Cologne Conference to honor David Simon

'Treme' bows in Europe at German TV fest

In the detritus of reality TV, Fox News and lowest-common-denominator sitcoms, the small screen work of David Simon shines likes a hard-edged diamond. By defying -- or simply ignoring -- the commercial demands of television fiction, the creator and head writer of HBO's "The Wire," "Generation Kill" and "Treme" has carved out a niche of smart, challenging work that defies conventions of both traditional narrative and economic necessity.

"I'm in television by accident," Simon acknowledges. "My interest is in having a dialectic, maybe even an argument, about the status quo. That's what I'm interested in. That's why I'm doing this. The point is not entertainment."

"Treme," Simon's latest series, is set in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Critically lauded after its U.S. debut in April, "Treme" will have its European premiere at German TV fest the Cologne Conference (Sept. 26-Oct. 1). But for Simon, the only audience that matters is in the Big Easy.

"When I wrote 'Generation Kill,' I wrote it for recon Marines that went into Iraq," he says. "For 'Treme,' the only opinion that counts is that of the people that have lived through the events that I describe. [Co-creator] Eric Overmyer has lived here for a couple of decades. And we hired committed New Orleans writers. We didn't hire from the industry and then ask them to set their s*** in New Orleans."

Simon, along with the writers and creators of "The Sopranos" and "Mad Men," is often cited in editorials proclaiming a new golden age of television. But the writer is more prosaic. After a 13-year career as a crime reporter in Baltimore, Simon is sufficiently cynical about the extent to which journalism, or art, can change the world.

"I would love it if after five seasons (of 'The Wire'), we'd come to a national consensus and see that the war on drugs is a massive fraud and a waste of money," he says. "But I know I don't have any control over that. All I want is to come to the campfire with a story that's worth telling and to tell that story in a way that is true, or as close an approximation of the truth as possible. With an issue that we ought -- we need -- to connect with."