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.
It’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.”
One 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.