Author Archives: jmikva

Simon is not Flawless

At this point in the year, the only person who’s jaw would actually drop when they saw that title is David Simon himself. Still, I still feel obligated to point out one thing that Generation Kill has really shown is that Simon is not perfect. The Wire, in many ways, was a near-perfect show – though the last season, as many writers have pointed out, falls off the table a little bit due to time constraints put on by HBO. Although Generation Kill is a very good show, it is nowhere near the level of either The Wire or the original book itself. The fact of the matter is, Generation Kill, the show, lacks the complexity of The Wire and the realism of the book (and, although Simon concedes that there were times during the making of the show that they had to sacrifice things, he shys away from actually criticizing the show; any criticisms that he accepts he attributes to the “bosses”).

Richard Beck and Nancy Franklin both address these unspoken issues in their respective interview and article. In his interview with Simon, Beck tries to ask Simon about some of these potential flaws of the show. Simon, however, is quick to advert any of these flaws, making claims that are, quite simply, absurd. For example, Beck brings up one complaint by some viewers that two of the characters in the show were almost impossible to distinguish – both because of a lack of depth and similar looking actors. Simon quickly retorts, “That’s how it is when you’re dropped into a unit. I wanted you to feel the initial disorientation” (48). Beck, of course, cannot respond to this somewhat questionable response, but you can almost feel him trying to conceal his smile as Simon made this claim.

Franklin, on the other hand, is much more vocally critical of the show. One of her biggest complaints was the way Simon adapted the book to the screen. “The magazine pieces are punchy; in the book, the tone has been neutralized and the author’s voice is not nearly as present. Fatally, it is entirely missing from the miniseries” (2).

What Franklin and Beck both demonstrate is the last thing David Simon would ever want to hear – he is not a flawless television producer. Yes, he was great with his portrayal of detectives in Homicide, and with his story telling of drug dealers and users in The Corner. And, he was near-perfect with his portrayal of Baltimore in The Wire. This time, however, he simply missed the mark. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, if he could just accept that.

Simon’s Voice

As some people have already pointed out, when watching Generation Kill, especially after reading and watching so much of Simon’s previous work, it is impossible not to notice Simon’s “voice” in the show. One thing that jumps out right away is Simon’s infamous cynicism. Early on in the first episode the scene where Corporal Person (Who will always be Ziggy Sobotka to me) responds to the letters written by students with a tone of disappointment. While most people think of this as an act of kindness by strangers, Simon shows us a different light: what good is a letter from someone you don’t know?

Another Simon-specific aspect of the show is the “reporter affect.” Evan Wright is an actual character in the show. Like in the opening scenes of¬†The Corner, the other characters on the show respond directly to the presence of a reporter. Simon, who had spent years learning how people react when reporters are present, demonstrates how people change when the reporter comes in as well as how the reporter is treated. Over the course of the episodes (and presumably over the season as well) this change in behavior will become less and less obvious as the reporter’s presence becomes more obsolete. This is an interesting insight into the affect of a reporter’s presence, and also, in a sense, demonstrates Simon’s belief that the best type of reporting comes from long periods of time spent spent in an area, or with a group people, as, over time, the reporter becomes obsolete and thus the people being reported begin to act “real.”

What is interesting is, despite their different styles and views, it is clear that Wright and Simon agree in many ways about this “true reporting” style. Would Simon’s adaptation to the screen have worked as well had Wright’s book not been similar (in this regard) to Simon’s previous books?

The Author’s an Ass

When I first saw the book list for this class, adn saw that everything was either written by, or related to the work of, David Simon, I remember thinking I was the luckiest kid at Pomona. At that point, I had seen every episode of The Wire at least once, watched The Corner and written a 12 page paper on Season 3 of The Wire. Needless to say, I thought Simon could do no wrong. Now, after reading article after article in which Simon actually compares his work to novels and greek tragedy, and, years after a silly feud caused him to leave the newspaper he worked for so he could and get a job producing a show on HBO, still feels compelled to say “my newspaper was bought and butchered by an out-of-town newspaper chain” (Nick Hornby Interview) one thing has become painfully clear for me: David Simon is an ass.

This is not to say, however, that his work is not amazing. Indeed, I still enjoy every episode of The Wire, just as I enjoyed reading and watching The Corner and Homicide. Still, I cannot help but finding his cynical view of the world as frustrating, when before I found it provocative. This leads to a biggest question of authorship vs. content. That is, can you enjoy something written by someone who’s opinions you don’t typically agree with, or who’s behavior you don’t normally approve of? I think with the case of Simon the answer for me has to be yes. This may be a bit of tangent, but the other day, a friend and I were talking about Southpark and how, although a majority of its viewers are hardcore liberals, the creators of the show, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, are libertarian and republican, respectively. In fact, Stone is actually quoted as once saying “I hate conservatives, but I really fucking hate liberals.” So, again, the question becomes, does this difference of beliefs between the author and the viewers matter? I suppose, with these two examples, once would assume that it doesn’t. However, I can’t help but wonder whether I would have started watching The Wire had I gotten to know David Simon first.

