says:

    New Orleans is a very dynamic character in terms of culture, and because that culture is both visual and aural and in the street every day, it is, well, demonstrable and filmic. It shows better. Baltimore has traditions and culture, but to a less grandiose and less idiosyncratic degree. But in my mind, we were equally committed to the importance of a sense of place in both towns.

  • Q

    Researchers in carnival at Tulane said residents of N.O. find Treme to be culturally authentic; what are your sources?

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    David Simon says:

    Some do. Some locals are less enamored, of course. In every aspect of culture, we hire on consultants who help to steer us. And we are very specific. When working with bounce and New Orleans hip-hop, for example, we have separate consults from when we are working with modern jazz or the brass band tradition. We try to listen to good advice.

  • Q

    With the subject matter of life after the storm being so deep and vast, what is the process of selecting and a developing it for each season

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    David Simon says:

    Well, at this point we are tied to the characters and the arcs that we chose. But I have to say, the post-Katrina experience cannot and should not be made to live under the banner of any single narrative. If you tell everyone's story, you tell no one's. We made choices. Were they the best ones? I don't know. But it would be an insult to New Orleanians to suggest that everyone can find references to their own, very personal, very unique post-Katrina experience in our drama. We are no substitute for all of that, and we would never claim to be. We are a story set in a time and place and addressing ourselves to some aspects of that time and place.

  • Q

    Treme can be seen as an insular homage to NOLA.The story seems to be more about American culture itself - is that message is being heard?

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    David Simon says:

    Nope, not really. Maybe by some folks. But I think because television doesn't deal with culture as one of its usual tropes, we are leaving a lot of people at sea. Not sure what to do about that since we want to tell the story we want to tell, and not something else.

  • Q

    Was Omar based on a real person?

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    David Simon says:

    Several. Donnie Andrews. Ferdinand Harvin. Anthony Hollie. Cadillac & Low. Shorty Boyd, et al...

  • Q

    Will you address the Times-Picayune's downsizing in an upcoming episode of Treme? And do you think a city needs a daily print paper?

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    David Simon says:

    It will not occur before we wrap the show chronologically. The importance of professional journalism, whether it is the TP or online start-ups like The Lens, is made clear in season three because it was made clear to New Orleanians, in fact. Just as the voice of bloggers as essayists and advocates for New Orleans was made clear in season one with the homage to Ashley Morris, through Creighton Bernette's character. I think bloggers proved to be a fierce advocate for community after Katrina and to this day in New Orleans. But I do believe that for consistent first-generation reporting, rather than commentary and essaying, nothing beats a beat reporting system and a full-time newsroom. I don't worry about whether the future will involve newsprint; I think newsprint is an anachronism, of course. But I believe in the newsroom. I believe in a professional organization that covers institutional civic life on a daily basis.

  • Q

    With it having just been announced that Treme will have one more season, what new projects do you have outlined on your horizon?

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    David Simon says:

    Dunno. Trying to figure out what to do when I grow up. I started in prose and television has been a wonderful crack pipe for me these last 14 or so years. But maybe it's time to do other things. Have to look at where I'm feeling it, and talk to HBO and see what they envision, and then think some.

  • Q

    George RR Martin described writers as being gardeners or architects, the later knowing how the story ends when he starts. Which are you?

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    David Simon says:

    Architect. Although my buildings aren't always as elegant as some others. They speak to me, though.

  • Q

    How many terms do you think a president would need to fix the major problems of this country (drug war, prisons) and "plant an olive tree?"

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    David Simon says:

    Actually, I think the broken part of government is the legislative branch. That's where capital has purchased our governance wholesale and where the system is entirely broken. Two terms with a functional Congress would be plenty. Six terms with a legislative dynamic in which every populist and utilitarian imperative is thwarted by monied interests wouldn't be enough. Campaign finance reform needs to return to the highest possible priority. And a Supreme Court that understands that money does not equal speech in any sense needs to be empaneled. Good luck on either of those two items.

  • Q

    What are your benchmarks for storytelling, in terms of sitting back and saying "Yep, that's the story we wanted to tell, & it's well told."

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    David Simon says:

    That's it. I am not a creature of vast imagination. I was trained as a journalist. I am first interested in what actually happened. So when applying that logic to a fictional narrative, I am chiefly limited to what happened or what could have plausibly happened -- with an emphasis on whether the fiction plays too false with the reality. That can be a limiting way to proceed. It can also be validating if you get close to conveying an argument about the issue or theme at hand. Make sense? Hope so.

