Kary:

This is the Crime Story podcast with Kary Antholis where we have conversations about how and why narratives of crime and justice are told. Today’s podcast is a conversation with David Simon.

This podcast is the third part of a four-part interview. In part three, we discuss David’s reporting for the book The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner City Neighborhood and his experience producing the multiple Emmy Award-winning miniseries based on that book.

And so with all that said, here is my interview with David Simon.

Kary:

What year did The Corner come out?

David Simon:

’97 and that’s when we met.

Kary:

Why don’t you tell that story?

David Simon:

So the second book comes out. It’s about a year I spent on a drug corner following people in this drug saturated neighborhood in West Baltimore. It was the opposite side of Homicide. One of the things I learned at a certain point was that getting to know all the cops and drinking with the cops and hearing their stories and following their case work and, you learn a lot but you only learn it from the one perspective. The other perspective is the people being policed.

David Simon:

It started to occur to me that The Drug War was problematic in some very basic ways and there had to be a way of telling that and the only way to tell that was — not to follow a bunch of narcotics detectives around and do “dope on the table,” but — to find out what’s happening in a neighborhood that’s being policed where they’re fighting The Drug War.

David Simon:

Are they winning? The only way to do that is — not to follow the case work, but — to follow the neighborhood. So Ed Burns, this detective who had been one of my sources from a very early point, he helped me do a five-part series on a drug case that he did involving Melvin Williams, a big drug dealer in Baltimore, and who I’d known since about ’85. He was getting ready to finish his career. He’d had about 20 years. He was going to go be a school teacher. He was getting his certification for teaching in Baltimore City Schools. Ed was an interesting cat, is an interesting cat. A veteran of a lot of lost wars. He fought in Vietnam, fought The Drug War, taught in Baltimore City Schools. It’s a lot of losing. It’s a lot of being on the losing side. But generally lefty. His politics were similar to mine. Maybe even more lefty than me, which is unusual for a cop but also…

David Simon:

I mean I used to meet him in the… I’ve told this story a lot, but I used to meet him in the Baltimore County Library branch up in Towson. First of all, books. Okay, you read books. But I would look at what he was reading and it would be everything from… I remember one time I took stock of the five books he was checking out. It was like The Magus by Fowles, his novel. Veil, the Bob Woodward book on the CIA. Trying to remember some of the other ones. I’d be like, “Okay, you may be better read than me.”

Kary:

Combat veteran in Vietnam. Like serious in country combat platoon.

David Simon:

Yeah, yeah, yeah. He was in I think the Air Cavalry, Air Cav division, I think. (Ed. note: He was actually in the Americal Division.) I think that’s where he was. He was in the Central Highlands, I know that. Very serious guy and ran wiretap cases in Baltimore, very good homicide detective.

David Simon:

I said to him, I said, “John Sterling, my editor, thinks this is a good idea. We should go to one corner and meet people and report a neighborhood from the ground up that’s being policed for The Drug War” and I got him interested. Even before that I tried to get The Sun, I thought “The Sun might be interested in hiring you. They should. They should hire you. I said, “You’re not a writer, you’re not a journalist by trade, but you know the hell out of how to report stuff and I’d love to work with you.”

David Simon:

I tried to get them interested in somebody who had Ed’s skill set. I can’t remember if I got a definite “no” on that or if the book intervened. I think maybe the book intervened. I came up with a better plan to engage with Ed. But we went and we did The Corner as a book. We spent ’93 in the area around Monroe and Fayette, out on Fayette that stretch. We met all the people. We wrote the book up. Book came out.

David Simon:

There was a moment of tension because it was two white guys writing about an all black community. Then Reverend Reid, one of the largest… Frank Reid had one of the largest African American churches in the country, Bethel AME in Baltimore. 

David Simon:

He hosted booknotes, C-SPAN book notes at his church. He wasn’t going to play the Moynihan card of how dare these white boys. Right? He recognized that the book was not an insincere effort to grapple with what was happening with the war on drugs and with inner city Baltimore. He became an immediate ally of the book, which was a … It was a relief to a lot of people.

