THE WIRE Creator David Simon Wants to Make a Show about the History of the CIA; Discusses the End of the Golden Age of TV

     April 28, 2014


With the HBO series The Wire, creator/executive producer David Simon tackled real, hard-hitting issues in America with a frankness that was—and still is—rare in the entertainment world.  Throughout those five seasons, Simon chronicled the War on Drugs, the issues plaguing the public education system, racism, and various other issues that remain some of the biggest problems facing our nation today.  The Wire is truly one of the best shows in the history of television, and now Simon has an incredibly promising idea for a future project that he’d love to dig into: the history of the CIA.  However, the chances of it ever coming to fruition may be slim.

Hit the jump for more on Simon’s passion project, including what he has to say about the end of our current Golden Age of Television.

wire-season-4-image-bodie-carverIt’s something of a miracle that The Wire lasted an entire five seasons.  Despite the fact that it’s now regarded as one of the best series in history, the show never scored high ratings and was completely ignored by the Emmys.  His next series, Treme, also failed to catch a big fan following, but he’s currently working on a Martin Luther King Jr. miniseries for HBO called America: In the King Years.

However, there’s another unrealized project that Simon would love to make, which would see him delving into government agency territory.  While speaking at the Tribeca Film Festival (via Indiewire), Simon talked about his proposed CIA project and why it’s unlikely to ever come to fruition:

“I’ve got a story that I’d love to do, which I’ve been working on for eight or nine years, which is the history of the CIA, which would basically be America’s foreign policy footprint. But it’s 70 years of period piece filming, it’s all over the world, there’s a lot of CGI. Scene I, Act I is Berlin after the war, in total wreckage. And HBO goes, ‘Listen, it was all fun when we were giving him $20 million and he was making The Wire and no one was watching, but do you take us for fools?’ They’re looking at what the plausible revenue stream with all the downloads and BitTorrent. The window of this Golden Age of Television might have a point where it snaps shut on your fingers, because we’re talking like a Hollywood studio. ‘Can we get James Franco? If we get James Franco, you can make it.”

true-detective-woody-harrelson-matthew-mcconaugheyOne can just imagine what kind of series we’d get from a Simon-led history of the CIA by way of a global vantage point, and it’s a shame to think it might never come to be.  Hopefully, at some point, HBO or another network sees the value in such an idea.

But Simon also hits on an interesting observation at the end of this quote when he addresses the Golden Age of Television.  There’s no denying that some of the best storytelling is happening right now on TV, but I have to wonder if we’re coming close to the breaking point.  Years ago, brilliant series like The Sopranos and Breaking Bad and Mad Men were led by either entirely unknown actors or character actors, but the writing is now so good that film actors are flocking to the small screen.  Series like True Detective and Fargo are making excellent use of big talent while shows like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones mine visually arresting genre territory for content, and the networks are subsequently reaping huge benefits from the high-profile shows.

Like Simon said, it could start resembling the Hollywood studio system if the networks start exclusively seeking out these bigger actors and more high-profile series, which then lead to bigger budgets, which inevitably leads to bigger risk.  Networks might be less willing to greenlight more offbeat, small-scale, or original ideas in favor of ones that have a higher probability of breaking out, at which point they essentially start operating like the studio system where name actors and flashy concepts rule the airwaves.  Could this be how the Golden Age of Television implodes?

Obviously this is all conjecture, but I think Simon struck an interesting vein.  The guy is incredibly smart and is right more often than not, so I feel this is an avenue worth exploring.  What say you, readers?  Do you see an end to this brilliant slate of television coming sooner rather than later?  Are networks at risk of becoming more like Hollywood film studios?  Sound off in the comments below.



  • piscx77

    at this point, Mr. Simon deserves creative free-reign on anything he’d like.

  • Lance

    Well, it’s an interesting idea. Personally, I don’t know any part of Hollywood can guarantee on big stars bringing in the viewers anymore, though. And given the explosion of television series on everything from cable networks to internet to game consoles, I think there’s going to be plenty of avenues for the foreseeable future where big studio money just isn’t there, so creativity and good writing will need to make up for the lack of big stars and special effects.

