Page last updated at 09:45 GMT, Saturday, 29 August 2009 10:45 UK

Wire writer says adverts kill TV

David Simon
David Simon appeared at the Edinburgh International TV Festival

The creator of highly-acclaimed hard-hitting TV drama The Wire has said television can only be worthwhile when freed from the constraints of advertising.

David Simon was appearing at the Edinburgh International TV Festival.

He said: "Television as a medium, in terms of being literate and telling stories, has short-changed itself since its inception.

"That is because of advertising."

Simon, whose work originates on US subscription cable channel HBO, said: "Only when television managed to liberate itself from the economic construct of advertising was there a real emancipation of story.

"American television up until the point of premium cable was about the interruptions every 13 minutes to sell you cars and jeans and whatever else."

Sell products

He said the adverts became more important than the show.

"You had to bring the most number of eyeballs to that show and that meant dumbing down and making plots simple, gratifying people within the hour."

He said they achieved this through the use of sex and "more stuff that blows up".

Simon said HBO gave him 58 minutes where he was not interrupted by the need to sell products.

That meant he could concentrate on developing the story.

Simon, who appeared at an event hosted by TV critic Charlie Brooker, also said that ratings were of little importance to him.

"I don't need everyone to watch," he said.

"If you want to do your laundry and watch The Wire, or if you leave the room or carry on a conversation, I'm going to lose you.

"I did lose those people and it was OK.

"HBO did not need the maximum number of eyeballs in every show."

HBO came to the conclusion ratings no longer mattered
David Simon

He added: "If everybody has to watch a show then it can't really say anything.

"At some point you have to believe the story, not believe in the audience."

He added that there were now a number of ways by which people could watch his programmes.

"In the fifth season we got the worst ratings ever and more people were watching the show," Simon said.

"Nobody was tuning in to watch the premiere on a Sunday night.

"They were getting it on demand or they were waiting for the DVDs or they were getting it illegally off the bit torrent sites on the web.

"HBO came to the conclusion ratings no longer mattered. TV had become, at this level, a lending library. How you measure the impact of the show is a hard thing to do," he said.

Simon, who claims not to be a TV person despite his success, said that The Wire had not changed anything in his home town of Baltimore.

"I don't think there's been an impact one way or another," he said.

"I bring a true story to the campfire and then move on. That's enough."

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