David Simon:

Then I went to Tom and I said, “You want to do something with this? And we’d like to…” I basically pitched The Wire. I pitched him The Wire because I thought he’ll be half cops. It won’t be the book. I wasn’t ready to do The Corner… I didn’t see The Corner as being a miniseries. I didn’t even think about miniseries. I thought series because it’s all I knew from Homicide.

David Simon:

I said, “But you know, this one we can critique The Drug War and you could have it from the point of view of the neighborhood. Some of these characters that you’ve spent an episode with developing and you develop them over the course of the season. You’re doing a neighborhood.” You’d have to ask Tom (Fontana), but my understanding is he went to Barry (Levinson). He’s joined at the hip with Barry. Barry who felt like he had taken as much out of Baltimore as he could in terms of a tough cop show that I think this material was a little bit dark and it felt like a long day’s journey for him. I think he was uncomfortable with it.

David Simon:

I haven’t really talked about it with Barry. But the gist I got was that he found it… So Tom, being Tom and not wanting to not do right by me, first Tom was all gung-ho and like, “Yeah. This is an interesting thing to develop.” He called me back and said, “Listen, you know, Barry doesn’t see it but I’ve called the guys at HBO in the miniseries department.” Which was, you know, he did something for me and he called you and I guess Anne (Thomopoulos of HBO).

Kary:

I think he probably just called Chris (Albrecht of HBO).

David Simon:

Maybe called Chris. I don’t know that part of the story. I know that I got a call from you or maybe I was supposed to call you. I can’t remember.

Kary:

My memory of it was, Tom called Chris. Jake (Jeff Jacobs, agent at CAA) called Chris. 

David Simon:

There was the meeting. We went to that meeting.

Kary:

Then there was the meeting.

David Simon:

Right.

Kary:

It was you, Jake and me, Anne, and Chris.

David Simon:

And Chris. I came in trying to pitch The Wire and Chris very quickly brought me around to “No, just do the book, just do the book.” I realized we were talking about a miniseries. I was like, “Okay, I’ll do a mini. What the fuck.” All I want to do is… You know. A moment before I saw Oz, before he saw the pilot or the first 20-minute sample piece of the first, which was Tom. Tom was giving HBO its first dark drama.

David Simon:

Before I saw that I thought The Corner has no future in TV and no network is going to touch this material. Nobody’s going to critique The Drug War, who am I fucking kidding. Then suddenly I watched the first 20 minutes of Oz and I said, “These fuckers at HBO, they’re counter-programing in television.”

David Simon:

I mean I saw right away what you were doing. Having worked on Homicide, it was like, “Okay, you know somebody is about to… If you’re going to do this prison show, you’ll do anything as long as it’s got some credible purpose. Well, okay, let’s go pitch that to… “So that was my pitch to Tom. Tom did make the appointment or did call and did the advance work for me. I ended up in a room with you and Anne and Chris and Jake, and I started pitching The Wire, brought it around to the mini.

David Simon:

Okay, I’m still going to sell some books if I get a mini made. I got a warehouse full of them and I liked the idea of… You know, I had sold a lot of copies of Homicide after it became a television show. I liked the idea that the books have a shelf life if you get a television show behind it, so it’s worth it. Even if I only got six episodes, I’ll give it a shot.

David Simon:

But in that meeting, as you will recall, you wanted to know who I would write it with. Obviously, I’d done a lot of work with Yosh. He’s probably the guy who I’ve done the most episodes with on… I liked them all. I liked working with Julie… Julie Martin. I liked working with Anya. I liked working with Eric, but Yosh I probably have worked on more episodes with Yosh than anybody. I said, “I would write it with Yosh” and there was no reaction in the room.

David Simon:

Then I realized… Did you say African American? I don’t think you did.

Kary:

No.

David Simon:

I think what I said was, “Or you know, I got David Mills,” who I think at the time he was on L.A. Law by then, he had moved on from… I said, “You know, I’m friends with Dave Mills for a long time and I’d write it with Dave.” And it was like, “Ba-ding, you know, Dave Mills?” Because he’s an African American writer, and clearly there was nervousness.

Kary:

Do you know how I knew who David Mills was?

David Simon:

No.