    I’ve heard another theory about how the golden age ends — the idea is that there aren’t that many more creative geniuses who have a brilliant show in their back pocket, just waiting for an HBO or AMC or Netflix to discover them. And so the coming waves of new series are probably going to be garbage.

    I haven’t seen any signs of that happening yet, and I personally think that theory’s wrong, too. Someone’s out there pitching the next Breaking Bad, right now.

    • piscx77

      Agreed. And don’t let the wave of big dollar tie-ins, spin offs, and immediate knock-offs deter you (remember all the ABC mystery/dramas the year after LOST?? haha.). For every network unwilling to take a risk, another comes along with a Justified, GoT, etc etc

  • Mr. Banana

    I think the golden era is just getting impulse, people are just realizing the possibilities with genre tv and like Lance says a lot of avenues are being created with new media formats.

  • Aquartertoseven

    Sopranos is massively overrated.

    • ʝoe ßloggs

      So too The Wire. I couldn’t bear watching it.
      Maybe its just me but I guess it’s not a show for everyone.
      Gritty realism doesn’t have to lack entertainment.

      • Aquartertoseven

        It’s not the best show ever but it can be pretty special. Watch S3.

      • ʝoe ßloggs

        I considered that…but never got around to it. Gave up at the episode where they swore the entire time. I needed to wash myself several times. :P

      • NathanArizona

        you gave up five episodes in? and you are putting forth an opinion about the entire series? The Wire does not lack for entertainment. It’s true it may not be a show for everybody, but that does not make it “overrated”. It is legitimately one of (I would say the) best shows of all time. If you ever get the urge, give it another go, each season builds on each other and the characters are so deep. Seasons 3 and 4 are unbelievably great, but they are as effective as they are because of the groundwork that has already been laid in seasons 1 and 2.

        (not trying to sound like a dick, internet commenters always go on the defensive immediately when they feel they’re being challenged.)

      • ʝoe ßloggs

        Thanks for that considered response.
        Yeah, I still think its overrated. :)

        I must have got that wrong. Was so long ago. I think I watched about 8 or 9 eps before I really gave up. The profanity ep tested me but I continued. Tried to connect with the characters and the story but just couldn’t get a hook-in.

        I’ve heard recommendations to watch S3, but didn’t because I thought it pointless if I wasn’t invested in the characters.

        P.S. Maybe i’ll try again. :)

      • Zan

        “Gave up at the episode where they swore the entire time.”
        HAHAHAHA, way to miss the point. Go watch CSI if you want something that abides by the cookie-cutter formula. If you never saw an entire season, your opinion is worthless.

      • McNulty

        After watching the wire, I gave up on network based cop dramas – The wire showed both sides of the coin on every issue. Made you root for both good and evil all while set in the backdrop of a city that is born and dies by the same issues that the story reveled in. There won’t be another cop drama like it. The only thing I didn’t care for was the 5th season and it was still good.

      • ʝoe ßloggs

        The fact that you simply dismiss an opinion as worthless only shows up your own lack of worth.

        Also, you’re not worthy of association or engagement in debate.

      • Bunk

        The fact you spout an opinion on a show you didn’t watch says even less for you.

      • ʝoe ßloggs

        I did watch some. At least 7 or 8 episodes.

        Why are you deliberately picking a fight? Did I say anything to offend anyone? It’s just an opinion on a show. I’m sure you’ve also proffered opinions which people didn’t care for. Freedom of speech is nothing without control. So too a lack of maturity. I rarely argue with egoistic fools because it’s pointless. So I say this for your benefit.

        Just google “the wire overrated”.
        You’ll see I’m not alone in that opinion. Are all of them wrong? Because if you think so, you are a king in your own head. ;)

        P.S. I was going to give this show a chance again but you’ve completely turned me off it now. Thank you for saving me time.

      • Zan

        “Gave up at the episode where they swore the entire time.”
        HAHAHAHA, way to miss the point. Go watch CSI if you want something that abides by the cookie-cutter formula. If you never saw an entire season, your opinion is worthless.

      • Richard Bone

        What an idiot.

      • ʝoe ßloggs

        Stop talking about yourself. :D

      • Aquartertoseven

        They swear in every episode, in most shows actually, if foul language is a barrier for you then you’re missing out on so much.