  • Q

    are there any modern tv series that inspire you or your work? if tv isn't an inspirational medium for you, then what is?

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    David Simon says:

    There's some smart stuff out there. I saw the Sopranos after I finished The Wire and thought it was really astute and really well executed. Same with Deadwood. There's a Canadian show called Slings and Arrows, about a Shakespearean theater company that was so clever it left me with pure, distilled writer-envy. I like books too.

  • Q

    Did you read any sociology and/ or anthropology authors before or after starting with The Wire? Which ones did you read?

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    David Simon says:

    Lots, but I did a lot of that reading before writing Homicide and The Corner as non-fiction narratives. William Wilson before The Corner. As well as Elliott Liebow and his seminal work. Many others. Alex Kotlowitz, Kozol, Andrew Hacker, and every document that mattered back to the Kerner Commission report. For Homicide, I focused on Year-in-the-life immersion journalism. Tracy Kidder's stuff. Jim Bouton's Ball Four was a surprising influence.

  • Q

    Is there a Treme character you identify with most?

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    David Simon says:

    Delmond Lambreaux. And not for any obvious reason. I am no serious musician, and my life is in measure comparative to his. It's just that what Rob and Clarke have accomplished in bringing to life that father-son relationship speaks to a lot of the writers. I think all of us, when we get to the scenes with those two, are writing our own family dynamic into it. We all seem to have been there with our fathers at some point. My guess is we will all be there with our sons, if we have sons.

  • Q

    In your work, the environment is not only a background. The main character in "The Wire" is Baltimore, and for "Treme" it's New Orleans. Are there other cities you would like to write about?

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    David Simon says:

    Sure. Plenty. Never want to tell the same story place, or have a universe go stale because we've said our piece. Generation Kill, we weren't thinking about a city, but about the "community" of a traveling, third-world war zone. The Marines in a mobile combat environment. A road trip. But most important is what the piece intends to say and how well we execute.

  • Q

    Sinclair on The Jungle: "I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach." Do you feel similar abt The Wire in a way?

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    David Simon says:

    Interesting quote. I think Sinclair was a more frustrated writer than I am. Although a lot more emotion is lathered on my public image because I am at times outspoken about my purposes and intentions, in my heart I never expect the work to be taken as it is offered. I certainly never expect the world to get better because someone told a story. I was a newspaperman too long to believe in that stuff. For me, coming to the campfire with a better, more honest story is enough of a victory on which to hang a hat. Sinclair really wanted to change the world; he was as much a progressive political figure as he was a storyteller, and if you follow up to '34 and the gubernatorial campaign in California, that becomes entirely apparent. Funny aside: I was given the Upton Sinclair Award by a progressive group in the same year that the UTexas communications school made me a William Randolph Hearst fellow. Ideologically, that's just impossible. By the end of their careers, those two men were at each other's throats, politically. Basically, one award was an affront to the other and renders both meaningless, if you think about it. If Hearst and Sinclair are together in some afterworld, they are laughing their ass off it. Or they're still beating each other to an eternal pulp.

  • Q

    You've said you're displeased in the way some fans respond to The Wire, e.g. making character brackets rather than discussing the deeper issues. If you could, would you change anything about The Wire to redirect fan interest?

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    David Simon says:

    Displeased is actually too strong. I reporter asked me what I thought about that nonsense, and can you believe it, I actually told him. I was asked what I thought about all of that, and I told him I thought very little of it and that it wasn't important to me. People can do what they like with the finished work, but if you ask me directly what I value or don't value, and you get an honest answer, then it doesn't seem to me to be a cause for anyone to go into high dudgeon. Change stuff? Nah. You can't aim the ball. Just gotta throw.

  • Q

    You've showed how complicated change, whether personal or istitutional, can be.In our deeply institutionalized society, is it even possible?

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    David Simon says:

    Well, maybe not, or maybe not enough at this point. There is an awful lot that has been arrayed against meaningful change. On the other hand, none of that absolves any of us of the responsibility to try, does it?

  • Q

    With the loss of two native NOLA figures, Coco Robicheaux & Uncle Lionel, who featured prominently in Treme, are you planing a tribute?

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    David Simon says:

    The tributes are embedded in the piece already, and we won't travel far enough chronologically to reach the point at which Coco and Uncle Lionel passed on. I am very proud that they are represented, though, that they are part of the document. As a lot of people do, I have very warm memories of both men.