Kary:

George Pelecanos.

David Simon:

Oh.

Kary:

David and George were friendly in DC.

David Simon:

Right. George had used David as a slight character in… Which book was it? The ’70s book.

Kary:

King Suckerman.

David Simon:

Yeah. Yeah. As a funk fan.

Kary:

George said, “You’ve got to look up this guy. He gave David Milch all kinds of shit and ended up getting…”

David Simon:

“Getting hired by Dave Milch.” Yes. David was ballsy. He really was a ballsy cat.

Kary:

We were keenly aware that the story of a black family in Baltimore-

David Simon:

Drug-involved. Yeah.

Kary:

Yeah. Needed some context. We really needed to-

David Simon:

You were not going to let me and Ed Burns write it, which is what I had to tell Ed Burns. I had to say, you know, after that meeting I realized… because I was going to bring Ed along to write with me and… You know. But I realized you wanted somebody with some TV credits. I was like, “Okay, well that’s not Ed.” But then I realized after I went to the meeting, you need at least half of this script work to be from a black guy. That’s what you needed.

David Simon:

To me, David is not a black guy. I mean he is, he’s completely a black guy but what I mean to say is we’re so… I had known this guy since he was 19. To me-

Kary:

I had no idea. We had no idea of your relationship but I had just been telling Anne about this guy that George Pelecanos connected me to.

David Simon:

That’s so funny because… And I’d only met George once at this point. I met him at the party when David did the P-Funk book. It’s the first time I met George and that was after The Corner was… George had never met me. I’d met him then at that party and then I got him to write for The Wire when we were at a funeral together in Baltimore for a bookstore owner.

David Simon:

So I didn’t know George, but I knew David. Once I’d picked up on the vibe of, “Oh, man, they need me to be with a black writer because they need… You know, you guys needed cover.” That’s a fair way of saying it. But David is somebody who I… I wrote my first script with him and we-

Kary:

To be honest, I didn’t think of it as a cover. I thought it was really respect. It was the idea that-

David Simon:

But see, I got to say-

Kary:

There’s cultural appropriation…

David Simon:

That may be the case. You’re talking to a guy who with Ed Burns, two white guys, we did the book already. We did the book. We went out to that neighborhood. We stayed there every day for a year and then we continued to follow the characters for two more years. Then we waited for that pregnant moment when we basically put the book in the world and said, “Yell if you want, but we think we’ve got it right.” And Frank Reid picked up the book and said, “This is good. This is the world that surrounds my church and this is what I want to… I want to champion this.”

David Simon:

It’s like we’d already crossed the Rubicon. You were basically saying, we, HBO can’t cross there with you. We need to… To you, you may be thinking it’s respect. To me, it’s cover because Ed and I have done it already and now it’s just a matter of conveying that to script form. Eh, you know, I’m sorry.

David Simon:

Having said that, I love writing with Dave. I love writing with Dave cause he’s Dave because we wrote our first script together, because we have the same sensibility, because we laugh at the same shit. He’s my close friend. So when I realized you wanted a black writer, I threw his name out. You were like, “You know Dave Mills?” You guys jumped on the hook.

David Simon:

I remember leaving the HBO offices and splitting up with Jake and I walked. I was going across the courtyard there at the… Where you guys used to be.

Kary:

Right. Old Century City.

David Simon:

Yeah. Old Century City. I got Dave on the cell phone. I forget where I got him. He answered his cell phone on two rings. I said, “Dave, what are you doing next year?” He said, “Ah, probably going to give another script to a L.A. Law…” He started telling me like I gave a shit. He started telling me what his plans were. I said, “That’s not what you’re doing next year.” I said, “You’re writing an HBO miniseries, you know?” He said, “What on?” I said, “The Corner.” He said, “You sold that?” I said, “Yeah, I just sold that and you’re on it.” “Does Jake know?” Because Jake was his… He was Jake’s client as well. I said, “Jake was in the room. He had me sell you.” “I did it without his permission.” I said, “Yeah, no. He’s on. He’s on.” So I called him and he was just laughing. He was going like, “Motherfucker.” He’s like, “I just…” He’d read the book. He was polite enough to read my book. He said, “They’re going to make this?” I said, “Yeah.” He says, “All right. That’s what we’re doing.” I ended up seeing him that night for dinner.

