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I'd been hearing for a while that this new series was in the works and that it was set in New Orleans, but knew very little else about it until reading this article. Holy shit, now I'm excited! The Bunk is back! (Kind of.) And Lester!





Now New Orleans Is His Focus




New Orleans and New York


On a late-November Tuesday night in New Orleans, bodies rubbed up against one another at Bullet's Sports Bar as Kermit Ruffins coaxed high notes from his trumpet. The music was infectious, the regulars who packed the neighborhood joint for this weekly gig deeply committed to it. The next night, Mr. Ruffins was back. This time, more than a dozen thick cables snaked their way out onto A.P. Tureaud Avenue and into a sound-company trailer. It was no regular gig: "Treme," producer David Simon's latest series for HBO, was taping inside.


After an enthusiastic response to a pilot episode from HBO executives and the end of the hurricane season, Mr. Simon is back in New Orleans to complete the 10-episode premiere season, scheduled to begin its run in April.


Mr. Simon is best known for "The Wire," his previous HBO series, which earned a faithful following for its detailed, critical evocation of his hometown, Baltimore, as told through the intersecting lives of cops, dope dealers, politicians, teachers, and the journalists who reported on (or failed to cover) it all. That show's title, a reference to a police wiretap on a drug ring, also suggested unseen links between street action and the corridors of power in a city marked by postindustrial decline. "Treme" will tap directly into an indigenous culture that threads through much of daily activity in New Orleans and has served as a lifeline for many returning residents in a city still inching toward postflood recovery.


"The Wire" and much of Mr. Simon's previous television work ("Homicide," "The Corner") were natural outgrowths of his 12-year tenure as a crime reporter for the Baltimore Sun and his subsequent books. The new project owes to a more personal investigation.


"I remember stumbling into my first second-line parade maybe 20 years ago," said Mr. Simon, now 49, as he leaned back in his chair at a production office in Manhattan's West Village. "The Treme brass band went up Orleans Avenue to Claiborne Avenue, then stopped under the I-10 bridge. The echo was fantastic. They went past the Lafitte projects and people came out of their homes to join in. I was all the way up in Mid-City before I realized I'd walked 30 blocks and would have to walk all the way back. I didn't know exactly what was going on, but I was hooked."


The new series draws its name from Tremé, which some consider the oldest black neighborhood in America, and which has long been a hothouse for New Orleans jazz. It will focus largely on those who shape the city's cultural identity: traditional jazz and brass-band musicians; Social Aid & Pleasure Club members who mount Sunday second-line parades; and perhaps the most mysterious and essential group of all—Mardi Gras Indians, who, dressed in elaborate feathered and beaded suits, pay homage to both the Indians who once sheltered runaway slaves and to the spirit of African-American resistance.


Mr. Simon recalls his astonishment at happening upon two Mardi Gras Indian chiefs confronting each other through a ritual of chants, dances and postures, and the delight in his son Ethan's eyes the first time he heard a brass band play. When he took Ethan to New Orleans once for Mardi Gras, he told teachers they were attending a religious ceremony (a not entirely fraudulent excuse).


"I'd thought for quite some time about a series about New Orleans, a drama based in American roots music," said Mr. Simon. "But obviously it gave it a political relevance when Katrina happened. And it gave us the opportunity to get in a room and talk about doing this kind of a show with executives in L.A."


It also lent the idea new meaning. "We want to consider," he said, "whether or not what is essential and rare and unique about New Orleans, and what it provides the American character, is going to survive in a form that is self-sustaining and organic, not just a museum piece."


Mr. Simon takes on a daunting task in capturing the not well understood and somewhat insular subcultures he's chosen as his focus. With any success, he can achieve something mightier too—an understanding of the essential role musicians play in New Orleans's social order and recovery, as well as the embattled position they often find themselves in. Mr. Simon, a master at portraying systematic dysfunction, will no doubt turn a lens on the curious and combative relationship between the city's culture bearers and its power brokers. (In 2007, Social Aid & Pleasure Clubs took the city to federal court over raised permit fees, for instance; Mardi Gras Indian assemblies have suffered police intimidation.)


"Will David Simon's New Orleans-set series be too weird for the world?" asked the headline to an April column by New Orleans Times-Picayune television reporter Dave Walker. New Orleans is famously idiosyncratic, right down to how locals refer to the most mundane elements of life (paved street medians, for instance, are "neutral grounds"). "It's easy to get it terribly wrong," said Mr. Simon, "and terribly hard to get it right." It helps that Mr. Simon's frequent collaborator, and a co-creator of "Treme," Eric Overmyer, has owned a home in New Orleans for 20 years. Mr. Simon also hired Times-Picayune reporter Lolis Eric Elie, who co-produced the 2008 documentary "Faubourg Tremé: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans," and local author Tom Piazza for the writing staff.