  • Q

    What was the most jarring thing you've learned while working on Treme?

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    David Simon says:

    I covered the police department in Baltimore, Maryland for more than a decade. It had its problems, and some scandals. By standards of what has been going in New Orleans, I am astounded at the degree to which the NOPD and the sheriff's department require reform. For too much of both agencies, a professional law enforcement ethic is simply absent.

  • Q

    Mr. Simon, Thank You. From The Corner on, I have been quite impressed and quite moved by your work. If I may, what's next, after Treme?

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    David Simon says:

    I have a book project that I have owed my editor for a while now. Bill Zorzi and I have been gathering string on the history of the drug trade in Baltimore 1951-2000. And I gotta sit down with HBO and decide what that network is going to be going forward and what might be plausible for me, given my rather idiosyncratic skill set as a filmmaker. Oh yeah, I just wrote an essay on the amazing Baltimore Orioles for Sports Illustrated. Comes out this week. Go, O's.

  • Q

    Any words of wisdom for an up-and-coming journalist??

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    David Simon says:

    Find a beat, love it, nuture it. Stay in one place long enough so that you come to understand the issues and what is stake, and then report and write the hell out of that. Give it some time and see what comes.

  • Q

    Would you consider producing another crime drama series?

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    David Simon says:

    Not unless it was thematically unique and purposed differently than the ones I've previously worked on. And certainly, I would want a different universe than Baltimore at this point.

  • Q

    How, as individuals, as a society, do you think we can try & help 'solve' some of these global issues (institution failure, poverty, drugs)?

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    A
    David Simon says:

    Commit, engage, resist, endure. All of that is necessary. These stories are not an argument for inertia, but neither are they pablum that assures anyone that simply being right-minded on issues will be enough for change. Capital has wedded itself to our governance and now, unless reform is fundamental and then, going forward, vigilant, our basic republican ideals are unlikely to prevail. The Occupy movement was a marvelous first act. No second act was forthcoming. Perhaps for the second act to become more essential for more Americans, things are going to have to get a lot worse before they get better. Real reform transpires, sadly but tellingly, in those periods of history in which desperation is more keenly felt. The Haymarket happened because Chicago lumberyard workers were starving and because Pullman workers no longer wanted to live as slaves in a burnished company ghetto and because someone finally picked up a brick. And because capital overreacted to the Haymarket, we arrived as a society with a 40-hour workweek. Vietnam ended because enough Americans declared that they could no longer trust their government to expend the lives of their sons for a meaningful defense of the society, but for other, more ambiguous and less justifiable purposes. The '68 riots were seen at the time as a disaster for urban America, but in fact, they marked a necessary turning point in American race relations. The riots themselves were awful, the scars ran through our cities for decades after. But by showing all of us a bifurcated America at war with itself, enough of us were convinced of the need for deeper, more committed political and economic equality in American life. Compare all that with what happened in 2008 on Wall Street and the fact there is still, among our financial leaders and within one of our two major political parties, an argument for less regulation of our financial processes. Again, sometimes things have to get worse to get better, for populist, utilitarian outcomes to trump ideology and money. Good news is that if we keep up with our nonsense, things will indeed get worse.

  • Q

    In what kind of ways is the city of N.O. itself responding to your wonderful series? What kind of different responses are coming to mind?

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    David Simon says:

    Some people like. Some people don't. Acceptable either way to me. Vast majority of people I encounter are at least polite and understand, from our basic effort, that we are trespassing with fairly benign intent and that we have shown some considerable fealty to getting stuff more right than wrong. There are a handle of others who presume a malevolence on our part that I find kind of amazing. The narrative that we are carpetbaggers come from out of town to profit off the pain of the post-Katrina world ignores one salient fact: This show, doing what it does, had zero chance of being a hit, or a moneymaker, or a career-maker for anyone involved. If we wanted to tell a story for ratings or profit, we couldn't have done worse than to make that story about culture and write it as we did. Coming off The Wire, this is not the folo that HBO wanted to see from our shop. It is however a story that we simply wanted to tell. To the extent we succeed and it pleases people, that's nice. To the extent we failed and people are displeased, okay, too. But on the rare occasions when I encounter someone in New Orleans who has constructed an elaborate argument for why our purposes were more malevolent than any other kind of storytelling, I usually learn enough to realize that it's not really about us. Again, it's a southern city. So most people, if they don't dig it, are very polite regardless. And again, a lot of people are quite supportive and helpful and encouraging. Same as with anything.

