Tag Archives: Show Me a Hero

The Wire’s David Simon seeks a hero for HBO

David Simon, creator of The Wire, exposes tensions at the heart of an American city in a new HBO miniseries that chimes with today’s society. Michael Pickard reports.

Across five seasons, his acclaimed drama The Wire exposed the fraught relationships the police have in dealing with the drug trade, government and the media in the city of Baltimore.

For his next project, David Simon continues to examine society by turning his attention to themes of home, race and community as shown through the lives of citizens, politicians and activists in Yonkers, New York State.

Show Me a Hero, set generations after the civil rights struggle of the 1960s, follows the young mayor of a mid-sized American city that is facing a federal court order to build a small number of low-income housing units in his town’s white neighbourhoods.

David Simon (right) on set with director Paul Haggis
David Simon (right) on set with Show Me a Hero director Paul Haggis

His attempt to do so tears the city apart, paralyses the local government and ultimately destroys his career.

Oscar Isaac stars as the mayor, Nick Wasicsko, alongside Alfred Molina, Catherine Keener, Winona Ryder, LaTanya Richardson, Bob Balaban and Peter Riegert.

The six-part miniseries, which launches on HBO this Sunday, is based on the non-fiction book of the same name by Lisa Belkin and is directed by Paul Haggis (Crash). The executive producers are Simon, Haggis, Nina K Noble, Gail Mutrux and William F Zorzi.

It was Mutrux who first suggested adapting Simon’s book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, which led to long-running NBC series Homicide: Life on the Streets.

So when she gave Simon a copy of Show Me a Hero, he picked it up. “I thought Show Me a Hero offered a perfect storm of a narrative about our enduring racial and class pathologies and the not-in-my-back-yard, don’t-tread-on-me sensibilities of modern libertarian and neoliberal politics,” Simon explains. “This is the grievous state of the American political dialectic, in which the only two operant currencies seem to be greed and fear.”

After Simon shared the book with Zorzi – a veteran political reporter who worked with Simon at the Baltimore Sun newspaper as well as on The Wire – the pair realised the story depicts exactly how government works in America.

“Or doesn’t (work),” Simon adds. “The American obsession with race and class – and the political uses of greed and fear – is still very much our national paradigm. We are getting better, slowly and inexorably, generation by generation. But there is much work still to be done to reconcile many Americans to the idea of a desegregated society, to power sharing, to the very idea that all of us must share in the same national future.

“It’s going to be going on for a good long while, but integration itself – and the inevitable emergence of a stronger black and Latino middle class – is going to change more and more minds, particularly among younger Americans who come to the debate with less baggage.”

Zorzi adapted Belkin’s book after immersing himself in the history of Yonkers, pulling together key stories and characters across the drama’s six-hour running time.

Show Me a Hero has been adapted from the book of the same name by Lisa Belkin
Show Me a Hero has been adapted from the book of the same name by Lisa Belkin. It stars Oscar Isaac (right)

“He has been the creative flame here, script-wise, and I have had the benefit of beginning with enough material for 10 or 12 hours,” Simon says.

“My job has been to tighten and reshape some of the story arcs so that they fit within the time we have, and to prioritise the material and find shorthand ways of explaining, or at least acknowledging, complex political realities and nuances.

“For me, it’s been tricky. For (Zorzi), it’s a little bit of torture to see how much fits and how much doesn’t, how much of the complicated politics and history of what happened in Yonkers can be referenced, and how much must be glanced at or omitted.

“We did our best. We’ve known each other and worked with each other for 30 years now. We trust each other as a team, although that doesn’t mean we didn’t argue, or that Bill didn’t worry about the details, or that I could let the narrative wander too far into tall grass.”

Meanwhile, Simon says Haggis, who has experience working in both film and television, fitted the bill in his search for a director who could “believe in a story that had very little sex, gunplay or broad humour.”

He adds: “I needed a director to believe it was a worthy and necessary journey to examine politics as it is practiced on the municipal level, race as it plays out on the street level and class as perhaps the most divisive and misunderstood force in American life.

“This is about a coming reckoning in the American future: are we a society, or is it every man for himself? Do we all share in the same collective national narrative, or are there separate stories for those at the margins? And, practically, Paul shoots a bit more poetically and elegantly than I am used to, and I write a more quotidian and low-to-the-ground script than he might.

“The collaboration was good in that he pushed me to allow some better measure of honest emotion into what could have been a dry political narrative, and maybe I pushed him to tolerate some dialogue that wasn’t clean or rounded, that was a bit in the gutter but still glancing up at the stars every now and again, to misquote Oscar Wilde. Our differences fostered good debate and, ultimately, some compromises that I think served the work very well.”

