herald

Thursday 16 August 2018

The Wire is officially crowned a work of genius

Honour: Writer Simon recognised with grant of $500,000

Fans all over the world have been saying it for years. But now David Simon, the creator of The Wire, the hit television show that took us into Baltimore's drug-addled underworld over five seasons and 60 episodes, has it in writing from as unimpeachable a source as you could think of: he is a genius.

He has been given one of 23 grants handed out this year by the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation in Chicago. Each grant bestows a foundation fellowship on the winner and pays them $500,000 (£368,000) over five years. And because they are handed out to an unpredictable list of brilliant people with no specific entry process or criteria, they have earned a simple nickname that indicates the extraordinary prestige attached: the "genius" grants.

A mildly astonished Simon struggled to come to terms with the honour yesterday. "I've looked at past years' lists and there are people contending with fundamental environmental issues and trying to deal with socio-economic inequality -- real tangible, make-the-world-better stuff," he said. "So while I value storytelling, I feel a little bit of a nagging notion of shame pulling on my shirtsleeves."

Production ended more than two years ago, but The Wire still has a fiercely loyal following. It achieved a reach comparable to hits like The West Wing even though its subject matter was often dark and jarring. For Baltimore, it was advertising that no tourist office would commission.

Simon was one in a typically diverse range of winners. Those honoured yesterday also included David Cromer, an actor and director well known for his commitment to revivals of classics and off-Broadway productions in New York, as well as a sculptor, an animator, a fiction writer and notable scientists specialising in fields as diverse as tumour growth and DNA research.

"They are explorers and risk-takers, contributing to their fields and to society in innovative, impactful ways," the MacArthur Foundation's president, Robert Gallucci, said. "They provide us all with inspiration and hope for the future." MacArthur, an insurance tycoon and philanthropist, died in 1978.



Charities

There are no strings attached to the money, allowing recipients full leeway on how they spend it. Simon indicated yesterday that his first instinct was to give it to charities, most probably organisations committed to improving the inner city in Baltimore, where he lives when he is not shooting new episodes of the television series Treme in New Orleans.

Simon said the foundation's "stamp of approval makes it easier to argue for other stories that might not otherwise get told by the entertainment industry. That's very valuable. It makes it easier to go into the room with the network and argue against doing the usual thing in television."

And he does have plans. With Ed Burns, with whom he co-created The Wire, he is exploring a project centred on the Haymarket bombing in Chicago in 1880, which profoundly coloured the American union movement, as well as what he calls a long-term effort to develop scripts about the birth of the CIA in 1947.

And he says he is working on a book about the drug economy in Baltimore in the Fifties and Sixties.

The Foundation cited Simon for his full opus of television dramas, saying that they viewed urban life "through the lens of a hard-edged, cautiously optimistic realism".

hnews@herald.ie

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