The key principle of Simon's storytelling was encapsulated in a remark that caused raised eyebrows when he uttered it, late last year, on BBC2's Culture Show: "Fuck the average viewer."
When you want to write the truth, Simon argues, writing for those who know nothing sets the bar too low. "That's how they taught us to write at the Baltimore Sun: 'For the average reader with a seventh-grade education.' " But when he took a leave of absence to write Homicide, his account of a year with Baltimore murder detectives - it later became an acclaimed TV drama of the same name - he realised it was time for a new approach. "There came this point where I sat down with all my notebooks and I had to start to write," he says, "when I thought: this whole notion of writing for the person who understands nothing, the average reader ... He has to die! I can't have him in my head. And so the person I started writing for was the homicide detective." He wasn't aiming to please his subjects themselves, he insists; many of the detectives emerge from the book as racist, homophobic, sexist or some mixture of all three. "My guy in my head was some guy in Chicago I'd never met. Not the average reader. Fuck him! I want to write for the guy living the event. When I criticise him, I want him to think, 'That was fair.' When I don't criticise him, I want him to think, 'He gets it.'"
Monday, March 30, 2009
As The Wire finally comes to network TV in the UK (it starts tonight at 11.20 on BBC Two), its creator, David Simon, tells Oliver Burkeman in The Guardian about his approach to screenwriting.