Kary:

A couple of reflections. I vividly remember going to a Barnes & Noble or one of those bookstores near your old house in Columbia.

David Simon:

Columbia. Yeah.

Kary:

And being amazed at how much you took it all for granted. Like you, you sold Homicide. It became a TV show. Your second book, you sold it and it was on the road to becoming a TV show and I was like, “This happens to everybody. This is the way it works.” You know, having observed a number-

David Simon:

As I said, I didn’t think The Corner was going to sell to anybody because of its content until Oz.

Kary:

Right.

David Simon:

Oz was the thing that convinced me HBO was maybe a possible home for the kind of shit that I was interested in addressing.

Kary:

Talk a bit about two people. Bob Colesberry and Charles Dutton and their involvement in The Corner.

David Simon:

You made the marriage with Bob. You gave me a choice of guys. When I met with Bob, you basically wanted somebody who could put film in the can, to boost your confidence that we would get the project done. Now, I had already acquired Nina, I went to Jimmy Finnerty who was the line producer at Homicide who had mentored me in the production stuff. Whereas Tom was the story, the creative element nurturing me, Jimmy Finnerty was “have a conscience, do it for what it costs, don’t waste the money, be smart about how you proceed.”

David Simon:

I asked Jimmy if he would do The Corner now that I’d sold The Corner, and Jimmy was like, “I’m joined at the hip to Fontana Levinson, but I’ll get you somebody.” So I went to his office and there was Nina Noble, this tiny bantam woman who seemed to immediately look through me like I was a piece of shit. Impressed me with that… To this day. She’s: “You’re not bullshitting anyone Simon, and least of all me.” That was that marriage.

David Simon:

My attitude was if I got somebody who Jimmy Finnerty is saying is (a clone of) Jimmy Finnerty, well I can do this. To be honest with you, I could have. Would it had been as filmic? No. I mean you actually made a marriage to somebody who not only made that work, I’m pretty sure way better in a lot of ways, and had a lot of nuance that… You know, there was stuff I still needed to learn that I didn’t know.

David Simon:

I could have gotten through it and I could have given you a miniseries, but Bob was a great addition. Also, Bob became a mentor in that Bob was the guy where I started to learn the camera, really what the camera could do. You’ve got to remember, by the time I joined the Homicide staff, it was in season four. It was already an established template… a visual template.

David Simon:

A lot of the hard decisions about what the camera would do, what it wouldn’t do, what the story culture would be. They were all made and I could affect certain episodes, but I wasn’t going to be building anything. It had already been built. This was the first chance I’d have to decide how something might feel or look.

David Simon:

I didn’t know how much I didn’t know, and Bob started teaching me. I mean even on The Wire on the first season where I remember Bob teaching me about crossing the line, he had to explain it five times. I couldn’t spatially understand it until he would… Ketchup bottles, salt shakers, here’s the camera, here’s the, you know…

David Simon:

I couldn’t get it until one day, we purposely crossed the line in a scene. We did it on purpose. As you know, if the camera crosses it and you see the camera cross it, then you’re fine. It’s just in cutting across the line that you get in trouble. Once I saw it done properly, I knew it. But that shows you how camera-impaired…

David Simon:

I was the ears of the show in the early years. I could hear a bad line. I could watch bad acting and know it was bad acting. I could see a scene and know it wasn’t working. I couldn’t fix it.

David Simon:

By the time I’d had The Corner and a season, season and a half with Bob, I didn’t have a vocabulary that he had for film. I certainly didn’t know what the sizes of the lenses were that I needed. I couldn’t have called for a lens, but I knew when a shot was right. I knew when the camera was failing to tell the story in the proper way. That was Bob… Bob slowly imposing some rigor on my ability.

