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Story pick: The HBO auteur turned genius

By Annys Shin

David Simon, creator of "The Wire," a.k.a. The Best Show in the History of Television, is embarrassed.

Apparently, the former Baltimore Sun reporter is feeling unworthy of the MacArthur "Genius" grant he won earlier this week.

As he told the Washington Post's Dan Zak, the shame he says he felt upon winning "was exacerbated when I went online and looked at the people who'd gotten fellowships in the past. The majority of them are involved in endeavors which are very tangible -- efforts to combat poverty or economic disparities, or to improve the environment. And while I think storytelling is a meaningful way to spend your life . . . it does feel a little bit secondary or off-point. I definitely felt a little sheepish after looking at the list."

I am not going to argue whether telling stories is a human endeavor on par with discovering planets or preserving indigenous languages. The MacArthur folks can spend their money any way they wish. Whether you think Simon specifically deserved a genius grant probably depends on what you think of his work. (Full disclosure: I am a die-hard fan of his "Homicide: Life on the Streets.")

If you are interested in how he works, the New York Times Magazine in March ran a profile of Simon, who was deep in the filming of "Treme," his new series centered on post-Katrina New Orleans. When he is not happy with executives at HBO, he writes them long letters. On paper. He rewrites scripts, but doesn't take credit, allowing the writers to claim whatever glory and financial benefit might arise from their work. I also found it interesting that Simon knows his limits, as his collaborator Eric Overmyer explained:

“David did most of the heavy lifting initially,” Overmyer says. Simon sent him a draft of a pilot that had a provisional set of characters and was about 80 percent of a whole but missing scenes. “He did this on ‘The Wire,’ too,” Overmyer says. “He said, ‘I can’t do the domestic scenes; you do the domestic scenes.’ I always thought, He’s giving me the girlie scenes,” Overmyer says, laughing. “On ‘The Wire,’ he’d say to me, ‘You write the scene when McNulty has dinner with his ex-wife.’ Always the girlie scenes.”

By Annys Shin  | September 29, 2010; 8:10 AM ET
Categories:  Story Picks  
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