The Wire (and other HBO shows): Legitimizing Television

After reading a third article about The Wire for this class, I have begun to realize that The Wire (and the other HBO series that came before it) have legitimized television watching in a way that no other network has done before. At the very begining of “Invisible City” the article explains that it is simply part of a series of articles about The Wire ranging from the show’s “complez portrayal of black America” to an article that discusses The Wire’s “view of life as a chess game.” What this, in addition to the other articles, had made me realize is how profound of an effect The Wire has had on the academic work in television.

In the articles and essays we have read before, the emphasis was always on structure. Where did network shows come from? How were network show’s strucutred? Who is the author of a network show? In these articles, however, the issues are actually related to the content of the show itself. The questions the show asks are precisely the questions the authors of the articles are trying to answer. Unlike in the essays before, there is no need to defend the analysis of television, it is simply understood and the analysis actually occurs. Perhaps similar articles exist about other shows (such as Homicide or even earlier network shows) but as far as I can tell, this type of full analysis based purely on content of a show has only come about in the recent past. I cannot help but assume that the emergence of HBO and its profound, vastly different series (both in terms of style, and more importantly, context) have helped bring television studies from simply being a study of structure to an actual study of content. The question is, will this analysis of content find its way into network television as well or will it be confined to HBO series forever?

“Transforming Television”

As we read more and more essays about how X “transformed television” forever, it becomes more and more clear to me that television transformed because of a multitude of reasons, and trying to pinpoint a single one, is most likely an impossibility. I bring this up because I had decided to investigate how HBO “transformed” network television. Much like David Simon claimed his show, The Wire, would forever change the Network cop shows or how Amanda Lotz illustrated how a number of big innovations forever changed television, Kompare’s article attempts to prove how one invention has been more significant in changing television than the rest.

This is not to say that Kompare’s argument, or Simon’s or Lotz’s for that matter, are not convincing. It is undeniable that the advent of DVD box sets have significantly changed how television is produced, and Kompare makes a very straightforward and convincing argument to this end. For example, his argument that the television is now seen more as a collectable object than simply a time slot, is certainly clear and it does not take a lot of research to understand how this true. Nonetheless, Simon and Lotz’s arguments are just as convincing. My point is that there is no one X-factor that has changed television. No one can pin-point the day television changed. Television is a forever changing medium; adapting with the technological, cultural and industrial changes that Kompare, himself, refers to. Maybe Kompare would agree with this fact, but I think a more complete analysis of changing television would incorporate, or at least acknowledge these other important factos.

Annotated Bibliography

First, I have decided to change my topic (or rather, focus) slightly. To demonstrate how HBO has changed Network Television, I will compare one season from Hill Street Blues with a season of NYPD Blue (most likely a later season that came out after 1997). This will be particularly interesting as both shows were created by Steven Bochco and both are considered groundbreaking shows. NYPD BLue, however, was much more critacized for its racy content, and I will argue that this “pushing of the envelope” was directly related to the emergence of HBO and its racy, but highly succesful, series (most notably, The Sopranos). With that in mind, here is my annotated bibliography:

Barnouw, Erik. Tube of plenty the evolution of American television. New York: Oxford UP, 1990. Print. This book deals with how television has changed over the course of its existence. I will focus on the later chapters, which deal with the changes that have taken place in the last 20 years and illustrate how these changes have corresponded to the emergence of HBO. In addition, I will use the chapter at the end of the book that attempts to predict how television will continue to change, to address this same issue that I plan to cover in my essay.

Bochco, Steven. “Censorship Chronicles: Steven Bochco.” Interview. Odeo. 26 May 2006. Web. 27 Oct. 2009. This interview deals with the censorship issues Bochco has faced in making television, particularly with NYPD blue. This will be helpful as it illustrates the issues of censorship on network television and also how these issues had changed from when Bochco was making HIll Street Blues.

Carter, Bill. “A Cable Show Networks Truly Watch.” NY Times on The Sopranos 2002 Edition. By New York Times. New York: I Books, 2002. Print. This article talks about how network television stations have attempted to emulate the Sopranos after seeing the success it had. For this reason, it will be very helpful for my topic as I will use it to demonstrate how HBO and, specifically The Sopranos, changed the way network television stations worked.

