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Post-katrina new orleans back in the spotlight

April 7, 2010

Thanks to the efforts of David Simon, creator of HBO’s critically acclaimed series “The Wire”, New Orleans is going to be back in the cultural spotlight with his new series for HBO “Treme”.

Simon examines one of the most unique cultures in America by looking at the lives of a diverse array of characters trying to rebuild their lives three months after Katrina.

Music, quite rightly, given the contribution New Orleans has made to American music, is the center of Simon’s story and almost a character in its own right. The show features famous New Orleans musicians Dr John and Kermit Ruffins.

Kermit Ruffins on Trumpet
Kermit Ruffins

Beyond music, Simon has a keen eye and ear for detail and seeks to blend the factual with the fictional. He also wants to make it feel right and authentic to the place. as proved with “The Wire”, he has an incredible ear for local dialogue and works hard to get it New Orleans right. He described the process in a recent interview on NPR’s Fresh Air.

One of the things we did right away, in addition to Eric [Overmyer], we brought in Tom Piazza and Lolis Ellie— who are local writers — as ballast to try and make sure the writing
staff and the writing room had strong local representation. But at the
same time, I wouldn’t have wanted everyone in that room to be from New
Orleans even if we could have managed that — because in some ways, the
city’s very seductive. And you can fall in love with a lot of its
charms and idiosyncrasies and not be asking yourself the hard questions
that drama sometimes requires. And so, actually it was the dynamic of
people from New Orleans interacting with George Pelecanos or David Mills in the writer’s room, who are outsiders and who are
acquiring the culture cold. That’s really what gave the piece more
gravitas and what helped us ground it.”

David Simon is clearly a darling of the critics and is certainly the man to get New Orleans noticed again, with HBO a favorite of the cultural elite it might just have the right ingredients to propel New Orleans back into the conversation, but it remains to be seen if mainstream America still cares about the city that’s the birthplace of much of its culture.

Posted by Ed Cotton

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