Me and David Hangin' at the Times; Trading Spouses Ends Badly
I don't know why, but the vibe is never the same. whatever I liked about there work usually isn't enough to create a bond in person and if we have a rapport talking by phone, it often doesn't translate (a really cool 90-minute telephone conversation with k.d. lang, for example, didn't prepare me for how awkward it would be to try hanging with her after a fantabulous gig at Ruth Eckerd Hall.)
Fortunately, that wasn't the case when I met David Simon.
Perhaps it's because the creator of The Wire and the author of the book NBC based its Homicide series on still approaches life like the Baltimore Sun cop writer he was 20 years ago. or maybe he's just comfortable around us print jockeys because he did it so long himself.
Regardless, when Simon stopped by the Times Friday to talk about storytelling, we had a great time. Simon keeps in touch with his journalism buddies, so we had lots of mutual acquaintances to gossip about, and he's unpretentious enough to put up with stupid questions about relating TV drama to journalism or how to transition from newspapers to TV production (his stock answer these days: "Write a book that NBC makes into a TV series, write a script for that series, and be lucky enough that Robin Williams decides to star in that particular episode as a guest star.")
He had a few other interesting things to say to us:
--The fifth and final season of The Wire also involves the mass media, with scenes filmed inside the newsroom of his former employer, The Baltimore Sun (Simon called their agreeing to let production in the building a "gutty" decision).
--He can't see himself doing another series for network TV, because they demand audiences be spoon fed stories with predictable characters.
--The key to producing books like Homicide and The Corner -- detailed takes on Baltimore's homicide unit and its worst drug-ravaged neighborhood, involving a year of research on each one -- is consistency, never lying and never trying to write your story until the year of research is done. The only way he knows to go beneath the surface of subjects is spend a great deal of time with them, until the walls fall down and enough life passes that understanding emerges.
--His partner, former cop and former teacher Ed Burns, convinced the local drug dealers that he and Simon weren't cops while researching The Corner, by helping a notorious drug gang enforcer get a tooth pulled.
--A member of the St. Petersburg police department who attended the talk said The Wire captures the guts of police work better than any other series -- right down to the dry-erase board with case names written in red for unsolved and black for solved (adopted after police officials saw a similar board in NBC's Homicide series, which came from Simon's real-life research).
--The use of quotes in stories actually distances the reader from the subject, pulling them out of the subject's head. As Simon delved deeper into writing narrative stories for the Sun -- pieces that told stories from a particular character's perspective, like a novel -- he found himself using fewer quotes, and simply doing enough reporting to know what people in the stories were thinking and doing.
-- The first inkling he might write a book like The Corner, which essentially humanized some of the worst lawbreakers in society, drug dealers and users, came while he was with homicide detectives serving a search warrant while researching his first book. It was a crack house with no running water, garbage and feces everywhere, the poorest environment you could imagine. And as the cops had all the residents penned into an area, treating them harshly for the squalor they had allowed themselves to fall into, and young child asked to go get his homework for school. When Simon saw that child walk into the hopeless, squalid room and come out with a school book and homework, he knew there was another side to the story he was telling.
Trading Spouses Brings Tough Conclusion for St. Petersburg Couple
Turns out, the first installment of the two-part Trading Spouses episode starring St. Petersburg couple Abasi Baruti and Latoya Brown was just a warm-up; the concluding episode Friday revealed just how badly Baruti treated "God Warrior" Margeurite Perrin, and the revenge she exacted.
The two were shown arguing almost from the beginning, as Baruti's militant pro-black activism clashed with Perrin's conservative, white southern outlook. But Friday's show offered Baruti as the villain, showing him ignoring and insulting Perrin during a cookout with friends badly enough that she walked across the street to a stranger's home for refuge (it was so bad that area actvist Connie Burton, known as a bit of a hothead herself, became the voice of reason, telling Baruti to calm down and treat her better)
Baruti's actions made even less sense when you consider the ultimate twist of the series: though each family gets $50,000 for participating, the wife from the other family decides how the money is spent. So, it would seem the best strategy would involve treating the visiting mom nicely as possible, to keep her from donating all your money to charity or something.
Perrin didn't do that, but she did leave the money to the family member who treated her best during her stay -- requiring that $48,500 be given to the couple's 7-year-old daughter Shachaamah when she turns 18, more than a decade from now.
Talk about reaping what you sow -- even as the couple's appearance on the show irritates their compatriots in the pro-black local activist Uhuru Movement, they must now cope with the fact that their family won't get to access their payment for more than 10 years.
Hope Fox invests it wisely.
Orange Magazine Gone Already
If an email I got from a tipster is to be believed, Media General's answer to *tbt and Creative Loafing, Orange magazine, is taking a dirt nap -- less than five months after its debut.
The release I have says the magazine "has not met business expectations." But I can't help wondering if it was editor Mitzi Gordon's decision to publish a story earlier this month with the word c--- (a word for the female anatomy which I won't even print on my blog) unmasked; a decision which forced the company to destroy the magazine's entire press run, once Gordon's bosses realized how the word was printed.
Creeative Loafing's Wayne Garcia has been all over this story, writing first about the halted press run and now about the magazine's demise on CL's Blurbex blog. He reports Gordon was fired after he revealed the press run mistake; score one for the old school alt-weekly crowd.
I wouldn't side with those who assume, however, that this is further proof that so-called mainstream outlets can't swin in the free weekly waters with the Creative Loafings of the world. Just means everybody involved has to agree on exactly what kind of magazine they're putting out.
One More Thing....
OKAY I know. I've got too many items in this blog post already. But you must, must, MUST read this profile of fired Regan books publisher Judith Regan in New York magazine today. Among the juicy, New York media-centered gossip bits: O.J. (or, rather, a trust benefitting his children) was paid $880,000 for If I Did It, which Regan wanted to call I Did It; Regan was fired not just for O.J., but for greenlighting another controversial book that imagined the scandalous life on baseball great Mickey Mantle; Regan's staffers were told she was fired before she knew, and before she was escorted from the building.
As with most of these kinds of stories, many of the good bits are delivered by anonymous sources, so you wind up trusting the author a lot as you read. But assuming most of this stuff is true, it's a curious discourse on the high stakes corporate jujitsu which erupts when risky projects go bad.