Actor Wendell Pierce, who portrayed Bunk Moreland on "The Wire," was born and raised in the city's Pontchartrain Park neighborhood; he will portray trombonist Antoine Batiste, whose last name evokes one of the city's storied musical lineages. Clarke Peters (detective Lester Freamon on "The Wire") plays a Mardi Gras Indian Chief who is also a jazz musician: His scenes were vetted by Donald Harrison, a New Orleans native who straddles both worlds in real life. Davis Rogan, a pianist who once gave informal lessons to Mr. Simon's son, will share knowledge of local music history with actor Steve Zahn, who plays a local DJ and music enthusiast. And Mr. Ruffins, fedora askew, bandana peeking out beneath it, will get significant screen time. ("There wasn't any use in casting someone else," Mr. Simon said with a laugh. "Only Kermit can play Kermit.")


'This won't be 'The Wire' with a better soundtrack," Mr. Simon said. "It's a completely different animal." Yet in one significant way he seems to be extending his previous theme. "We just want to create a drama about why the American city matters," he said. This time around, the answer centers on culture, which represents an entirely new, perhaps transformative, storyline. And about that soundtrack: It's guaranteed to swing like nothing ever has on TV.


Mr. Blumenfeld writes about jazz for the Journal.

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Thanks for posting. I am really looking forward to this, as will my wife when I tell her about it.

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I have a giant, throbbing HBO boner right now!!!!! I love "The Wire" (truly the greatest show ever made... and I love my TV) and I had no idea this was even in the works. I can tell you that this stands to be nothing less than a series that will land somewhere between awesome and totally awesome.

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  • 2 months later...

Sad news.


David Mills Dead: 'The Wire' Writer Dies Days Before Premiere Of New Show 'Treme'


AP | 03/31/10 12:13 PM


NEW ORLEANS — An HBO spokesman says David Mills, a veteran television writer who worked on "ER" and "The Wire," has died in New Orleans.


HBO spokesman Diego Aldana says Mills died Tuesday night but didn't know the cause of death.


Mills also wrote for "The Corner" and "Homicide: Life on the Street" among other shows.


He is co-writer and co-executive producer of the new HBO series "Treme."


The drama is set to premiere April 11. The series is set in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and is being filmed in the city.

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Salon.com weighs in...


David Simon's magnificent, melancholy "Treme"


"The Wire" creator's passionate tour through post-Katrina New Orleans is TV storytelling as its finest


By Heather Havrilesky


Oh, New Orleans. For most Americans you're nothing but a Mardi Gras road trip or a drunk weekend at the Jazz Festival or a pleasant stop for Bloody Marys and étouffée on a cross-country tour. Even though we might have read a few Anne Rice novels or enjoyed Dr. John singing "Iko Iko" at Tipitina's or spent several weeks wandering your Spanish-moss-draped streets, most of us don't really know you that well, not really.


Then along comes David Simon to bring the joys and sorrows of New Orleans alive for us, once and for all. In their new HBO drama "Treme" (premieres 10 p.m. Sunday, April 11), Simon and co-creator Eric Overmyer offer up such an intimate portrait of this strange, soulful American city that watching it makes you feel as if you're there, mopping your brow over a cold beer in a dark corner bar, taking in a jazz band at a club, tapping your foot along with a parade on its streets. Suddenly, all the talk of the uniqueness of New Orleans culture, the passionate embrace of its music, the struggle to revive the Lower Ninth Ward and bring its natives back home in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, all of it comes together and you can feel the heartbreak of this city, from the second-line parade that opens the first 80-minute episode to the slow funeral procession that ends it.


"Treme" epitomizes the sort of great storytelling we all thirst for on TV but rarely find. We meet characters briefly but want to know more about them. There's Janette (Kim Dickens), a chef who's struggling to keep her restaurant open in the wake of Katrina; Antoine (Wendell Pierce, Bunk from "The Wire"), a trombone player who's living hand to mouth, taking gigs just to pay for the cab that brought him across town; Davis (Steve Zahn), an idealistic radio DJ who balances ambition and fantasy with an underlying hunger for sticking it to the man; Albert (Clarke Peters), a musician who returns to New Orleans alone despite his son and daughter's urging him to move on. ("Just wait. When the insurance settles ..." Albert tells them, but we know how that's likely to turn out.)


These characters may sound familiar on the page, but they're strikingly original in the midst of the chattering, buzzing realism of "Treme." Each rambling moment of easy talk between these natives, each quiet pause of reflection on how their lives have been frayed or broken by the flood, adds up to a visceral experience of their disappointments and hopes. Simon and Overmyer unveil each character's path slowly, treating us to fragments of their lives that feel authentic, then weaving these threads into a cohesive whole that has an emotional impact beyond the sum of its parts.


"How's your house?" Janette's sous chef Jacques (Ntare Mwine) asks her. "Don't ask me about my fucking house," she replies. We can only imagine, and we're left to imagine, until the story winds back around to her. In the meantime, here's legendary trumpet player Kermit Ruffins playing to a packed crowd at a club; here's Albert sweeping up an abandoned bar in the middle of the night; here's Creighton (John Goodman), an English professor, raging to a camera crew about the unthinkable negligence of the U.S. government; here's Creighton's lawyer wife, Toni (Melissa Leo), investigating the disappearance of a man in police custody after the storm hit; here's Davis, lamenting that his boss at the radio station would expect him to air "Iko Iko" and other overplayed New Orleans greatest hits during the station's pledge drive.