David Simon:

So Bob… to this day, things that I watched Bob do, things that Bob imposed with the camera, the creative elements that Bob brought to bear on the visual part of it are part of my DNA. He died after season two. He died in surgery and having some cardio surgery that went awry at the end of season two, before season three of The Wire. There’s many times where I’m on set… where we’re building a new world in some television show and I just think, “Man, Bob would love this. Bob would be out there taking still shots of all these places that were, you know. He’d be hunting this location with such joy in his heart.” He was just a great filmmaker. He’s a guy with a lot of feature credits as a producer, associate producer. Worked his way up from locations. I mean he’d done everything on a set. Worked with a lot of great directors.

David Simon:

Then finally, he was directing his own episodes for us which is… He directed the last episode of season two of The Wire. On The Corner, he was the directorial producer who went shot to shot with Charles Dutton who was hired to be the director on those six episodes.

David Simon:

Dutton is a real force and Dutton commanded performances in The Corner that are very, very real. He was unrelenting about getting the people to inhabit their roles and inhabit the world that he knew. He came out of East Baltimore, Mura Street and he famously did some time in The Pen and discovered drama and had become an incredible actor, theater actor and then film actor… television.

David Simon:

Now he was directing and he had material that he knew it innately. He knew the world innately. So it was a great hire. Camera wise, I think he would tell you everything was shot to shot with Bob. Bob was helping him move the camera because Charles understood performance and he understood the material. Bob understood the camera, and the two of them together, they delivered that miniseries and educated me in what the camera could do. It was a great marriage that got set up there.

BREAK

Kary:

Can you talk a little bit about Janny Scott’s article in The New York Times about race in the workplace.

David Simon:

Yeah. Well, I had said they had approached… I forget how I heard about it, but they had approached me about it. They had heard about this salt and pepper team that was writing this HBO miniseries, me and David, and they wanted to write about that because they were doing a series on Race in America and by race, they really-

Kary:

Race in the Workplace in America.

David Simon:

Is that what it was?

Kary:

Yeah.

David Simon:

Okay. I think it was Race in America.

Kary:

No, it was Race in the Workplace in America and that series won a Pulitzer Prize.

David Simon:

Yeah, I do remember that. Charlie LeDuff was on it.

Kary:

I remember Richard was like, “Why would you want to do that? Why would you-”

David Simon:

Right. “It’s so uncontrolled.”

Kary:

Yeah.

David Simon:

Well, I wouldn’t do anything I was ashamed of and my theory… I like reporters. I just like reporters. Unless I’m doing some dirt, why wouldn’t I want a reporter interested? I don’t give a fuck. Are we trying to sell a miniseries to the viewers? So I was like, “Yeah, let the Times in.”

David Simon:

There was some worry. I didn’t give a shit. Then it became clear to me long after we had made that decision that Charles was very stressed. I mean I get it, which is.. I told Janny that I got it, which was… I had sensed. I was very polite and I had never raised this with Janny, and I didn’t know that Dutton would, but eventually he did. Dutton did not like having me on set. He didn’t trust David, either. David was light-skinned, lighter skinned than Charles and there was a level of distrust as if he wasn’t… David grew up in Southeast Baltimore until the family got a little money together and moved out to PG County. But David grew up… David was living in Southeast Washington. I said Baltimore. I meant Washington.

David Simon:

He’s growing up in Southeast Washington when the riots happened. I mean he remembers because his father was a light-skinned I think his mother was half Panmunkey Indian. P-A-N-M-U-N-K-E-Y. It’s from the neck of Virginia tribe down there. The mother had some Native American ancestry, so the family was very light-skinned but completely identified as African American. David can remember the riots and people, neighbors in a good-hearted way, writing on the door “The Millses are black.” Their neighbor is writing that so that they wouldn’t have any trouble when the riots kicked off in ’68. David was, I guess seven at the time. Or no, David would have been… Yeah, seven. Charles had lived this world. He’d fought his way out of it. And here are these writers who… one of them is some white Jewish kid who was the police reporter at The Sun, not exactly the pedigree of who’s supposed to be writing The Corner in his mind and maybe in reality. The other guy was an ex-cop who he wasn’t on set but the book is by an ex-cop and a police reporter. And here’s Dave Mills who, okay, he may be black, but is he black? There was a little bit of that vibe and I think Charles would… Well, he would cop to this.