Carter, Bill. “Concerns About Content Prove Ready for Prime Time.” New York Times 25 July 1989. Web. 27 Oct. 2009. This article deals with the growing anxieties and criticism network television stations were facing for their controversial shows (in 1989). It will be helpful as it indicates how the culture of television was changing at that time (and will also be useful in showing how much more it has changed since)

Carter, Bill. “Police Drama Under Fire for Sex and Violence.” New York Times 22 June 1993. Web. 27 Oct. 2009. This article deals with the criticism NYPD Blue faced because of its controversial language and topics. The article will be helpful for my essay as it illustrates how NYPD Blue pushed the envelope and how people reacted to this.

Delaney, Sam. “HBO: Television will never be the same again.” Telegraph. 25 Feb. 2009. Web. 27 Oct. 2009. <Telegraph.co.uk>. This article will be extremely useful as it deals directly with my topic: how HBO has changed television. In the article, Delaney writes about the ways HBO and its groundbreaking shows have changed television and what viewers expect from television. I will use this article to show how these changes in expectations altered network television as well.

Heil, Douglas. “Creating the Prime-Time Novel Interview with Michael Kozoll.” Prime Time Authorship Works About and by Three TV Dramatists (The Television Series). New York: Syracuse UP, 2002. 281-310. Print. In this chapter, Michael Kozoll speaks directly about working on Hill Street Blues and writing for network television in general. Both topics will be very helpful in illustrating how writing for network television is different from HBO and how it has changed.

Kolbert, Elizabeth. “Not Only Bochco’s Uniforms Are Blue.” The New York Times 26 July 1993. Web. 27 Oct. 2009. This article deals with the controversy surrounding NYPD, calling it “the raciest show on television” at the the time it came out. This will help illustrate how network television began to change and become more racy as HBO and its controversial shows began to have so much success

Lotz, Amanda D. “If It’s Not TV, What Is It? The Case of U.S Subscription Television.” Cable Visions Television Beyond Broadcasting. By Sarah Banet-Weiser, Cynthia Chris, and Anthony Freitas. New York: NYU, 2007. Print. This chapter deals with how HBO, because of its structure and content, is different from television. In the chapter, Lotz argues that these differences separate stations such as HBO from other television stations. I will use this chapter to demonstrate how HBO and other television stations, particularly network stations, are still very different both in style and in what they show.

Marc, David. “Steven Bocho: Yuppie Catharsis.” Prime time, prime movers from I love Lucy to L.A. law–America’s greatest tv shows and the people who created them. Boston: Little, Brown, 1992. 218-30. Print. I will use this chapter about Steven Bocho as it provides critical information about his career in television (including his work in both HIll Street Blues and NYPD). In addition, the chapter talks about how both these shows pushed the envelope of network television.

Silverman, David S. You Can’t Air That Four Cases of Controversy and Censorship in American Television Programming (Television and Popular Culture). New York: Syracuse UP, 2007. Print. I will use this book to illustrate how network television is limited by censorship. In addition, I will use the chapter that follows the history of network television censorship to illustrate how this censorship has changed, and how these changes correspond with the emergence of HBO

Thompson, Robert. “David Chase, The Sopranos and Television Creativity.” This thing of ours investigating The Sopranos. By David Lavery. New York: Columbia UP, Wallflower, 2002. 18-26. Print. In this essay, Lavery and Thompson demonstrate how The Sopranos forever changed HBO and television in general. It will be helpful for me as this directly relates to my topic. I plan to use their essay to show how the introduction of the show corresponded to changes in network television.

Thompson, Robert. “HIll Street Blues: The Quality Revolution.” Television’s Second Golden Age. New York, NY: The Continuum Company, 1996. 59-74. Print.This chapter talks specifically about Hill Street Blues and how it was so vastly different from network television before it. It will be useful as I will be able to show how much has changed since it (especially in relation to NYPD Blue and the advent of HBO series that happened in between these two shows)

Spike Lee’s voice

It is undeniable that Spike Lee, perhaps more so than most film makers, has a distinct style and voice in his films. In every one of his films, there are always certain things one can expect to find: long shots, quick dialogue, rapid zoom ins, etc. It is, of course, not surprising that many of these Lee-isms showed up the film version of Clockers. However, their appearance, and the undeniable Spike lee-ness of the film brings up an interesting question about authorship. The film follows the story in the book fairly closely (with a obvious number of exceptions such as the dropping of characters and sub-plots, the move to a real location and the lack of narrative voices), and this is, presumably, in part because Richard Price co-wrote the screenplay. Nonetheless, when Spike Lee took over, certain elements of his film making and overall outlook directly affected and changed the themes of the film.