      • McNulty

        Bunk and McNulty have an entire conversation using only the work F!ck

      • ʝoe ßloggs

        Yes that’s the one.

        Not saying this specifically about you but I find it amusing that fans of this show imply that they’re purists or of a higher level order.

        Seeing how an entire episode is comprised of the word f*ck, I don’t think it’s the case.

        It’s a matter of taste ultimately. For me, it wasn’t well seasoned.

      • Ryo Shenmue

        You’re clearly not smart enough for The Wire(it’s not an offense). If you can’t understand Andrei Tarkovskij, Ingmar Bergman and the symbolisms of Stanley Kubrick and Orson Welles, then you have no chance of understanding The Wire. It is NOT entertainment, it is ART. It’s not trying to entertain you like crap such as Breaking Bad or True Detective…it’s trying to TEACH you, to SCHOOL you. The episode where they use “fuck” for an entire scene it wasn’t an invention, it actually happened when David Simon was allowed on a crime scene with two BMore police detectives. He’s a journalist, he couldn’t have left that one out simply because you might have felt offended.

      • ʝoe ßloggs

        I find it sad that in your attempt to seem smart, you fail to recognise the idiocy of your own comment.

        As an aside (not directed to you), it seems people cannot take a contrarian view without resulting to personal insults. It only reflects poorly on you.

        Peace to you.

      • ʝoe ßloggs

        Not a barrier unless the entire episode is nothing but.

      • Aquartertoseven


        And who cares, everyone swears! What are you, some kind of puritan?

      • ʝoe ßloggs

        Please read again.

        “Not a barrier unless the ENTIRE episode is nothing but.”

        Why are you getting so worked up? ;)

      • Aquartertoseven

        I know, but only a single scene had continuous swearing.

      • Ryo Shenmue

        It is, was and ever will be the best TV-series of all time. The X-Files second place.

      • ʝoe ßloggs

        It’s funny that you mention the X-Files as second best because I recall back in the day being the resident expert of all it’s mysteries and philosophies among a group of intelligent friends, providing detailed breakdown analysis.

        But of course I’m too unintelligent for that since I hate The Wire – the epitome of all things coherent and smart. Nothing else compares or ever will.

      • Aquartertoseven

        You need to see Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Firefly, Chuck, Dexter, Spartacus, Rome, Mad Men, I could go on.

      • Yak Shah

        The Wire is like one of those 3D Magic Eye puzzles. You have to watch, and be patient, and then the genius will become apparent to you.
        If you can’t get there, I feel sorry for you, because damn are you missing out. Nothing else even comes close imo.

      • ʝoe ßloggs

        You don’t have to be apologetic. Of course you’re way smarter as fans of this show seem to imply.

        I’ll stick to Sesame Street and other shows for my IQ level.

    • Papa November

      I must disagree with you on that one my friend.

    • Dr. J

      The Sopranos is overrated. It’s not as good as Hogan’s Heroes. I mean the bad guys were Nazis. Not some mob bozos. Two thumbs down for the Sopranos.

  • rivertreeradar

    there is a pretty big quality divide between network shows and cable as there is nowadays with every form of entertainment, there is rarely a middle ground anymore. but the sad thing is its made that way knowingly because it reflects the audiences capacity for accepting mediocrity or appreciating quality. all these great hbo unknowns drift to the networks after their critical hit ends and settle for more exposure and a quadrupled paycheck, if that’s settling. network television is starting to look like the foreign legion with an encampment of washed up or down on their luck ex film stars. the new golden age of television ends when the first hbo contestant based reality show emerges.

    • TrekBeatTK

      I see your point, but you’ve got to give NBC credit for sticking with Hannibal, a show I consider to be among the goriest on TV right now. It’s not typical network fare, but it also doesn’t feel compromised in any way. I think it’s far too easy to say “Cable is quality! Network is mediocrity!” Why, because they can’t all be naked and curse on network? All TV used to be network and they made great stuff. They can still make great stuff. They just often choose not to support the great stuff because it’s easier to make “Dancing With Gordon Ramsey on Game Night”.

