Friday, April 29, 2011

'Treme' unraveled

Reader questions answered by 'Treme' co-creators David Simon and Eric Overmyer

Published: Sunday, April 24, 2011, 3:09 AM
Dave Walker, The Times-Picayune 
During the run-up to Sunday's (April 24) season-two premiere, Times-Picayune and readers were offered the opportunity to pose questions to "Treme" co-creators David Simon and Eric Overmyer
David SimonDavid Simon.
Many excellent questions came in, either via e mail or in the comments section below the post. Thanks for your submissions. 
Time didn't allow all of them to be asked and answered, but the following made it into the pre-premiere interview: 

Question: I'd like to hear David and/or Eric talk about the benefits and responsibilities around the racial issues brought up by the show. By benefits, I mean they're already gutsy enough to create full, human characters from all backgrounds, without huge signposts indicating "This is the black experience," "This is the white experience," but especially given the S2 theme of "crime returning to New Orleans" is there a point in telling the story of New Orleans where it becomes imperative to address it head-on? I don't mean class issues, although they're there, too (I'm thinking of McAlary's parents). I suppose the best example I can think of is when LaDonna had her moment of bitterness talking about her husband's Creole family. It's just a tiny moment reflecting such a huge history...
Overmeyer: Let’s just start with tackling things head-on. That’s just not what we do with this show, because we’re working through the character, it’s unlikely that it would be that sort of thing
Simon: How often to human beings tackle things head on in their lives? By things I mean social and political issues. How often do human beings tackle things head on?
Overmyer: Things come up in 100 different ways, in ordinary, sort-of-small moments.
Simon: And people deal with them, sometimes with some degree of direction, sometimes obliquely. People encounter a racial dynamic here and there, but it’s not the everything of people, either black or white. Any show that would try to deal with these things in a way that the characters wouldn’t is going to become petty didactic pretty fast. And, by and large, racial and class issues, they exist, and by nature of how profound they are, they are unresolved in everybody’s life. I don’t think we’re ducking. I think if the opportunity presents itself we go, ‘Oh, that’s something we don’t want to get into.’ I’ve never had a, ‘Oh, we don’t want to get into that’ conversation. But I’ve had a lot of ‘We can’t get into that here using this character’ kinds of conversations. Or, ‘We can’t go that far with it. They wouldn’t.’
Overmyer: “This is how they would cope with it if it came up.” That’s how we’d approach it. People don’t confront their own (stuff) at all.
Simon: I remember years ago when I went to work on “Homicide,” Jim Yoshimura (a writer/executive producer for “Treme’s” second season) handed me a copy of Chekov’s plays and said, “Look how they talk around each other. They never quite say what they mean to say. Or, they do for a moment, but then they veer away.”
Overmyer: They barely confront what they need to confront, and they suffer the consequences. Ain’t that life?
Simon: If at any point you’re starting to do that Clifford Odets (coming) right at it, then you’re in danger of cannibalizing what’s human about the story for your argument.
Overmyer: So that stuff will be in there, but we hope organically.
Simon: I don’t think you’ll ever feel the heavy hand of the writer declaring, “This character’s right, this character’s wrong, this character’s continually wrong.” That’s always troublesome. Instead of creating human beings, you’re creating straw men. All this stuff has to be there.

Question: Which one, Simon or Overmyer, writes more for the show? Who’s the final authority?
Simon: We write the same.
Overmyer: We pretty much write the same amount.
Simon: Each one is the shepherd for every other episode. We each took one script and we shared the writing credit with (Anthony) Bourdain, right?
Overmyer: Yeah.
Simon: We both wrote the Mardi Gras episode together this year. Then we’re responsible for rewriting or addressing or editing the scripts. Eric will (submit) a script and I’ll read it and give notes on his, and he’ll give me his notes on mine.
Overmyer: Generally speaking, if it’s my script, David will say, ‘It’s your call, but this is what I think.’ And vice versa. And we’re both approachable in terms of, if everyone in the (writers) office comes to us and says, ‘We all think that’s a terrible idea,’ we’ll listen. We may dig in our heels, but …
Simon: (Executive producer) Nina (Noble) is very influential. She’s lived through a lot of story. She knows the kind of TV we’re trying to make, she’s very attentive.
ericovermyer.jpgEric Overmyer.
Overmyer: We should mention that. There’s a third person here who doesn’t get enough credit.
Simon: Nina, because she is very much involved in making the production go, and making it viable, she often comes off as more of a technocrat than a creative force, as a line producer. That’s not true.
Overmyer: It’s the three of us.
Simon: Sometimes, if Eric and I are at odds over something, it’s about convincing Nina.
Overmyer: We’ll lobby her independently.
Simon: It really is sort like a moot court. It’s not very formal and it happens in 30-45 seconds of debate.
Overmyer: Yesterday the three of us were here late trying to get the Mardi Gras episode down to time, and looking at the producer’s cut of the following episode. So the three of us were giving notes to two editors and hashing it out in the room, debating, kind of voting up or down.
Simon: One of the things we’ve done with this show, because the more voices the better, is any department head can come to us and say, ‘I saw that in the script. I’m not sure that’s how it is.’ Locations can come to us and say, ‘That wasn’t open in 2007.’ Or wardrobe can come to us and say, ‘The Indians don’t actually do it that way.’
Overmyer: (Costume designer) Alonzo (Wilson) has had a lot of requests, suggestions and notes about the Indians, because he’s had to make the suits. It’s been a Herculean task.
Question: It seems the plight of people who loved their pets was ignored entirely in season one. This omission is strange given the importance of pets to people who chose to stay instead of abandoning their pets, plus the energy spent searching for lost pets.
Overmyer: I don’t scoff at that at all. I’m a pet owner, and I know people who left their animals behind -- very painful -- or would not leave because of it. I tell you exactly why we didn’t address this: Because we started three months after the storm, and it was hard to kind of go back to people in the immediate two, three, four weeks after the storm. And the other thing is, we can’t do everything.
Simon: The place to have done it, we could’ve gotten a little moment in the flashback.
Overmyer: Ah! Yes.
Simon: We missed that one, along with about 35 others. There’s so much about the post-Katrina experience, and so much about New Orleans, that we barely hit upon or ignored entirely. No show is about everything. When all is said and done, no matter how many hours they give you …
Overmyer: We’ll miss something really good…
Simon: If it was, it would suck. If a show’s about everything, it’s not about anything. You have to limit your vision just as a means of focusing you’re narrative.
Overmyer: (Dealing with the pet issue in the flashback scene) would’ve been good, though.
Simon: We should’ve handled that.
Dave Walker can be reached at or 504.826.3429. Read more TV coverage at Follow him at
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