HBO Orders Two David Simon Pilots, James Franco to Star In Porn Drama

James Franco, David Simon Split – H 2015
AP Images

James Franco, David Simon Split – H 2015

HBO will remain in the David Simon business.

The premium cable network has ordered two new pilots from creator of The Wire and Treme. The first, a 1970s/'80s porn drama titled The Deuce, has snagged boldface names James Franco and Breaking Bad’s Michelle MacLaren as the potential series' star and director, respectively. The second series, a political drama that’s still untitled, is set in the present-day world of Capitol Hill and will provide a detailed examination of partisanship and the influence of money on national governance.

"We are thrilled to continue our longstanding relationship with preeminent producer David Simon, whose keen eye and visceral perspective on today’s socio-economic ills have set him apart from all others," said HBO programming president Michael Lombardo of a relationship that’s spanned 17 years and five critically acclaimed projects. "No one else creates with such authenticity, integrity and brilliant realism. We are so fortunate to support David’s efforts and to reap the benefits of his distinctive voice."

The Deuce, which will begin filming in New York in October, follows the story of the legalization and subsequent rise of the porn industry in New York of the early 1970s and continues through the mid-1980s. The long-in-the-works entry will explore the rough-and-tumble world that existed in midtown Manhattan until the rise of HIV, the violence of the cocaine epidemic and the renewed real estate market all ended the bawdy turbulence. Named for 42nd Street, The Deuce is inspired in part by the career of twin brothers who were players in the Times Square world and became fronts for Mob control of the volatile and lucrative sex industry from its origins.

"We’re interested in what it means when profit is the primary metric for what we call society. In that sense, this story is intended as neither prurient nor puritan. It’s about a product, and those human beings who created, sold, profited from and suffered with that product," added Simon, with writer and long-time collaborator George Pelecanos, who worked with Simon on both The Wire and Treme, adding: "Porn, prostitution, pimps, the Mob, after-hours nightlife, institutional corruption, and New York in its Wild West heyday ... it’s a world rich in character, and a fascinating story we’re eager to tell."

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter earlier this summer, Simon acknowledged that he and Pelecanos had been hesitant to take on the project when they first heard from one of their Treme location managers. "George and I looked at each other and said, 'I don’t wanna make a porn show. … I’m married with kids and lawn furniture. I don’t want to go there, man. That’s dark,' recalled Simon. But curiosity got the best of them, and Simon and Pelecanos agreed to meet with the subject. When he and his stories were indeed fascinating, the duo decided to continue exploring that world. As is always the case with Simon, a longtime journalist turned showrunner, that process entailed heavy research.

Franco, whose lengthy, varied resúmé also includes a forthcoming Hulu limited series, 11/22/63, is slated to play both twins. Simon and Pelecanos have penned the pilot, with Richard Price (Clockers, The Color of Money) also credited on subsequent scripts. Simon, Pelecanos, Price, MacLaren and Franco will serve as executive producers, alongside longtime Simon collaborator Nina K. Noble. Marc Henry Johnson (A Huey P. Newton Story), who was instrumental in documenting the story, is also a producer.

The second pilot is a collaboration between Simon and journalist Carl Bernstein (All the President’s Men), who will co-produce. Ed Burns, Simon’s co-writer and producer on The Wire, William F. Zorzi, a former Baltimore Sun political writer who collaborated with Simon on his upcoming miniseries Show Me a Hero, and Noble, who has co-produced all of Simon’s previous HBO fare, are also attached to the Capitol Hill project. The latter is a more recent idea, and remains a work in progress.

The pair of projects come as Simon and his Blown Deadline Productions prepare to launch Show Me a Hero — about a public-housing policy dispute in Yonkers, New York, that divided a city along class lines and destroyed the career of an idealistic mid-sized city mayor — on Aug. 16. The six-hour mini, directed by Paul Haggis and starring Ex Machina’s Oscar Isaac, earned heavy praise from THR’s Tim Goodman, who wrote: "While it might seem that Show Me A Hero (taken from the F. Scott Fitzgerald quote, 'Show me a hero and I'll write you a tragedy') has a distinct 'eat your vegetables' aroma to it, what becomes apparent when you settle down to watch is the unmistakable lure of being hooked by the storytelling and the first-class acting. This is a miniseries, rolled out in double episodes on three consecutive Sundays, that not only rewards viewers for the time they invest, but also gives them a glimpse of what could earn a very generous haul of Emmy nominations next year."