"Treme" producer David Simon. (Cheryl Gerber / Associated…)
David Simon, executive producer of "Treme," "Generation Kill" and "The Wire," talks about life as a show runner on three of HBO's signature dramas.
How did working as a newspaper journalist at the Baltimore Sun prepare you for being a TV show runner?
There might be people in this industry who would suggest being a former journalist inhibits me. [chuckles] I'm not being facetious. It can be looked upon as an asset or a genuinely crippling factor. I'm not particularly equipped to be in the industry. I found a weird niche at HBO, and they've humored me very generously, allowing me to do work I care about. It hasn't always been an asset from the point of view of marketing and getting an audience. But as far as helping me, it's possible for me to go in these worlds [as a TV writer] and report. I can meet people on their terms. I can acquire the expertise that allows me to be credible to those who live that event.
What was the most challenging of your series? And which has been the most satisfying?
"Generation Kill" was the most challenging. We were intent on depicting, for better or worse, what really happened to the First Recon Battalion all the way into Baghdad. We couldn't leaven it or move away from bad decisions or when someone operated in a less-than-admirable way. We couldn't shape the show with more drama. It imposed incredible limitations in terms of story.
Right now, I'm probably most proud of "Treme." It's very well researched and very specific. We're not relying on the TV tropes of lawyers, doctors or cops. Who in their right mind would construct a show about culture, Mardi Gras, second-line dancers and music?
"Treme" has multiple characters, and is just crammed with scenes that seem to last a short time, like 30 or 40 seconds. How do you keep track of everything?
We're a prisoner of our ambition. Our subject matter is the American city, and we have to utilize shorthand. We have to pick and choose, yet cover enough ground so that you get a sense of community. If you have just three lead characters, then the show becomes about them. We're trying to speak to the nature of urban America and how our society is defined by [it].
— Greg Braxton