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Bill Moyers Talks Drugs, Crime, Journalism and Democracy with Creator of 'The Wire'

HBO's critically-acclaimed "The Wire" creator David Simon talks about inner-city crime and politics, storytelling and the future of journalism.
 
 
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Editor's Note: The following is the transcript from Bill Moyers' recent interview with newspaper beat reporter turned television writer and producer David Simon. You can watch the interview here.

BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the Journal.

"When television history is written," one critic says, "Little else will rival 'The Wire.'"And when historians come to tell the story of America in our time, I'll wager they will not be able to ignore this remarkable and compelling portrayal of life in our cities.

Take a look at this scene:

[...]

DETECTIVE JIMMY MCNULTY: Let me understand you, every Friday night you and your boys will shoot crap right? And every Friday night your pal Snot Boogie he'd wait 'till there was cash on the ground and then he'd grab the money and run away? You let him do that?

WITNESS: If we'd catch him we'd beat his ass but ain't nobody let it go past that.

DETECTIVE JIMMY MCNULTY: I gotta ask you, if every time Snot Boogie would grab the money and run away why'd you even let him in the game?

WITNESS: What?

DETECTIVE JIMMY MCNULTY: Snot Boogie always stole the money, why'd you let him play?

WITNESS: Got to. This America, man.

[...]

BILL MOYERS: For five seasons on HBO, this critically acclaimed series held up a mirror to the other America — the America we couldn't see anywhere else on television. It reveals a lot about what's happened to us in recent years, and it comes from a surprising source — a newspaper beat reporter turned television writer and producer.

David Simon and his creative team, including Ed Burns, a cop turned teacher, used the City of Baltimore and the drug wars there as a metaphor for America's urban underbelly.

Through storytelling brutally honest and dramatic, Simon and crew created a tale of corruption, despair and betrayal as devastating as any Greek tragedy.

David Simon comes by his knowledge of gritty urban reality from twelve years as a crime reporter with THE BALTIMORE SUN.

From his reporting on the streets came the book and NBC television series HOMICIDE, and on HBO, THE CORNER. At the moment he's producing the pilot for a series about musicians in post-Katrina New Orleans, called TREME.

Remember, you heard it here — what Edward Gibbon was to the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, or Charles Dickens to the smoky mean streets of Victorian London, David Simon is to America today.

He's with me now. Welcome to the Journal.

BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the Journal.

DAVID SIMON: Thank you very much for having me.

BILL MOYERS: There is a fellow in city government, here in New York, who's a policy wonk and a die-hard WIRE fan. And he's hoping I will ask you the one question on his mind, and the mind of many other fans. Here it is. "David Simon has painted the most vivid and compelling portrait of the modern American city. Has he walked away from that story? And if he has, will he come back to it?"

DAVID SIMON: I've walked away from the WIRE universe. It's had its five years. Stories that have a beginning, middle, and end-- sort of stand-as stories-- if you keep stuff open ended, and if you keep trying to stretch character and plot, they eventually break or they bend.

BILL MOYERS: What is it about the crime scene that gives you a keyhole, the best keyhole perhaps, into how American society really works?