(Page 2 of 5)
Simon: The reason I think The Wire was intriguing to a lot of people once they found it—and not initially intriguing at all to many people—is they realized it was actually shaped a little bit differently than most television shows. We weren’t interested in straw men. So you could be a conservative and you could come to some conclusions that gratified you. Now I would not agree with those conclusions, but there was at least evidence in there for you to proceed down your path and be moderately content with the storytelling.
You could do that if you were a liberal. You could do that if you were a socialist. You could do that if you were a libertarian. That doesn’t mean that it didn’t have a point of view. But the trick to making anything that matters is not to treat the source material as if you can indulge your own political dialectic by picking and choosing. The world is more complicated than that.
A lot of people who were very opposed to the Iraq war—and I was opposed to the Iraq War as a war of choice—had a hard time with the initial episodes of Generation Kill. The Marines are very profane and hungry to go to war. It’s what they do, it’s what we trained them for, and I don’t blame them in the slightest. But some viewers wanted a dissertation from Ed Burns, David Simon, and Evan Wright about why this war was wrong.
I don’t know how to write for that kind of person. I’m not interested in writing for that kind of person. I’m only interested in writing for the kind of person who first wants to know what it was like and who are these guys.
And when John Goodman’s character says things like “San Francisco is a cesspool with hills,” that’s a clue. San Francisco is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. But it’s very hard to do TV on that level because most people expect somebody to say something and right afterwards somebody else to say, “That’s not right.” To actually correct the record within the scene.
reason: What is it about the HBO model that allows for a kind of Balzacian complexity to emerge?
Simon: Did you just call me a ball sack?
reason: I called you a ball sack, yeah.
Simon: I thought so. I knew we were going to get down to this. Damn you, libertarians!
That’s true of all TV. I didn’t used to pay for television 25 years ago. I had rabbit ears like you did. And it beamed three or four channels, and that’s what you got. And when they hooked you up to the cable that created a revenue stream and they were able to create more programming, it was a remarkably shrewd and effective way of expanding the television universe and for the better. And I would argue that, tellingly, the newspaper industry went the opposite way.
What happened was Wall Street. The great sin was taking what were community-based, family-owned newspapers and linking them together in chains, making them public companies and going to Wall Street with them because Wall Street did to the newspaper industry what it did to other industries.
(Interview continues below video.)
reason: When you say “Wall Street,” do you mean “the Tribune Company”?
Simon: I mean the operating dynamic of Wall Street—capitalism. Talk to any Baltimorean about what The Baltimore Sun has become. There are 130 people in the newsroom now. There used to be 600. At a certain point, nobody’s covering the city courthouse.