This Is How "The Wire" Creator David Simon Builds A Writers Room
"There's nobody in there that woke up one morning and said, 'I want to be a TV writer.' And that's why I'm interested in them."
HBO / Via
You're either a fan of
The Wire, or you're used to the looks of shock and pity you get when you tell people you still haven't seen it — not bad for a show that aired its last season seven years ago. Since then, The Wire creator David Simon has produced another TV show and two miniseries and has started work on three new projects for HBO.
Simon stopped by BuzzFeed's
podcast to talk about his latest miniseries, Another Round Show Me a Hero, and what it's like to write about Martin Luther King Jr. with Ta-Nehisi Coates and James McBride.
He works with the same writers again and again.
We looked at every writing credit from every TV show and miniseries David Simon has produced. Here's a breakdown of the people who have written for more than one project.
Andrew Richard / BuzzFeed
Joy Kecken, the only lady on the list, started as an intern for
Homicide: Life on the Street. She went on to be a staff writer for the second season of The Wire.
David Mills was Simon's most frequent collaborator, working with him on four shows over 16 years.
Rhonda Birndorf / AP
According to Simon, Mills, who died of a brain aneurysm during the filming of
Treme in 2010, used to call himself the "Lone Negro" in the writers room.
We asked Simon how he makes sure that black writers aren't asked to represent the entire black community in a room full of white people.
Talking about Mills, Simon said, "We were friends for so long we sort of moved past race. Never like, 'Oh, I didn't notice you were black,' but it was more like we'd had so many discussions and he was all over the map. ... When you work with people for a while, after a while you're working with people, and nobody's in the room representing anything. And that's when you do your best work. Until it gets to that, you can't know what people are holding back."
He finds people who can write about their own experiences.
William F. Zorzi was a reporter at the
Baltimore Sun before writing for The Wire.
Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images
"I tend to tailor the writing staff to the universe we're writing about. I try to get local cooking, home cooking," says Simon.
The Wire, Simon produced the HBO miniseries Generation Kill, which was based on a book by journalist Evan Wright.
David Livingston / Getty Images
Wright, who embedded with a Marine Corps reconnaissance battalion during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, co-wrote the miniseries.
Lolis Eric Elie, a New Orleans–born author and filmmaker, was a story editor for
Rob Loud / Getty Images
Elie co-directed the 2008 documentary
Faubourg Tremé: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans, which premiered at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival.
And chef Anthony Bourdain wrote the restaurant scenes for the show's second season.
He looks for source material and writers from outside the TV industry.
"I tend not to hire people who are trying to become television writers. I tend to hire novelists or people who have never written television."
Simon's latest miniseries,
Show Me a Hero, is based on Lisa Belkin's book about desegregating public housing in Yonkers, New York.
For an upcoming project, Simon asked journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates and novelist James McBride to help write a script based on Taylor Branch’s trilogy
America in the King Years.
Michael R Faulkner
"There's nobody in there that woke up one morning and said, 'I want to be a TV writer.' And that's why I'm interested in them," says Simon. "James and Ta-Nehisi, they don't agree on everything. The room has to be collegial, it has to have an affection for disagreement. In the end, what you're hoping for is not even quite perfect consensus; you're hoping to have it all represented in the script."
And then he puts them in a room and encourages them to argue.
Simon admits that some stories need writers who aren't David Simon. "I think I actually did a poorer job in my earlier projects writing women, because I paid less attention to women of any color."
new project about the Times Square porn industry in the 1970s, he wants more women in the writers room. "Because there's no way we're writing this show without women. That would just be a form of insanity," he says. "Part of what happens is you write a scene and you take a risk and you show it to a colleague who’s a woman and she says, 'This, this, but not this. What are you thinking?' Argument makes it better. When a writers room isn’t arguing, something has gone wrong."
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