David Simon:

As we were filming, I get the sense that he really resented where the material came from. On the other hand, I was watching the dailies and he trusted Bob. So I backed away from the set and I worked in editing and I would come to set to see stuff, but I would not get near the monitors. If I had notes, I would give them to Bob and Bob would effect them. So we worked that way.

David Simon:

I tried to be as pleasant to Charles as I could. As we started to pull out of it… We started realizing we were going to get through it. Charles became friendlier at the end, but at one point he told Janny, the New York Times reporter, of his resistance to the fact that he was working with me and that I was the source of the material. This was probably at the trough of his relationship with me.

David Simon:

There was one particular moment that I remembered exactly, which was — we were trying to do the scene where the mother of Gary’s drug-shooting partner/girlfriend behaves in an incredibly crass and crude way in a courthouse hallway. So it was obviously a real moment that happened that we were approximating from the book and so many actresses had not been able to get there to this moment and make it feel real.

David Simon:

Then we brought somebody from New York for this one-day player role — it was not a very big role — who nailed it. I remember watching her nail it, and I’m thinking of Ronnie Boice’s mother that day, and to me, it’s a fucking miracle that this New York actress was delivering the moment as it needs to be delivered. And Charles was looking at me smiling and laughing at the performance and going, “Goddamn.”

David Simon:

Now for me, I’m laughing at the fact that this is an attenuated version of a reality that I’ve experienced. I’m laughing at the ability of us to fake a moment. I’m not laughing at the crassness of the performance. I’m laughing at our facsimile of it. I know why I’m laughing.

David Simon:

In fact, I’ve seen Charles laughing at the same thing. Charles was laughing at, Donnell Rawlings doing a dope fiend lean. He’s laughing at Corner humor because it’s all attenuated for him. He knows we’re making a movie. I know this isn’t really Ronnie Boice’s, you know.

David Simon:

I was guilty of no sin other than being a filmmaker and living in the moment. But there’s all this baggage for, you know. I mean, Charles is a guy who… He went to jail.

David Simon:

… He went to jail for, if I remember this correctly, he got like three years for manslaughter in a fight where both guys were I think armed, it was mutual combat. They gave him three years for killing another black man. And then he hit a white guard and they gave him eight. They put like more… He had more time for punching a white guard.

David Simon:

Charles grew up in a Baltimore I only reported on; he lived in it. And so I understood on some fundamental level how there’s a level of, “This is infuriating. What the fuck? How the fuck did this guy get on my project?” But as we got to the end, he realized that the cuts were good and that we just made something that was going to be… He got friendlier, but he had already talked to Janny.

David Simon:

So Janny waited, as a good reporter does, she waited until the end then she basically read me back all of Charles’… that Charles had bled out to her. And so I said, “Oh, well if Charles is talking about it, I guess I’ll talk about it too.” And I said to her exactly what I thought, which is, “I can understand why he would think that I was laughing. But the truth is we’re making a movie here and everything’s attenuated.”

David Simon:

“And I’m laughing at the… the fraudulence of the movie, that we were pulling everything off. Same way as you laugh at… guy’s doing a perfect dope fiend lean. You’re not laughing at addiction, you’re laughing at Donnell Rawlings, an actor pulling this off.” And I said, “As far as me working with Charles, he’s making a better movie because I wrote it. And I wrote a better movie because he’s directing it. And at the end that’s where we’re going to be.”

David Simon:

And by the Emmy’s, we won for writing, he won for directing. That’s where we were. I mean I would’ve worked with him again.

Kary:

And the show won for Best Miniseries.

David Simon:

Yeah, I would’ve worked with Charles again. I feel like we… I feel like the process was one in which by the end, by the time he trusted me, we were at the end. I mean, I have nothing but the highest regard for him and some things didn’t… there were some things that were really admirable that only he could do. Which is, for example, we made that for 16 million. We had no money by standards… and we made it for very cheap. One of the things you have when you have 16 millions, you can’t bring a lot of people in from out of town. So you have the crew base you have in Baltimore. Crew base in Baltimore was heavily white. That’s not something that Barry Levinson and Tom had as a priority, was to heavily integrate the crew. There were some black people in the crew, but it was like department head by department head, it was a much whiter crew base in Baltimore than The Corner was a piece of narrative.