One of the most striking changes for me was the loss of the “friendly” cop-clockers relationship, which was, in many ways, a crucial element of novel. In the film, the white cops are seen as much more hated by the clockers and also much less friendly with them. While the book portrays a neighborhood where the cops have dealt with the clockers so often that they use nicknames for one another and even crack jokes with one another (a theme that finds its way into The Wire) the film portrays a much more strained relationship. There are no pleasantries in the film between some of the dealers and the cops. Rocco, played by Harvey Kietel, is angrier than his character in the book, and his interactions with Strike, with a few exceptions, are all hostile.

I am sure a large part of this has to do with adapting 600 pages of text, where it is possible to show sub-plots and little funny scenes showing how the cops and dealers interact, to two hours of film, where every scene must move the story along, and relationships must be condensed. However, my question is, did Spike Lee’s influence also play a significant role in this? Did he knowingly change that aspect of the book because of personal beliefs or experiences about the relationships between cops and criminals? And, if so, why did Price chose to allow this significant change?

Price and Simon: A match made in heaven

When talking about authorship, one topic that does not come up a lot, but is unarguably an important aspect of writing is how writers influence one another. While reading Clockers, I couldn’t help but feel Simon’s presence, even though he had no part in writing the book. The style, dialogue, long-winded descriptions, narrative voices – it all sounded and felt like a Simon book. I know that the two eventually worked with one another in writing The Wire, but my question is, was Simon an early influence for Price (or vice-versa?).

I know the only way to answer this question is by asking Price or Simon, but it is still an interesting question: Is it that the two authors just had similar styles of writing, and when these similarities were discovered, decided to work together? Or, did Price have a fascination with Simon’s work and want to emulate him, by making a book that so closely resembles his work, which eventually led to the two working together? Does this influence affect the authorship of the novel? If Price admitted to writing Clockers in Simon’s image, would it take away from his ability as a writer or his position as the author?

Term paper: How has HBO changed television?

My goal, as you can probably guess, will be to examine how HBO (specifically HBO original series) has changed television. Since many people point to The Sopranos as the first real HBO series, I will use this as my focal point. The show originally aired in 1998. I still have not decided exactly what I am going to look at. One possibility I was considering was examining two different shows; one that aired before 1998, another that came on after. The other possibility, and the one I am leaning towards, is examining a show that began before 1998 and lasted for some time afterwards (the show I was considering for this was NYPD BLUE, though I may change that as well). In either case, the goal of my research would be to show how the medium of television changed with the inception of HBO original series: What became acceptable for television to show; how did the structure of shows change; did the target viewer of television change?. Another thing I would look at is how the creation of television changed. Did the writing process of shows change? In HBO, unlike network television, shows were created by one person. Did this become more true of Network television after the inception of HBO series? Finally, I would also demonstrate how HBO and network television are still different, and perhaps conclude with examining how television might continue to change.

Leave adapting to the creators

The first thing that came to mind while watching the episodes of the Corner was, “Wow, this is a whole lot better than the Wire.” Now, I know there are some HBO lovers out there who are simply going to argue that any show done on HBO is going to better than anything down on a network television show, simply because it can be more real. Of course, there is something to that argument, but I think the real reason why the Corner miniseries is so much better than Homicide the television series is something different: Simon co-wrote the miniseries.

As books, I think both Homicide and The Corner are relatively similar in quality. The shows, however, are vastly different in quality (in my opinion) because the the former lacks the crucial Simon factor. Yes, they tried to adapt his work, and often, as I’m sure many people pointed out in their essays, even used direct quotes from his book.¬†However, what Simon does best is dialogue and having him there to not simply be a influence, but actually co-write the dialogue of the Corner is what makes it stand out.

More importantly, however, Simon knows what he wants to say. In Homicide, Paul Attanasio, the creator of the show, had to try to translate, as well as understand, Simon’s ideas. In the Corner, with Simon at the helm of the writing for both, there was nothing that was lost in this translation.

And yes, I will not deny that I have a legitimate man-crush on Simon which completely makes my opinion biased, but I would go so far as to say that the argument that the dialogue on the Corner is far times better than that of Homicide is not even really a subjective argument. Yes, the detectives in Homicide talk like “real” people at times, but it still feels like television dialogue. There are clear set-ups and punch lines, and everything is constantly moving towards plot. The dialogue in the Corner, on the other hand, is much more Simon-esque (obviously). The people don’t just seem real for television; they are really, truly real (so much so, that, combined with the documentary styled beginning, I was confused, albeit for about 30 seconds, as to whether or not the series was fiction or non-fiction). For this reason, the Corner stands out as a far superior show than Homicide, and I can’t help but think that the reason for this is that the writer of the book was the same person who wrote the show.