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David Simon (1960)

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  Summary  

David Simon is an American author, journalist, and a writer/producer of television series. He worked for the Baltimore Sun City Desk for twelve years. He wrote Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets and co-wrote The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood with Ed Burns. The former book was the basis for the NBC series Homicide: Life on the Street, on which Simon served as a writer and producer. Simon adapted the latter book into the HBO mini-series The Corner.

He is the creator of the HBO television series The Wire, for which he served as executive producer, head writer, and show runner for all five seasons. He adapted the non-fiction book Generation Kill into an HBO mini-series and served as the show runner for the project. He was selected as one of the 2010 MacArthur Fellows and named an Utne Reader visionary in 2011. Simon also co-created the HBO series Treme with Eric Overmyer, which ended its second season in 2011.

  Biography  

Born in Washington, D.C., Simon attended Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in Bethesda, Maryland and wrote for the school newspaper, The Tattler. He graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park. While at college he wrote for The Diamondback and became friends with contemporary David Mills.

 Journalism
Upon leaving college he worked as a police reporter at The Baltimore Sun from 1982 to 1995. He spent most of his career covering the crime beat. A colleague has said that Simon loved journalism and felt it was "God's work". Simon says that he was initially altruistic and was inspired to enter journalism by the Washington Post's coverage of Watergate but became increasingly pragmatic as he gained experience. Later in his career he aimed to tell the best possible story without "cheating it".

Simon was a union captain when the writing staff went on strike in 1987 over benefit cuts. He remained angry after the strike ended and began to feel uncomfortable in the writing room. He searched for a reason to justify a leave of absence and settled on the idea of writing a novel. "I got out of journalism because some sons of bitches bought my newspaper and it stopped being fun," says Simon.

In an interview in Reason in 2004, Simon said that since leaving the newspaper business he has become more cynical about the power of journalism. "One of the sad things about contemporary journalism is that it actually matters very little. The world now is almost inured to the power of journalism. The best journalism would manage to outrage people. And people are less and less inclined to outrage," said Simon. "I've become increasingly cynical about the ability of daily journalism to affect any kind of meaningful change. I was pretty dubious about it when I was a journalist, but now I think it's remarkably ineffectual."

 Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets

Simon's leave of absence from The Sun resulted in his first book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets . The book was based on his experiences shadowing the Baltimore Police Department homicide unit during 1988. The idea came from a conversation on Christmas Eve 1985 in the unit office, where Det. Brian Lansey told him "If someone just wrote down what happens in this place for one year, they'd have a goddamn book." Simon approached the police department and the editors of the paper to receive approval. The detectives were initially slow to accept him, but he persevered in an attempt to "seem … like part of the furniture". However, he soon ingratiated himself with the detectives, saying in the closing notes of the book "I shared with the detectives a year's worth of fast-food runs, bar arguments and station house humor: Even for a trained observer, it was hard to remain aloof." During one instance, Simon even assisted with an arrest. Two detectives Simon was riding with pulled their car to a curb to apprehend two suspects, but Detective Terry McLarney got his trenchcoat caught in a seat belt when he tried to exit the car. McLarney asked Simon for help, and Simon helped apprehend and search one of the suspects.

The book won the 1992 Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime book. The Associated Press called it "a true-crime classic". The Library Journal also highly recommended it, and Newsday described it as "one of the most engrossing police procedural mystery books ever written". Simon credits his time researching the book as altering his writing style and informing later work. He learned to be more patient in research and writing, and said a key lesson was not promoting himself but concentrating on his subjects. Simon told Baltimore's City Paper in 2003 that Homicide was not traditional journalism. "I felt Homicide the book and The Corner were not traditional journalism in the sense of coming from some artificially omniscient, objective point of view," said Simon. "They're immersed in the respective cultures that they cover in a way that traditional journalism often isn't."

 Homicide: Life on the Street

The publishers of Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets were eager for a screen adaptation and submitted it to numerous directors but there was little interest. Simon suggested that they send the book to Baltimore native and film director Barry Levinson. Levinson's assistant Gail Mutrux enjoyed the book and both she and Levinson became attached as producers. The project became the award-winning TV series Homicide: Life on the Street (1993–1999), on which Simon worked as a writer and producer.

Simon was asked by Mutrux to write the show's pilot episode but declined, feeling he did not have the necessary expertise. He collaborated with his old college friend David Mills to write the season two premiere "Bop Gun". The episode was based on a story by executive producer Tom Fontana and featured Robin Williams in a guest starring role that garnered the actor an Emmy nomination. Simon and Mills won the WGA Award for Best Writing in a Drama for the episode.

