Here’s a little secret no one in broadcasting should ever admit: I don’t have a television. Well, actually I have one, but it’s not plugged in. I don’t have cable – it’s a very, very low priority for me because I feel like it’s way too easy to waste time on trash TV. If I want to watch a DVD, I pop it into my computer. So while I had heard about how great The Wire is, I had never seen any episodes, until last week…to prepare for the David Simon interview. Now I’m obsessed. When I finished the first thirteen hours of the first season, not wanting it to be over, I started watching the commentary features which are provided along with the DVD set. I just can’t seem to get enough of those Baltimore criminals and the twisted police force who are supposed to bring them to justice. I feel like I know all of the characters – they feel so real, probably because they are. Well, they’re based on real people and real stories – as experienced by David Simon when he was a reporter for the Baltimore Sun and Ed Burns who was a Baltimore city cop.
Generation Kill is their latest creation. After watching five episodes of that HBO miniseries which is also based on true stories from the first days of the invasion of Iraq, I don’t understand why more filmmakers do what David Simon and Ed Burns do. Neither of them are trained screenwriters or producers, so the raw talent they have exercised in this second career of theirs is a marvel to me. Both The Wire and Generation Kill make you feel like you are right there, a fly on the wall in the pits of Baltimore (or one of those Humvees in Iraq), bearing witness to chaos and corruption – and good people doing bad things and bad people doing good things. These television shows are just as complex as humans can be. So much so, I am tempted to finally make the effort to plug in my television in anticipation of the next Simon/Burns production.
Producer Andy Danyo weighs in:
Listen carefully to today's interview with David Simon, even if you have never heard of "The Wire." And I hope by the end of it, you'll seek out the program and watch all five seasons. I am one who believes, unequivocally, that the "The Wire" is the best thing that has ever been on TV. It is television-watching that is active and productive, not something you're doing to relax or veg out for a while. The tagline for the program is "Listen Carefully" and that's an imperative that means more than just craning your ears to try to understand what Snoop is saying in her thick accent. Simon listens carefully. And then he explains well. To prepare for this interview, we went back and read some of the articles he wrote when he was a crime reporter for the Baltimore Sun. They made me sad for newspapers. His writing is so effusive, so much more than "two arrested in fatal shooting." As Bob mentions in the interview, three of the last stories he wrote were gut-wrenching narratives: A 12-year-old girl shot by a stay bullet while she was sitting on her stoop; A piece of a tongue found at a crime scene; A man who loaded up his wife and three kids in the car, parked it behind a strip mall, and blew them all up with a bomb he had hidden ahead of time. Here’s a small excerpt from that story, published under the headline, “A Loving Father's Tragic Solution” in the Baltimore Sun on September 18, 1995.
He needed a stamp -- a small detail in his elaborate plan -- and he found one at a Royal Farm store, walking into the Rossville outlet on Route 7 at about half past 2 the afternoon of Sept. 11. The letter went into a mailbox too late for that day's pickup, but no matter; it would get to his parents' house near Cumberland soon enough.
"For my family, I feel this is the only option I have left," he had written.
What remained now was the last critical step, the one to give the letter meaning. Just before 6 that evening, Mark Alen Clark gathered everything he cared about -- the wife who had left him, the three children he felt he had lost -- collecting the essential elements of his life in a 1987 Ford station wagon and parking behind an Essex shopping center. There, he blew his world apart.
To most everyone, the deed was incomprehensible; the verdict on the soul of the bomber was certain and fixed. This was absolute evil, cruel and senseless. But to many of those who knew the 32-year-old Mark Clark and watched his life collapse, the bombing in Essex last week was even more horrifying. They recognized the sad and desperate logic that provoked it.
This type of writing seldom has a place in newspapers today. It’s also an example of the type of nuance and detail that you’ll find in “The Wire.” I can’t get enough of David Simon explaining the thought process and deliberateness behind the show. If you feel the same way, you’ll enjoy this discussion from The Atlantic, especially Simon’s response. It’s thoughtful people arguing thoughtfully about a television show. You don’t come across that too often. Also, a little silly treat for fans here.
- Andy, who still misses and thinks about Wallace often.