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All That Jazz

David Simon, creator of The Wire, turns his attention from the streets of Baltimore to the music of New Orleans

Author Layla Schlack


Image – Stephen Voss/Redux

TV WRITER DAVID SIMON is not content to scratch the surface. That much was evident in The Wire, his acclaimed HBO series that ran for five seasons ending in 2008. Though often described as a crime drama, the show, set in Baltimore, was more like a kaleidoscopic sociological study, examining not only the city’s police department and drug gangs, but the municipal government, the school system, the newspaper and the harbor. The show’s granular detail sprang from Simon’s career as a police reporter for The Baltimore Sun. He’d lived in the city for decades and knew it inside and out.

Although his new show, the New Orleans–set Treme (pronounced Tre-MAY and premiering April 11 on HBO) keeps its focus on a single neighborhood and the jazz musicians who call the area home, Simon still finds plenty to explore.

“In New Orleans, the good, the bad, everything’s completely intertwined,” he says. “Jazz and rock ‘n’ roll all came from this twelve-block area of Treme.” Though the city’s post-Katrina struggles loom large, music is at the show’s heart. Wendell Pierce, a New Orleans native who played Bunk in The Wire, stars as a trombonist, and Wire alum Clarke Peters plays a Mardi Gras Indian krewe leader urging residents to return after the hurricane. A number of musicians play themselves, and other characters are inspired by local faces.

Though he doesn’t claim an intimate knowledge of the city, Simon admits feeling a profound responsibility to present an image residents would recognize. “This city is very sensitive,” he says. “If we get something wrong, they’re going to let us know.”

Another contingent sure to be watching the premiere closely is rabid Wire fans—such as Variety’s longtime TV critic Brian Lowry, who called The Wire “one of the most demanding and thought-provoking series ever to grace television.” Nonetheless, Simon is wary of viewers’ elevated expectations. “This isn’t a story about crime or drugs,” he says. “This one’s about lives. We’re interested in the interaction between people and culture—music, art, dance and, yes, some politics.”

Somehow, we doubt anyone will be disappointed with that.

Senior editor LAYLA SCHLACK is conducting an exhaustive study of Baltimore’s crabcake industry.

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