David Simon: New Orleans is "An American Brigadoon"

That’s what he tells James Poniewozik, anyway. Time will tell whether this comment is all part of his plan to sell the Treme rights to Broadway.*

The interview also deals with something I mentioned in my previous post, the fact that Treme is, at least at this point, a show that doesn’t have a lot of melodramatic content. (Though he hints at the possibility that the crime content of the show might increase once the years pass, since the crime rate eventually did go back up in the city.) Before Katrina, he and Eric Overmeyer couldn’t even pitch the idea of a show about New Orleans because they didn’t have a sensational hook to hang it on, and even now, it may be risky to do a show about a world where gunfights and other TV crutches are not common:

If you can walk guys in the room with guns, it’s an instant crutch. I mean, I’m not saying we did it [on The Wire] because it’s a crutch, but whatever else it is–character nuance starting to lag? Have a guy walk into a room with a gun, have the gun go off… There’s a reason that 95% of shows are cops and emergency rooms and courtrooms. They’re the natural friction points of American life. To have a show where a guy picks up a horn instead of an automatic weapon–we may not last that long. But no reason not to try.

It reminds me a bit of something Hugh Wilson once said about M*A*S*H (which he didn’t work on but loved), pointing out that the writers had a big advantage in being the only sitcom set in a world of life-or-death situations: when they had trouble resolving a story, they could simply interrupt it by having the P.A. guy announce incoming wounded. With violence, or sick people, or people on trial for murder, it’s always easier to convince the audience that the stakes are high.

This is one of the reasons why, in answer to a question about which shows I consider non-melodramatic dramas, I can’t think of a whole lot of examples — at least in long-running U.S. series TV. thirtysomething, I guess, stayed relatively small-scale in many of its storylines, even if people cried a lot, and Men of a Certain Age is a show where the characters have a lot of problems that recognizably belong to everyday life. The difference between “drama” and “melodrama” is sometimes sort of like the difference between sexual content and pornography; we know it when we see it, but we can’t easily define it. Any television show will have to give the characters more spectacular problems (or just more problems at once) than we would normally see in real life. But if an hour-long drama involves crises that are sort of down-to-earth, as opposed to sudden injections of violence, threats, deep dark long-kept family secrets, and so on, it at least feels kind of like a change of pace from the average drama, because most dramas are about a heightened reality where spectacular things happen all the time.

*I did a show or two or four
That dealt with the problems in Baltimore,
And made myself a name,
Though the Emmys rarely came.
But Baltimore provides no plot
Or place I can shoot where I haven’t shot,
I’ll tell you what that means:
I’ll go down to New Orleans.
Go down, go down, go down to New Orleans.
Go down, go down, I’ll go down to New Orleans.

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