'This is about a coming reckoning in the American future: are we a society, or is it every man for himself? ' – Simon
‘This is about a coming reckoning in the American future: are we a society, or is it every man for himself? ‘ – Simon

It’s been a long road to bring Show Me a Hero to the screen. Simon first began working on the project some 15 years ago, but was delayed when The Wire was picked up and again when he adapted Evan Wright’s book Generation Kill, which HBO wanted on air as close as possible to the Iraq War events it depicted.

Then came Treme, a series about musicians set in a New Orleans recovering from the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina.

But Simon credits Kary Antholis, president of HBO Miniseries, with recognising that despite the delays, the story Show Me a Hero has to tell would still be extremely relevant to contemporary America.

“What happened in Yonkers, as a political and social allegory, remained pretty damn timeless,” he says. “When we came back to Show Me a Hero, we would still be landing it on a country that would still be travelling the same hard road. Recent events in Ferguson, Baltimore and Charleston make this all too clear.

“That said, we pulled an incredible cast. And god love them all for committing to an ensemble drama in which, to overuse a phrase with which I am somewhat associated, all the pieces matter. Oscar Isaac is ascendant right now as an actor and he has his choice of scripts and projects. That he saw the value and importance of telling Nick Wasicsko’s story to present-day America is just so damn admirable to me.

“As someone who always feels ill at ease in the entertainment industry, this is why I get up in the morning – imagining something that isn’t merely entertainment but is instead a chance to dramatise the actual fault lines in our society and to do so on a scale that is careful, plausible and human. The same ambition appealed to a lot of our actors and I’m incredibly grateful for it.”

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On the up down under

Stateless marks Cate Blanchett's directorial debut
Stateless marks Cate Blanchett’s directorial debut
Dozens of Aussie screenwriters will be dusting off their computer keyboards following the news that Screen Australia has greenlit A$640,000 (US$474,241) of development funding for 23 films and television series.

The project that has caught the attention of the international media is Stateless, which will be directed by Oscar-winning actor Cate Blanchett. Described by Screen Australia as Blanchett’s “first venture into high-end TV,” it tells the true story of Cornelia Rau, a young German-Australian who escaped a frightening cult, only to be trapped in a bizarre labyrinth of psychiatric and legal systems.

NBCUniversal-owned production company Matchbox Pictures will produce Stateless, which is based on a screenplay written by Elise McCredie. McCredie has a long and varied track record as an actress, but her first big hit as a writer was Nowhere Boys, a teen series that was also produced by Matchbox.

First airing on ABC3 in 2013, the show was successful enough to secure a renewal and to be adapted as a feature film (Book of Shadows). Sold internationally by NBCUniversal, it has also aired in the UK and Canada.

The other projects backed by Screen Australia include works from Bryan Brown and Rachel Ward, Richard Roxburgh, Marieke Hardy, Jan Chapman, Stephan Elliott and Bondi Hipsters’ Nicholas Boshier. However, the only other high-end television drama to secure Screen Australia funding this month is Trust – a drama based on a journalist’s mission to expose a shadowy movement cloaked in conspiracy theories and deception.

Trust’s writing team consists of Sarah Lambert, Blake Ayshford and Kris Mrksa. Lambert’s standout credit to date is Love Child, a critical and ratings success for Channel 9 and Playmaker in 2014.

Sarah Lambert is part of a team of writers on Trust
Sarah Lambert is part of a team of writers on Trust

Ayshford has written episodes for a number of shows including The Beautiful Lie, Nowhere Boys, Devil’s Playground, The Code and Crownies, while Mrksa’s credits include Underbelly, The Slap and Glitch.

The latter is a six-parter that started airing on ABC1 this month. Pursuing a familiar theme, it focuses on a policeman who is called to his local cemetery in the middle of the night after six people have inexplicably risen from the dead in perfect health.

Nerida Moore, senior development executive at Screen Australia, said: “The titles we’ve announced reflect a really exciting slate of projects and associated talent. They’re very individual in approach and each will have its own unique creative journey ahead. The recent changes to our Story Development Guidelines reflect our appreciation for the individual creative process and the ongoing need for flexibility in the ways we offer support. We look forward to seeing more innovation and imagination as these projects flourish.”

Elsewhere, Endemol Shine Studios has acquired the English-language reversion rights to Follow the Money, a new thriller from Danmarks Radio (DR) that is set in the world of economic crime. The deal follows an earlier adaptation success for DR’s The Killing (aka Forbrydelsen) and comes despite the fact that Follow the Money doesn’t air in Denmark until January 2016.

