Dear HBO: Please Give David Simon Money for the CIA Series He Wants to Make

Slate's Culture Blog
April 28 2014 3:32 PM

Dear HBO: Please Give David Simon Money for the CIA Series He Wants to Make


The CIA ID card of Allen Dulles, the agency's first civilian director, via Wikipedia

Max O’Connell of IndieWire attended a panel at the Tribeca Film Festival last Friday called “Stories by Numbers,” which featured David Simon, House of Cards creator Beau Willimon, Nate Silver, and Anne Thompson, and today his colleague Ken Guidry flagged a noteworthy highlight from O’Connell’s recap: Simon talked a bit more about his idea for a TV series that recounts the early history of the CIA.

Simon has mentioned this idea in interviews as far back as 2009, and, on his website, he has asked people with personal experience of the CIA’s early years to email his production company. But according to O’Connell’s write-up, if I understand Simon correctly, HBO has essentially told him that, for financial reasons, they’re not interested.

“I’ve got a story that I’d love to do,” Simon reportedly said, “which I’ve been working on for eight or nine years, which is the history of the CIA, which would basically be America’s foreign policy footprint.”

“But it’s 70 years of period-piece filming, it’s all over the world, there’s a lot of CGI. Scene I, Act I is Berlin after the war, in total wreckage. And HBO goes, ‘Listen, it was all fun when we were giving him $20 million and he was making The Wire and no one was watching, but do you take us for fools?’ They’re looking at what the plausible revenue stream [would be] with all the downloads and BitTorrent. The window of this Golden Age of Television might have a point where it snaps shut on your fingers, because we’re talking like a Hollywood studio. ‘Can we get James Franco? If we get James Franco, you can make it.’ ”

What a downer. (Simon also said that, in his opinion, The Wire would not survive for five seasons if it were airing today.) Here’s hoping that Simon’s comments prompt greater interest and they decide to take a chance on this. If you want to learn more about his idea for the series—which would apparently be adapted from Tim Weiner’s book Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA—check out the “In Development” section on Simon’s website. I’ve emailed Simon to ask about his experience pitching the series and will update this post if I hear back from him.

David Haglund is a senior editor at Slate. He runs Brow Beat, Slate's culture blog.


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