How to make The Wire

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Now this is fascinating: the original pitch and series outline for The Wire. This is the document that sets out the scale of the show’s ambition (“the grand theme here is nothing less than a national existentialism” — try pitching that to ITV1), introduces the characters and sets out the basics of the first season’s storyline. It’s also, even at this stage, wonderfully vivid and well-written: a textbook of clear thinking and purpose.

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Think again, motherfuckers!

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Over at Black Island we are currently gripped by Generation Kill, the latest show from the creators of The Wire. Blending nerve-shredding tension with brutal black comedy, it’s the story of a company of marines invading Iraq in 2003. While it’s never preachingly political, I doubt that the DVD is on Donald Rumsfeld’s Amazon wish list: there’s a terrible sense, even at this early stage in the campaign, of the seeds of chaos being sown. Here, giving some clues to the success of his work, is co-creator David Simon in a Believer interview with Nick Hornby:

“If you write something that is so credible that the insider will stay with you, then the outsider will follow as well. Homicide, The Corner, The Wire, Generation Kill—these are travelogues of a kind, allowing Average Reader/Viewer to go where he otherwise would not. He loves being immersed in a new, confusing, and possibly dangerous world that he will never see. He likes not knowing every bit of vernacular or idiom. He likes being trusted to acquire information on his terms, to make connections, to take the journey with only his intelligence to guide him.

Most smart people cannot watch most TV, because it has generally been a condescending medium, explaining everything immediately, offering no ambiguities, and using dialogue that simplifies and mitigates against the idiosyncratic ways in which people in different worlds actually communicate. It eventually requires that characters from different places talk the same way as the viewer. This, of course, sucks. There are two ways of traveling. One is with a tour guide, who takes you to the crap everyone sees. You take a snapshot and move on, experiencing nothing beyond a crude visual and the retention of a few facts. The other way to travel requires more time—hence the need for this kind of viewing to be a long-form series or miniseries, in this bad metaphor—but if you stay in one place, say, if you put up your bag and go down to the local pub or shebeen and you play the fool a bit and make some friends and open yourself up to a new place and new time and new people, soon you have a sense of another world entirely. We’re after this: Making television into that kind of travel, intellectually. Bringing those pieces of America that are obscured or ignored or otherwise segregated from the ordinary and effectively arguing their relevance and existence to ordinary Americans. Saying, in effect, This is part of the country you have made. This too is who we are and what we have built. Think again, motherfuckers.”