The original series was created by Jeppe Gjervig Gram, one of the three writers on Borgen, writing a total of 14 out of the 30 episodes. His partners on Borgen were Adam Price, who recently co-founded production company SAM, and Tobias Lindholm.

“This is yet another compelling series from DR, and we’re looking forward to developing it for the American audience in partnership with the very talented team at Anonymous Content,” said Charlie Corwin, co-chairman and co-CEO of Endemol Shine North America.

The Wire's David Simon is working on Show Me a Hero for HBO
The Wire’s David Simon is working on Show Me a Hero for HBO

Meanwhile, HBO has announced that its upcoming miniseries Show Me a Hero will debut on August 16. Starring Oscar Isaac, Catherine Keener, Alfred Molina, Winona Ryder, LaTanya Richardson-Jackson, Bob Balaban and Jim Belushi, the show is set in the 1980s and tells the story of a young mayor of a mid-sized American city who is faced with a federal court order that says he must build a small number of low-income housing units in the white neighbourhoods of his town. His attempt to do so tears the entire city apart, paralyses the municipal government and, ultimately, destroys the mayor and his political future.

Written by David Simon (The Wire, Treme), Show Me a Hero is based on a non-fiction book by Lisa Belkin that explores the issue of racial segregation in Yonkers, in the state of New York.

Simon said: “The story appeals to me not merely as political history, but because the question in Yonkers in 1987 was the same one that we face today. Are all of us – those with and those without, white, black or brown – are we all sharing some portion of the same national experience? Or is the American Dream something other than that?”

The director is Paul Haggis (Crash), who says: “Frankly, I have long desired to be a part of anything David Simon does. If he had asked me to direct a history of footwear, that’s what we would be discussing now. Luckily, it was a part of our history that intrigued me, largely because it isn’t history at all, but an exploration of issues that remain at the core of the American narrative.”

In last week’s Hit & Miss, we looked at some of the titles that have garnered a high number of Emmy nominations. Today, we are giving a shout out to the writers nominated.

In Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series, the contenders are Joshua Brand (The Americans), Gordon Smith (Better Call Saul), David Benioff and DB Weiss (Game of Thrones), Matthew Weiner and Semi Chellas (Mad Men) and Weiner alone (for Mad Men again).

Jane Anderson's work on Olive Kitteridge has earned her an Emmy nomination
Jane Anderson’s work on Olive Kitteridge has earned her an Emmy nomination

The sentimentalist vote would surely favour Weiner, to mark the end of Mad Men. But he will be hard pushed to see off Game of Thrones, which is nominated for the final episode of season five (Mother’s Mercy).

In Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series, Movie or Dramatic Special, the nominees include John Ridley (American Crime), Dee Rees, Christopher Cleveland, Bettina Glois and Horton Foote (Bessie), Stephen Merchant, Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg (Hello Ladies), Hugo Blick (The Honorable Woman), Jane Anderson (Olive Kitteridge) and Peter Straughan (Wolf Hall).

Despite the dearth of women in these two line-ups, Anderson has a good chance of winning. An industry veteran, she boasts credits ranging from The Wonder Years and How to Make an American Quilt to Mad Men.

She gave an interesting interview to HBO recently in which she discussed the challenges of adapting Olive Kitteridge from its source novel by Elizabeth Strout. “It took a long time for me to solve this as an adaptation,” she said. “Because HBO’s work is known for its edginess, we talked about how we make this very brilliant novel about older people in a small town in Maine sexy. What will make this different? What will give this edge?

“I tried an outline where we started backwards and we went back in time, and it didn’t work. Then I tried it starting with the suicide scene. It’s just three minutes of screen time that assure the audience that something really drastic is going to happen down the line. When you add stakes like that, everybody can just friggin’ relax and I can tell the story. I can just unwind it. You need that in television and you need that in a miniseries.”

Xena: Warrior Princess star Lucy Lawless has quashed speculation of a reboot
Xena: Warrior Princess star Lucy Lawless has quashed speculation of a reboot

At the other end of the spectrum with regard to female characterisation, actress Lucy Lawless has played down speculation that her iconic series Xena: Warrior Princess is undergoing a reboot at NBC. Sam Raimi was reported to be involved but Lawless later described it as a “rumour.”

She Tweeted: “Sorry, friends! News of a #Xena reboot is just a rumour. I’d love it to happen one day but it’s still in the wishful thinking stage.”

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