David Simon talks ‘Treme’ at the National Press Club

The crew for the HBO series “Treme” sets up to film a segment of the pilot episode in the Times-Picayune newsroom the night of April 1-2, 2009.The state of the newspaper business was the topic of David Simon’s luncheon talk Monday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., but “Treme” came up.

A former Baltimore Sun reporter who’s lately been speaking and writing and testifying about the lunch’s main topic, Simon has helped make some of the era’s greatest TV (“Homicide: Life on the Street,” “The Corner,” “Generation Kill,” “The Wire”) and is currently working on “Treme,” a new HBO series to be set and shot in New Orleans with a premiere date some time in 2010.

“It’s really not ‘The Wire’ with a soundtrack,” Simon said when asked about the new series (the talk was cablecast on C-SPAN2 and will stream in reruns on the Press Club website). “It’s not a crime show. It’s about people trying to find their way home and reconstitute their lives in a city that was very ill-treated in the wake of the storm, and I don’t just mean the immediate wake, but in all the years that have followed. The national response to what has gone on in New Orleans is an embarrassment.”

The series will center on New Orleans’ music culture, but Simon was asked if his interest in the city is metaphorical – if “Treme” will actually be as much about Wall Street and its collapse as what levee-failure floodwater did to Dumaine Street.
“That sounds so didactic as to be a room-cleaner,” Simon said.

But the talk time was almost over and the room would shortly be clearing anyway, so:

“I think there’s an analogy to be made, but if any character were to say that directly it would be cut out of the script,” he said. “It is true, New Orleans was hit with category 2 — a high category 2, not even a category 3 – hurricane. If you tell people from New Orleans that their city was drowned by a hurricane, they’ll get very angry with you, and rightly so.

“Their city was drowned by the Corp of Engineers and shoddy workmanship and stuff that wasn’t built to code and bad decisions in terms of transportation policy and the ineffectiveness of Congress in terms of dealing with Mississippi River issues.

“This is our country, and if you compare it to the Dutch, who have managed to keep most of their country out of the North Sea for generations, it’s humiliating.

“And if you think about those (New Orleans) canal walls, how badly they were built, how much corruption went into the poor maintenance of them and the poor planning and you think about the (U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission) and all of the attendant regulation that wasn’t there so that you couldn’t sell crap and call it gold on Wall Street …

“Selling crap and calling it gold eventually comes home. It came home to New Orleans about four years before it came home to the rest of the country in a very literal way — not in a metaphorical, financial way.

“What I really admire about people there is that they’re really trying to find their way home, because it is one of the great places in America culturally, and they’re trying to find their way back and they’re doing it on their own.

“If you look at everything from the way Road Home money was administered to the way FEMA behaved — not just in the immediate aftermath but in the months and years since – and now in terms of the state and local government and what they’re doing in terms of everything from zoning issues to the hospitals — that city’s enduring and trying to find its way home on its own and without illusion anymore about what the country is, how hollow America actually is when it comes to certain things, and I find that to be interesting and admirable, and it’s kind of what I want to pay attention to now.

“And I think we’re all in that boat. A lot of things we believed were there to keep certain parameters and certain standards inherent in everything systemic in our lives really weren’t there, and have been eviscerated over the course of decades. So … New Orleans is looking at us now I think a little bit, like ‘Well, what did you expect? We’ve been there.'”

Article by Dave Walker, TV columnist, The Times-Picayune
Monday June 08, 2009, 2:11 PM


Orignally posted at www.nola.com.