  • Q

    Did you spend a lot of time immersing yourself in the culture of New Orleans i.e going to jazz bars and such like, before writing Treme?

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    David Simon says:

    Eric Overmyer has lived down there for two decades. I began going down to New Orleans twenty five years ago, and returned repeatedly. I live there now part of the year. The other writers are either native New Orleanians, longtime residents or in one case, George Pelecanos, live down there during filming. And George, like many pilgrims, has fallen in love. It is a writers room with some certain amount of local knowledge and cultural awareness, augmented by about a dozen key consultants that bring expertise into the various storylines.

  • Q

    have you considered including movements such as permaculture or urban farming into your show treme?

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    David Simon says:

    Not yet. Gonna miss some good things, I fear.

  • Q

    Your work has a proclivity to use real people as themselves, do you find it hard when writing for, say, Oliver Thomas to remain unbiased?

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    David Simon says:

    It's tricky. In the case you cite, the writers don't want to let the character off for what actually happened, and at the same time, Mr. Thomas does bring his own self-assessment to a scene. Some things we can't make him say, and some things we need said or it isn't fair to the history. The seeds of a practical negotiation. I credit Mr. Thomas with taking that journey of attempting the process. I think it's better when dealing with celebrity -- Thomas, Dr. John, Irma, whoever -- to use the real person. When we used an actor for Congressman Jefferson I think it threw a lot of New Orleanians. Not that I think we could have gotten Jefferson, who was awaiting sentencing at the time, but it would have been preferable. We resolved after that to go with the real, or work around their absence.

  • Q

    Which came first in your writing process for "The Wire", the characters or the stories?

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    David Simon says:

    The argument, the theme, the purpose of the story. Discussions over those things came first. Then the stories. Then the characters. Then the execution.

  • Q

    We're Rob, Clarke & Wendell already great musicians before Treme, or did they all get a crash course when preparing for the show?

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    David Simon says:

    Clarke plays a little bass. Wendell can play a bit of trombone now. Delmond doesn't play. The magic of moviemaking. The lie of film. Credit our music department and our stand-in New Orleans musicians for making it work.

  • Q

    Will you have a storyline about a new transplant? Like a 20 something from brooklyn that seems so prevalent in the marigny/bywater?

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    David Simon says:

    At this point, running outta room, I'd have to say, no.

  • Q

    Do you feel that literary shows like Treme/The Wire—and the accessibility of the internet—are paving the way for a future of high-level TV?

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    David Simon says:

    Maybe. No one found The Wire on Sunday nights. Or Generation Kill. Or The Corner or Treme. This stuff gets found years down the road. Generation Kill DVD sales are now increasing, just on word-of-mouth, four years after that miniseries was broadcast. The Wire only broke the way it did after we were off the air. Will Treme have a long tail? I don't know. We'll see what the whole of it is after we finish and whether it is resonant. Do our best. But if TV can tolerate that kind of a long-term outcome, then stuff like we do has a shot. If not, then not. A decision that will, in the long run, be made above my pay grade.

  • Q

    It must be great to be involved with the musical talent that have been invloved with Treme who is Favorite young talent?

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    David Simon says:

    How do you not love Shorty and everything he stands for. Troy Andrews is a delight. Gonna let him cut loose our last season as chronologically, we're going to be getting close to his Backatown release or at least the musical incarnation of him that led to that CD.

  • Q

    What made you want to write about the social injustices of America?

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    David Simon says:

    I got hired as a newspaper reporter and assigned to the crime beat in Baltimore. If i'd've been the higher education reporter at the paper, or the golf writer, or....then things might have turned differently, I suppose. They gave me the beat and I covered it, and then stuff started getting interesting to me. Probably helped that I grew up in a New Deal-Democratic household that took a lot of newspapers and magazines and stacked books in every corner of the house. My dad was a writer and loved both writing and journalism.

  • Q

    Why did you choose television after journalism? Of all the possible mediums, television seems to be an exotic choice.