Simon left his job with the Baltimore Sun in 1995 to work full time on Homicide: Life on the Street during the production of the show's fourth season. Simon wrote the teleplay for the season four episodes "Justice: Part 2" and "Scene of the Crime" . For season five he was the show's story editor and continued to contribute teleplays writing the episodes "Bad Medicine" and "Wu's on First?" . He was credited as a producer on the show's sixth and seventh seasons. He wrote the teleplays for parts two and three of the sixth season premiere "Blood Ties" and provided the story for the later sixth season episodes "Full Court Press" and "Finnegan's Wake" . He provided the story for the seventh season episodes "Shades of Gray" , "The Same Coin" and "Self Defense" . Simon wrote the story and teleplay for the seventh season episodes "The Twenty Percent Solution" and "Sideshow: Part 2". Simon, Martin and teleplay writer T. J. English won the Humanitas Prize in the 60 minutes category for the episode "Shades of Gray". Simon was nominated for a second WGA Award for Best Writing in a Drama for his work on "Finnegan's Wake" with Yoshimura and Mills .

Simon has said that he thought the show was a "remarkable drama" but that it did not reflect the book. He has also said that when writing for the show he had to put his experiences of the real detectives aside as the characters became quite different, particularly in their more philosophical approach to the job. Simon said that TV must find shorthand ways of referencing anything real.

 The Corner

In 1997 he co-authored, with Ed Burns, The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood, the true account of a West Baltimore community dominated by a heavy drug market. Simon credits his editor John Sterling with the suggestion that he observe a single drug corner. He took a second leave of absence from the Baltimore Sun in 1993 to research the project. Simon became close to one of his subjects, drug addict Gary McCullough, and was devastated by his death while he was writing the project. Simon says that he approached the research with the abstract idea that his subjects may die because of their addictions but it was not possible to fully prepare for the reality. He remains grateful to his subjects saying "This involved people's whole lives, there's no privacy in it. That was an enormous gift which many, many people gave us. Even the most functional were at war with themselves. But they were not foolish people. And they made that choice."

The Corner was named a Notable Book of the Year by The New York Times. Simon again returned to his journalism career after finishing the book but felt further changed by his experiences. He said he "was less enamored of the braggadocio, all that big, we're-really-having-an-impact talk" and no longer believed that they were making a difference; he left his job at The Sun within a year for work on NBC's Homicide.

Soon after Homicide concluded Simon co-wrote and produced The Corner as a six-hour TV miniseries for HBO. The show received three Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries or a Movie, for Simon and Mills.

 The Wire

Simon was the creator, show runner, executive producer and head writer of the HBO drama series The Wire. Many of The Wire's characters and incidents also came from Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets. After a critically acclaimed fourth season, Simon signed on to produce the fifth and final season of The Wire, which focused on the role of mass media in society.

He again worked with Ed Burns on creating the show. They originally set out to create a police drama loosely based on the experiences of Burns when working on protracted investigations of violent drug dealers using surveillance technology. During this time Burns had often faced frustration with the bureaucracy of the police department, which Simon equated with his own ordeals as a police reporter for The Baltimore Sun. Writing against the background of current events, including institutionalized corporate crime at Enron and institutional dysfunction in the Catholic Church, the show became "more of a treatise about institutions and individuals than a straight cop show."

They chose to take The Wire to HBO because of their existing working relationship from The Corner. Owing to its reputation for exploring new areas, HBO was initially dubious about including a cop drama in their lineup, but eventually agreed to produce the pilot after ordering a further two scripts to see how the series would progress. Carolyn Strauss president of HBO entertainment has said that Simon's argument that the most subversive thing HBO could do was invade the networks' "backyard" of police procedurals helped to persuade them.

The theme of institutional dysfunction was expanded across different areas of the city as the show progressed. The second season focused on the death of working-class America through examination of the city ports. The third season "reflects on the nature of reform and reformers, and whether there is any possibility that political processes, long calcified, can mitigate against the forces currently arrayed against individuals." For the fourth season Simon again turned to Burns' experience, this time his second career as a Baltimore public school teacher in examining the theme of education. The fifth season looked at the media, as well as continuing themes such as politics from earlier seasons.

Simon was reunited with his The Corner producers Robert F. Colesberry and Nina K. Noble on The Wire. Simon credits Colesberry for achieving the show's realistic visual feel because of his experience as a director. They recruited Homicide star and director Clark Johnson to helm the pilot episode. The completed pilot was given to HBO in November 2001. Johnson returned to direct the second episode when the show was picked up, and would direct the series finale as well, in addition to starring in the fifth season.

