Page last updated at 11:52 GMT, Sunday, 31 May 2009 12:52 UK

Writer's delight at The Wire reaction

David Simon (right) with actor Wendell Pierce, of The Wire
David Simon (right) with actor Wendell Pierce, of The Wire, spoke about the audience reaction

David Simon, creator and writer of The Wire admitted he was delighted and more than a little puzzled by the reception to the show in the UK.

"What's happened in the UK with that show is inexplicable to me," he told an audience at the Hay Festival in mid Wales.

"America can hardly understand that show - and it's about us."

"American dystopia pitches better, the further away you get from home."

Although shown on satellite and cable, the five series of the show are currently being aired on terrestrial TV for the first time, on BBC Two.

Set in Simon's home city Baltimore, the 60-hour series centres on the inner workings of the police and drugs gangs, while also bringing in city hall politics, unions, the inner city school system and his own background, the newspaper industry.

Of the critical plaudits that have seen the series called "the greatest show on TV ever," he says, "it's all downhill from here, I should quit now."

Drug dealing

But he hasn't quit, and said he was due to start filming outside Baltimore for a series, Treme, set in New Orleans, post-Hurricane Katrina.

During his talk, he spoke about his time as a journalist, particularly a year spent embedded with the homicide department of Baltimore police, which is chronicled in the book Homicide.

It was "an assembly line of death investigation" and his approach was about "showing it rather than telling it," he explained.

That led to the book The Corner, after he and co-writer Ed Burns, a former police officer and teacher, observed drug-dealing in west Baltimore.

It eventually formed the background research which led to The Wire.

"There's a lot of America out there that doesn't know where the next pay cheque is coming from and there's great drama there," said Simon.

I didn't do it to give Baltimore a black eye, I live there and I'm not taking cheap shots at the place I live
David Simon

"It's a war on the poor, a war against the underclass, you capture a lot of that on the crime beat."

Of the complexities and the fact some story lines arc over five series, he said: "It's not important that everyone understands everything - and certainly not that they understand everything all at once."

Simon said because The Wire was on subscription channel HBO, he did not have to appease advertisers. Senior executives had told him "it's not about the numbers - that's insane talk in TV".

"They make their money off people, $20 a month... that means you can have dark, idiosyncratic programming. In network TV, the programming is there to wrap around the adverts."

He said the viewer had to spend time to work it out, and likened it to a tourist spending a few weeks in a foreign country, picking up the language gradually, not just passing through.

"A lot of network TV is on the tour bus," he said.

David Simon on the set of Treme
David Simon's next project is Treme, set in New Orleans, post-Hurricane Katrina

Simon admitted The Wire had not been appreciated in some political quarters in Baltimore, including by the mayor, where fact followed fiction and he became governor. And Simon attended a council meeting himself "as a resident" when the show was discussed, although not mentioned by name.

"I didn't do it to give Baltimore a black eye, I live there and I'm not taking cheap shots at the place I live."

He said the drama was watchable because "it's very careful to treat people in very basic human terms and show the nuances everyone has."

There was hope for characters touched by the drugs world, such as Cutty, Bubbles and Namond - "sometimes you catch a break and sometimes you make your own break."

But he said The Wire had had no real impact, apart from possibly opening a debate on the effectiveness of drugs policy.

"I'm able to say things bluntly about the war on drugs and have a few more people nod their heads, but there's no policy change."

As for journalism, Simon didn't see a future for newspapers in print, only online, but said he believed problems for the industry started before the internet was even "a gleam in the eye," with less investment in reporting.

"Wall Street saw that doing less journalism can make more money - you can make more money with a bad newspaper than a good newspaper... journalism has destroyed itself."

But Simon said blogging and 'citizen journalism' were no substitute.

"What blogger is going to spend 16 hours a day covering a crime beat? Journalism is a profession and you get paid for it."

He said he would pay for quality online news, similar to how satellite and cable works in TV.

"Someone is going to figure it out. Broadcast TV was free for 30 years, now people are paying for it."

The third series of The Wire will be shown on BBC Two in June.

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