      …Of course, cable has it’s own cesspool of reality TV so that’s not fair either. Anyone remember when Bravo was about artsy movies and not about who ripped who’s weave out in between ads for metrosexual products?


    david simon is awesome, i will watch anything he is associated with

  • The Destroyer

    I would love to see this. I enjoyed the Wire, but I think that Treme is way better, and might be the most underrated show that I watch. It’s sad that HBO didn’t know what to do with it, I didn’t even know it existed till the third season when I happened upon an episode and was mesmerized.

    • Liffey

      Can’t agree more about “Treme.” What a freakin’ gem that was.

      • Yasmin Catarino

        I wept almost every episode of the last season. lol

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  • wiier9l
  • Foysol

    it would be extremely painful…

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  • Ryo Shenmue

    Are there people who actually believe this is the golden age?! This is the worst age in TV history, just because the industry is bigger than ever doesn’t mean that it’s good. The industry IS bigger than ever but the TV medium died a long time ago…well around 2008 to be precise. Breaking Bad is the most overrated series of all time(it doesn’t mean anything, it doesn’t make us think or reflect about anything and will be forgotten in a couple of years) and everything that’s been done today is either already been done or is VASTLY overrated. Mad Men was good but died after 2 season, Breaking Bad died after 2 seasons and a half(and never was that great in the first place), Dexter died after 1 or seasons, Homeland had ONE decent season, True Detective never treated any kind of themes(it tried to copy Millennium in embarrassing ways), Game of Thrones is one of the worst products in HBO history. Leaving aside The Wire, which is the best tv-series of all time with The X-Files on number 2, The Sopranos made us think about a lot of different things, crime, family, evilness of human beings(explored with a black comedy style), our journey through life. Six Feet Under explored death with amazing cleverness and with pure black comedy as a basic structure, to the point of asserting that basically death commands life. Deadwood used a kind of writing that we could only dream of in today’s television. David Milch FORCED us to understand by ourselves what was going on in those times, by setting a “learning curve” for the viewer, with specific language, with his vernaculars, without giving us any help and by forcing us to pick up our dictionary(literally) and keep it by our side for all 55 minutes. Carnivàle treated religious themes, studied the mythology of good vs evil, by using amazing subtext that was FAR superior to the subtext that was used in the first two seasons of Mad Men(later abandoned by Weiner because AMC asked for a more viewer friendly product, a crowd pleaser). It’s sad that a generation as awful as this is believed to be the “golden age”, while in the 90s The X-Files was spreading genius everywhere with episodes such as: “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space”, “Humbug”, “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose”, “War of the Coprohages”, “Bad Blood”, “The End”(where CSM uses check references for the entire episodes with a level of subtext still unmatched in TV history), “The Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man”, “Talitha Cumi”, “Pusher”, “Small Potatoes”, “Dreamland” and later on “Improbable”. Treme has been the best tv-series from 2010 to 2013 and yet has been treated like crap. This is your Golden Age. One great pile of crap and brainwashed people.

    • Yak Shah

      You are seriously high.
      Dexter died after 1-2 seasons? Did you even watch S4?
      Breaking Bad died after 2 seasons?! That’s exactly when it *started* getting good. First 2 were average as.
      True Detective “didn’t treat any kind of themes”? I.. dont even…

      There are a lot of shitty shows on now but there are so many amazing shows on it’s almost impossible to keep up. That’s why this is the Golden Age imo. Sure, nothing in the last 5 years touches Wire/Sopranos/X-Files, but there’s enough that you can be watching gold TV almost 24 hours a day now if you really wanted.

      House of Cards
      Top of the Lake
      Fargo (early in, but still, awesome)
      True Detective

      And that’s without even starting on comedies:
      Always Sunny
      The League
      Curb Your Enthusiasm

      etc etc etc etc etc

  • Sergio Bortolotto

    1950-1990′s era cold war would be the bee’s knees

  • Sergio Bortolotto

    1950-1990′s era cold war would be the bee’s knees

  • Sergio Bortolotto

    1950-1990′s era cold war would be the bee’s knees

  • Sergio Bortolotto

    Colonel Sir Archibald David Stirling

  • Sergio Bortolotto

    Colonel Sir Archibald David Stirling

  • charles lathrop

    Before doing a CIA series based on Tim Weiner’s terribly flawed book, Mr. Simon would do well to read some of the learned criticism of it.