David Simon:

So on the first day of the first scout, location scout, Charles is looking all the faces in the van. Dave Wilkens was there. Again, African American, light-skinned. Not like standing out in a crowd. Dave Mills is there, but African American, light-skinned. And I think Adam Law’s location manager was black.

Kary:

And Anthony too.

David Simon:

And Anthony. Yeah, the first AD. But by and large department by department, he’s looking around and going, we’re making a miniseries about black Baltimore and we don’t… To which, in his fury, I remember Bob and I saying to him, “You should take this up with HBO.” I may not get Carmi Zlotnik to give me an extra 2 million dollars to bring in people from out of town, but I’ll bet an angry Charles Dutton is going to get an extra… Go with God. We’re on your side, but you’re our weapon here.

David Simon:

But by the time he’d walked away from that van, he was angry to begin with. So I mean, there was some cost to that. But on the other hand, we pulled people through the keyhole, we got some people into the union. It was a good thing. So none of it seemed particularly stressful to me because it was like, okay, I got a director who’s pissed off at me. He’s still shooting what I needed him to shoot.

Kary:

To me, I mark the release of the publication of Janny Scott’s article as the beginning of your kind of Dreiserian position in the culture.

David Simon:

I just thought it was an interesting artifact from the time we did The Corner, was that it was on the front page… the Sunday front page of The New York Times.

Kary:

Because I was living on the East coast at the time, I was in Baltimore a lot. And I was in Baltimore on one of those days where Janny was on the set and Charles had been a very voluble about his unhappiness about certain things.

Kary:

And I had to call HBO in L.A. and say, “Look, we’ve got this going on. What do you want me to do?” And then I remember when the article came out, my father called me, he was in New Jersey and I was in L.A., and he says, “Hey dude, your name is on the front… in an article on the front page of The New York Times about race in the workplace.” And, I was like, “Oh, my God. My career is over.”

David Simon:

No, but the article, Janny wrote a good article. 

Kary:

Excellent article.

David Simon:

Excellent article. And it was about race in the workplace. And she came into it thinking she would have a story about me and David writing together. And what she ended up with there was like, you guys are not interesting. Because David and I were now… it was Mills and Simon. I know he’s black, he knows I’m white, but we’ve been through so many years and so much shit… we’re like writing in shorthand. We’re like two guys who… it’s all story to us at this point. And we’ve just been through too much not to see each other as who we are to each other.

David Simon:

So like she had no story there. But Charles turned out to be a great story. Charles was wrestling with, how do I work with this white guy and this other guy who was his friend and isn’t from the kind of black community I’m from or I don’t believe he is. How do I reconcile this in my head? And Charles was fighting his way through it. And to give Charles credit, he was fighting his way through it. By the end, we were talking about, man wouldn’t be great to do the Melvin Williams thing as like War of the Roses and do a series of… do that and do Charlie Burman is the other… like Lancaster/York… We were talking about shit and we never got it together.

David Simon:

But I mean I… To this day, I felt like by the end of it, he saw me. I lost it one battle in that… on the making of that miniseries and it wasn’t to Charles. The battle I lost because… the work Charles did was simpatico with our intentions. He was chasing the same stuff we were, as much of a struggle as it seemed at points.

David Simon:

The fight I lost was with Chris. I wanted those front and end pieces to be desaturated, almost black and white as if they were video. Because those pieces are lies. Those pieces are people with skewed views, not telling the truth about what’s in the interior of the film. That’s how they’re written.

David Simon:

And I remember trying to explain this to Chris and all Chris cared about was “The first three minutes of my movie is going to be in black and white. Fuck that!” And I remember him saying to me, “You’ve over-thought it.” To which I wanted to say, “Well who the fuck doesn’t over… Like, who would want to under-think shit?” I was so mad at that comment.

