Treme's David Simon: 'I'm A Storyteller'

Aug 22, 2014

David Simon.
Credit American Library Association

For most of his working life, David Simon has been telling an epic story of the American city — one corner at a time. First on the pages of The Baltimore Sun, then in the books Homicide: Life on the Killing Streets and The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood.

"It is this notion that urban America is not our fate and our certainty and our hope." - David Simon

But it was on television that David Simon found his biggest and most devoted audience. NBC’s Homicide: Life on the Street and HBO’s The Corner and The Wire presented crime and punishment in an entirely new way. Detectives and criminals became extraordinarily ordinary people.

“When I was covering the police beat in Baltimore … it took years before I was able to understand that maybe the dope on the table wasn’t the story,” Simon told Gwen on this week’s show. “Maybe there was something else to pay attention to.”

At his hand, television became a place of brutal honesty and beauty.

David Simon has done something remarkable on TV: he’s confounded all the hype. His characters have been called Shakespearean. Harvard University has a sociology class devoted to understanding urban America based on Simon’s characters and storylines. Indeed, his work has been offered as a test of cultural literacy — all of which he eschews.

“I’m a storyteller,” he tells Gwen. “I’m still interested in the same things I was when I was a reporter. I’m interested in political arguments, social argument, economic argument. I’m interested in the argument.”

In Treme, which has just completed its run on HBO, Simon explored New Orleans’ viability as an expression of its culture. After the 2005 levee failure, keeping New Orleans cuisine and music alive was complicated and — at times — illegal. But the characters persevere. According to Simon, every American city could benefit from the New Orleans example of valuing commmunity and society.

So sit back for a conversation — and yes, argument — with David Simon. And don’t forget to tell us what you think.