Simon approached acclaimed crime fiction authors to write for The Wire. He was recommended the work of George Pelecanos by a colleague while working at the Baltimore Sun because of similarities between their writing. The two writers have much in common including a childhood in Silver Spring, attendance at the University of Maryland and their interest in the "fate of the American city and the black urban poor." Simon did not read Pelecanos initially because of territorial prejudice; Pelecanos is from Washington. Once Simon received further recommendations including one from his wife Laura Lippman he tried Pelecanos' novel The Sweet Forever and changed his mind. He sought out Pelecanos when recruiting writers for The Wire. The two met at the funeral of a mutual friend shortly after Simon delivered the pilot episode. Simon pitched Pelecanos the idea of The Wire as a novel for television about the American city as Pelecanos drove him home. Pelecanos became a regular writer and later a producer for the show's second and third seasons. Simon and Pelcanos collaborated to write the episode "Middle Ground" which received the show's first Emmy nomination, in the category Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series.

Pelecanos left the production staff following the third season to focus on his next novel; Simon has commented that he missed having him working on the show full-time but was pleased that he continued to write for them and was a fan of the resultant book The Night Gardener. Similar to Simon's own experience in researching Homicide Pelecanos spent time embedded with the Washington DC homicide unit to research the book.

Crime novelist Dennis Lehane has also written for the series starting with third season. Lehane has commented that he was impressed by Simon and Burns' ear for authentic street slang.

Eric Overmyer was brought in to fill the role of Pelecanos as a full-time writer producer. He had previously worked with Simon on Homicide where the two became friends. Simon has said that he was impressed with Overmyer's writing particularly in synthesizing the story for "Margin of Error" as the episode is the height of the show's political storyline but must also progress other plot threads.

Simon and his writing staff were nominated for the Writers Guild of America Award award for Best Dramatic Series at the February 2009 ceremony for their work on the fifth season. Simon and Burns collaborated to write the series finale "-30-" which received the show's second Emmy nomination, again in the category Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series.

Simon has stated that he finds working with HBO more comfortable than his experiences with NBC on Homicide and that HBO is able to allow greater creative control because it is dependent on subscribers rather than on viewing figures. He has said that he feels unable to return to network television because he felt pressure to compromise storytelling for audience satisfaction.

 Generation Kill


Simon produced and wrote Generation Kill for HBO with Ed Burns. They again worked with Nina Noble as a producer. The miniseries is an adaption of the non-fiction book of the same name. It relates the first 40 days of the 2003 invasion of Iraq as experienced by 1st Reconnaissance Battalion and their embedded reporter, Evan Wright. Simon and Burns worked with Wright in adapting his book into the series.

 Treme


Simon collaborated with Eric Overmyer again on Treme, a project about musicians in post-Katrina New Orleans. Overmyer lives part-time in New Orleans, and Simon believed his experience would be valuable in navigating the "ornate oral tradition" of the city's stories. Simon also consulted with New Orleans natives Donald Harrison Jr., Kermit Ruffins, and Davis Rogan while developing the series. The show focuses on a working-class neighborhood, and is smaller in scope than The Wire. The series premiered on April 11, 2010 on HBO.

Treme is named after the Faubourg Treme neighborhood in New Orleans that is home to many of the city's musicians. Simon has stated that the series will explore beyond the music scene to encompass political corruption, the public housing controversy, the criminal-justice system, clashes between police and Mardi Gras Indians, and the struggle to regain the tourism industry after the storm. One of the principal characters in the pilot script runs a restaurant. The series was filmed on location and was expected to provide a boost to the New Orleans economy. Simon's casting of the show mirrored that of The Wire in using local actors wherever possible. Wendell Pierce, who had previously played Bunk Moreland on The Wire, stars in the series. Clarke Peters, also of The Wire, is another series regular. Many other stars of The Wire have appeared in Treme, these include Steve Earle, Jim True-Frost, James Ransone, and Anwan Glover.

 Future projects
Simon is collaborating with Tom Fontana on a HBO mini-series called Manhunt that will focus on the 12 days after the Lincoln Assassination while John Wilkes Booth was on the run. Simon has written a teleplay about bluesman Muddy Waters that has not been produced. He has mentioned plans to write another book; potentially about the rise of drug use in the 1950s and 1970s. Simon told Baltimore's City Paper in 2003 that someday he plans to write another book. "At some point I'm going to put down this crack pipe of television and go back and do another book or something," says Simon. Simon continues to work as a freelance journalist and author, writing for The Washington Post, The New Republic, and Details magazine.

 Personal life
David Simon is married to Baltimore novelist and former Sun reporter Laura Lippman. They have a daughter, and he has a son, Ethan from a previous marriage. Simon's nephew Jason Simon is a guitarist and vocalist for the psychedelic rock band Dead Meadow.

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Whole or part of the information contained in this card come from the Wikipedia article "David Simon", licensed under CC-BY-SA full list of contributors here.