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    David Simon says:

    I didn't choose. Journalism kinda spit me -- and a lot of other committed reporters -- out. By the mid-90s, what I valued in journalism was disappearing from the Baltimore Sun and buyouts were being offered to veteran reporters. It was time to go. The first non-fiction book I wrote had been made into a TV show on NBC. They offered me a script and then a job and while I was looking to make some money while finishing a second book, I accidently learned how to produce television drama. There was no plan. One day, I looked up and I'd been working in TV for as long as I'd been a newspaperman. Oops.

  • Q

    Is there a line that has particular meaning to you in Treme?

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    David Simon says:

    Drizzle something on it, baby.

  • Q

    What job would Jimmy McNulty be working right now?! This has been killing me

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    David Simon says:

    Private investigator. Doing either defense work or prosecution stuff, or industry stuff. No divorce work. Man has his principles.

  • Q

    You do a great job presenting work as an expression of identity in TREME. Will this continue/expand in Season Three and 3.5?

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    David Simon says:

    Congrats. You get one of the big themes. This show is about culture and community, and how the two serve each other, and how they define us, Americans, as an urban people. Those things aren't usually grist for a functional television drama, but i really don't care. They interest the hell out of me, and in the discussion over where this country is going -- and the allegory that is the revival of New Orleans -- I believe they matter.

  • Q

    Are there any story-lines you wish you could dive into but cant squeeze into final season?

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    David Simon says:

    Several dozen. A careful deliberate examination of the Balkanization of the New Orleans schools and what it says about the promises and limitations both of the charter movement would be very meaningful. It would also require far more episodes than we have. Another project, perhaps, if not in New Orleans than in another city, and one that I wouldn't dare undertake without Ed Burns.

  • Q

    Who gets credit for the Rob/Delmond impersonation of Clarke/Albert? That was inspired.

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    David Simon says:

    It was written. But Rob so nailed that. their father-son dynamic has been a delight, hasn't it? Rob and Clarke are killing that.

  • Q

    Will we see any mention of the Jenna 6 situation in treme season 3?

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    David Simon says:

    No room sadly. No room for too much.

  • Q

    What is your favorite place/s to eat in NO? I have have used the show as a culinary roadmap.

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    David Simon says:

    Mosca's. Chicken a la grande. So simple, so perfect. So worth the drive.

  • Q

    How much is the wire based on your experiences while creating Homicide:A year on the killing streets, and the corner?

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    David Simon says:

    A good bit, certainly. But remember, these shows aren't David Simon. The writers room is a collective. On Treme, Eric Overmyer has lived in New Orleans for decades now. This is his vehicle as well, as it is for all of the writers, and then the directors and actors all leave their imprint on the narrative. Not to mention the creative crew that supports the storytelling. Film is the most collaborate storytelling medium, and television, because of the continuity over episodes and seasons, even more so. On The Wire, Ed Burns was a homicide detective and a cop for two decades and schoolteacher for seven. Bill Zorzi covered Baltimore politics for two decades for The Sun, and then the novelists we worked with had done their own careful research into urban crime and issues. These shows go under my banner falsely. I'm a shorthand way of referencing a team, and though I say so in every damn interview, it never quite takes, does it?

  • Q

    I moved to NO in large part because of Treme. Is that sort of thing something you think about when you are writing?

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    David Simon says:

    No. But welcome. Never mind the television show. If you love what the city represents and you are here to contribute, then you are needed. In the grand scheme of things, I think you've chosen wisely. The glories of this place somehow outweigh the problems, as intractable as they sometimes seem. Seldom does a place seem so worth fighting for at first, second and four hundreth glance.

  • Q

    I noticed that your shows have a very limited use of background music. Deliberate choice? I find that it makes it more "authentic".

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    David Simon says:

    Yep. Hate when musical score tells you how to think. Used sparingly, it's okay as a narrative tool. Used throughout a narrative, it becomes a crutch. At least to this kind of film narrative. Don't want to make any hard rules. Sometimes, I love score. But when the style is closer to a verite/documentarian kind of thing, it's problematic, I think.

  • Q

    Thanks to Treme's David Simon for participating today. What question do you hope your co-creator Eric Overmyer will have to answer in his?

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    David Simon says:

    Make him tell the story about how one minute he was one of the leading young lights of the American theater, and then, suddenly, after writing a couple episodes of St. Elsewhere, he was instantly redefined. He'll tell that one funny, I'm sure. Also ask him to go off on network TV notes and the worst ones he ever received. He'll hit that out of the park and leave you holding your sides. Thanks to everyone for coming by with questions. I hope you find the third season meaningful and resonant. Best, D

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