David Simon:

Listen, there’s a part of me that is… “They think I’m a complete hothead,” but I do remember thinking, “He’s making my miniseries, this is the battle I’m going to lose. I made my best argument. Now I’m going to lose it. God dammit.” But to this day, when I see… I mean, I don’t go back and look at stuff, it’s too painful. All you see is mistakes. But I will say that, if The Corner happens to come on and I catch one little piece of either the end interview or the front interview where Charles, the narrator Charles, because he was the narrator behind the camera; the unseen narrator who’s asking questions of characters.

David Simon:

Whenever I see those pieces, I’m like, “Man, that would be… it would be so thematically beautiful and clever if those were in black and white. And it would be, it’d be a better piece.” So I’m telling you, you got that one wrong.

David Simon:

Oh, I want to remember one other thing before we leave The Corner. So after that New York Times piece ran, I got a call from somebody who I’d been on a project with, it doesn’t matter what project. From an L.A. person, a big macher running a production company in L.A. And she called… The project we were on had not done well. It was a feature project that went nowhere. It hadn’t gone well because she.. Not having been particularly well-behaved about sort of the dynamics. So I didn’t expect to hear from her.

David Simon:

And she cold-called me after reading the article and she was just fascinated. She said, “How did you survive the hostility?” And I was like, “What?” She goes like, “Charles was so angry at you for so long until the end and you know, how did you, how is it you can even like be friends at the end… friendly and like, you know, I would’ve…” And she was just so freaked… she was so freaked out that she actually picked up the phone and called me months after our project had run into the rocks.

David Simon:

And I remember thinking, this is how most of white America lives. Which is, if there’s any unpleasantness they run like hell. Like, this is really uncomfortable for people. And I realized, I’ve been a police reporter in Baltimore… I’m used to going to… Like one of the things I said to Janny, I said, “You think… because I went on set and Charles was grousing or you know, or giving… or eye-fucking me a little bit?”

David Simon:

I went to a drug… For this book, I went to a drug corner, like a lumpy, balding white guy. And said, “Hey, you know, you guys mind if I write a book?” It’s like… the origin of this book is, I’ll be the fool, I’ll be the idiot. DeAndre McCullough, God rest his soul, and boy, that is a heartbreak what happened there. But… I remember he said to me, he says, “Do you know when I realized I was going to let you write about me and do this book? We were up on Vine Street and we were twirling. We were just… we were slinging left and right and you were standing in the middle of it looking like the dumbest motherfucker on the planet. And I realized somebody’s got to help this motherfucker cause he doesn’t know anything.”

David Simon:

And, I mean, he was being… he was having fun with me, but there was a little element to that, of like, if this guy is so stupid that he’s going to come out here and ask us what it’s like to sell drugs and ask us his dumb fucking questions and stand around while we sell drugs, I don’t know; I’ll sit down on the stoop next to him and talk. And that’s really what happened.

David Simon:

And in some respects, everything that I’d been through with The Sun of being a white suburban kid who gets hired by paper in a majority black city and made the police reporter, it was premised on the idea of, “Okay, this has happened to you. Do you want to be a good reporter? You want to be a bad reporter? If you want to be a good reporter, then you have to listen to people. You have to accept people in terms other than your own. You have to… Sometimes the jokes going to be on you and sometimes some belligerence is going to land. And how you deal with that it’s going to be on you, not on them. Not on the people who are living in Baltimore and going, ‘If you want a report on Baltimore then there’s some stepping up…’” 

David Simon:

So here comes Charles Dutton and he’s mad about certain things and he’s discomfited by the origins of the material and he’s not sure he can trust me. I’m not going away.

David Simon:

You know, I didn’t go away… If I went away, I would’ve left Vine Street. I realized how fucked up the dynamic seemed to outsiders. Like, for you it’s like, “Oh shit, this is happening on our set, this is mayhem.” To me it was like, “What, somebody’s angry at me?” I’ve been a reporter my whole fucking… You know, “Get in line, I’m not going away. And by the way, I’m not going to lose my cool about it.”

Kary:

Right.

David Simon:

So I mean, I heard from this woman. I was like, “You really picked up the phone to tell me that this was… like you couldn’t imagine? Why can’t you imagine that… What, you think I was going to run away?” Every day the dailies look good. Every day Charles was shooting the shit out of this miniseries. What the fuck?

End of episode.