These are characters who can't fix what's broken, but who still keep struggling for redemption or salvation or justice or just a little peace of mind:


"I married a goddamn musician. Ain't no way to make that shit right," says Ladonna (Khandi Alexander) of Antoine, her ex.


"This is not a natural disaster, this is a man-made fucking catastrophe of epic proportions!" shouts Creighton to anyone who'll listen.


"Play for that money, boys. Play for it," Antoine tells his fellow horn players right before they put their instruments to their lips.


"Treme" concerns itself with survival -- of a culture, a city, of downtrodden individuals -- but it also dares to explore the highs and lows of a passionate life. The series captures the romance of those fleeting moments when your whole existence rests on a few staccato notes, tripping out across a crowded room, but also digs into the dark times when you can't afford to pay your utility bill or buy a sandwich for lunch. This fragile balance, walking the line between creative rapture and destitution, not only personifies the artist's life, but reflects the at once ethereal and impoverished nature of New Orleans itself. Even in a few of the clunkier scenes, where Creighton's daughter laments the unbearable oppression of Catholic School or Davis sticks it to the man by stealing his CDs back from a closed-down Tower Records, some struggle to transcend the ordinary can be found.


And if the residents of New Orleans, from the very wealthy to the very poor, have something in common, it may be this shared drive to achieve something richer and more satisfying than the average life. Likewise, Simon and Overmyer's characters want to shrug off the rules of the straight world and follow their bliss wherever it leads, whether to the jam session or the poorhouse, if that's what it takes. In fact, Davis, Zahn's utterly convincing slacker DJ, may be the most ambitious of the lot, since ambition for the rest of these characters means doing something that feels right, that feels worthwhile. When Davis tries to get Kermit Ruffins to introduce himself to Elvis Costello (who came to hear him play) and Kermit shrugs it off, Davis is incredulous.


Davis: You're just standing there and telling me that all you want to do is get high, play some trumpet and barbecue in New Orleans your whole damn life?"


Kermit: That'll work. (Laughing.)


Davis: God, man, I mean that's just so sad.


But nothing feels sad about Kermit's satisfaction with the gifts he's been given. That spirit pervades "Treme" and reflects some rare, essential quality shared by its characters, no matter what kind of dire situation they're in or how bitter they might be about their circumstances at times.


As you'd expect from David Simon, "Treme" is big and rambling and ambitious, but not every single scene is pure genius. As with any attempt to capture such a wide range of experiences, particularly one that sometimes features non-actors, there are one or two awkward scenes in each episode. Nonetheless, Simon's almost experimental willingness to throw everything but the kitchen sink into his dramatic gumbo, when taken together with the romantically ramshackle setting, the unmatchable cast, the infectious music, conspire to make this epic tale feel intimate and humble. Most of all, the scenes where musicians play songs together -- and people gather, dancing through the dusty streets unself-consciously -- give this snapshot of New Orleans such immediacy that when it ends and the credits roll, you can hardly believe that you don't live there.


"Treme" is a true gift, a way to finally appreciate and embrace one of our most beloved but neglected cities. Sure, we're just a bunch of outsiders, but this drama has captured our hearts and now we're in love -- silly, awestruck, enchanted, sobbing, swooning love. "Treme" will do it to you, too. Just you wait.

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Really enjoyed the premiere (had to watch it a day late via on-demand). Not a whole lot of storytelling yet -- just establishing characters -- but they've created quite a foundation on which to build. This episode definitely whetted my appetite for more.

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That scene where Clarke Peters (don't know his characters name yet) is marching down the road in the Mardi Gras indian gear to visit his old friend is one of those classic David Simon scenes that is really just spellbinding and haunting. So great.


I just really hope Steve Zahn playing the "typical Steve Zahn role" is not going to be a continued focus of the show. Quite painful and unlikable. Love the walkons of the locals and musicians (especially Kermit Ruffin's scenes).


I'm sure fans following the Treme news know... but the John Goodman character is based on a professor at DePaul named Ashley Morris who passed away two years ago...

Ashley Morris blog

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I just really hope Steve Zahn playing the "typical Steve Zahn role" is not going to be a continued focus of the show. Quite painful and unlikable.

:lol I actually kind of like Steve Zahn, but I agreed with my girlfriend's comment on that role (so far): "It's too ... Steve Zahn."

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That scene where Clarke Peters (don't know his characters name yet) is marching down the road in the Mardi Gras indian gear to visit his old friend is one of those classic David Simon scenes that is really just spellbinding and haunting. So great.


Ashley Morris blog


I like it so far. It is kind of what I thought it would be... resilient people in extraordinary situations, dealing with the day-to-day of their world...NOT overly dramatic. Which is, as stated above, classic Simon.


that scene was great, but made me laugh.

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Another great episode. Starting to come around on Steve Zahn's character. Especially since I've since read that he is actually toned down a bit from the person he is based on... Davis Rogan.


Huge crush on Annie the fiddler. Was hoping Sonny/Annie wouldn't be Zach Bowen/Addie Hall, but it's looking more and more like it is.

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