David Simon addresses Cologne Conference

'The Wire' creator discusses thinking behind 'Treme'

COLOGNE, Germany -- After more than a decade in television with some of the most critically acclaimed productions under his belt, writer David Simon -- creator of "The Wire" and HBO's new series "Treme" - is still chasing the big WHY?

"I understand that film and TV are art forms but I'm not interested in the art, I'm interested in the argument," said Simon, speaking at German TV festival and confab the Cologne Conference on Wednesday. "My interests are journalistic -- about using narrative as a device to ask the big why questions. Such as why is society structured the way it is?"

Calling his brand of small screen drama "the antithesis of TV," Simon acknowledged series like "The Wire" would be impossible to make on network television "where you have to break off every 12 minutes to convince the viewers to buy some more sh*t," he quipped. "I only started taking the medium of television seriously when they got rid of the ads" with the advent of premium pay TV.

Simon's new HBO series, "Treme," which premiered in April, is set in New Orleans, a city even more infamous for crime and political corruption than the urban Baltimore depicted in "The Wire." But in "Treme," Simon's primary interest is not drugs, cops or crime but culture, particularly New Orleans' vibrant and resilient music scene.

"What brought New Orleans back after Hurricane Katrina wasn't political will, it wasn't the nation coming together to help, which sure as hell didn't happen, it was culture," he said. "Does the term 'American culture' seem funny to you guys?" Simon asked the crowd of German media professionals. "It doesn't roll off the tongue. But in many ways it is still a delight to be an American and one of the main reasons is our approach to culture, to the mutt culture we have."

HBO currently has a two-season order for "Treme" but Simon said his plan is for the series to extend over a total of five seasons, matching the run of "The Wire." That might be a tall order, giving "Treme's" ratings, which have hovered below 1 million viewers since its debut.

"My audience is still marginal, I'm fighting for my life," he admitted. "But the DVD of the first season still isn't out yet and the soundtrack just came out. So we'll see how well they do. If HBO sees potential in the series, hopefully we get renewed."