Having said all that, the show is very conscious of trying to bring in African-American writers. I tell agents in Hollywood, don't send me scripts unless they're by African-American writers. From the moment the show was conceived, I asked David Mills to produce it with me. I would have loved to have his voice in the show—not just because he's African-American but because he can write the hell out of it. A young writer named Joy Lusco did a few episodes. Kia Corthron, the African-American playwright (Breath, Boom), penned a fine episode for us this year. We've been trying to leaven the writers' room in that way. But it's a very hard show to write, as you can imagine. It's not as if all these scripts came in from agents, and we read them and think, "Based on this spec script from NYPD Blue, I'm confident I'll get what we need." You're looking for people who've worked on this level before, and when you find them, you beg them to help out.
We have done better in having an African-American hand in some of our crew departments and in directing. Nobody has directed more episodes than Ernest Dickerson—he's Spike Lee's former cinematographer. We've also broken someone: Anthony Hemingway, AD, directed our first episode last year. And now we may not be able to get him back, he's got so much work.
It's our hope—this is a little premature—to get Spike Lee for the first episode next year. He said he was interested last year, but we had some miscommunication. His agent said he wasn't available. We are very conscious of the race disparity. We look around the room and see, oh shit, we're a bunch of white guys! But you look at what Price and Pelecanos and Lehane and Burns have done. … We're not trying to exclude in any sense, and it's not a good-old-boy network, because some of these people never met before this show.
Slate: Can you tell us a little about Season 5?
Simon: Yes, the last season. The last theme is basically asking the question, why aren't we paying attention? If we got everything right in the last four seasons in depicting this city-state, how is it that these problems—which have been attendant problems regardless of who is in power—how is it that they endure? That brings into mind one last institution, which is the media. What are we paying attention to? What are we telling ourselves about ourselves? A lot of people think that we're going to impale journalists. No. It's not quite that. What stories do we want to hear? How closely do they relate to truth; how distant are they from the truth? We have a story idea about media and consumers of media. What stories get told and what don't and why it is that things stay the same.
What's happened to the Baltimore Sun locally is what has happened to that whole second tier of journalism—below the New York Times and the Washington Post: They're being eviscerated by price per share. There used to be 500 reporters; now there are 300. They keep telling us they can do the same job, they just need to be more effective. Bullshit. Five hundred reporters is 500; 300 is 300; you can't cover the city the same way with fewer people.
I don't want it to become onanistic. Obviously, I have a lot of memories of the Baltimore Sun. One thing I've always hated about TV portrayal of media is that it's always unfeeling assholes throwing microphones in the face of someone as he comes down City Hall steps.
I'll tell you a story. We had a press conference the first season. We staged it as a press conference really would be: a small room, some empty chairs. TV reporters are looking at print reporters to see what they ask; there is a pile of dope on the table; there is no sense of urgency. That is the way it always was. This was one of the only [production] notes we got [from HBO] the first season: What's up with that press conference? It looked so fake. At the time, I didn't have enough credibility with HBO to argue with the note, but I said Carolyn [Strauss, president of entertainment at HBO], you're raised on too much TV press.
The low end of journalism is not what concerns me. It's not that sensational stuff I'm worried about. It's that there may be no high end anymore, that the kind of thing journalists once aspired to, especially in the Washington Post-Watergate era, may no longer exist.