Aiming for authenticity

David Simon in New Orleans on the set of his show “Treme.’’ David Simon in New Orleans on the set of his show “Treme.’’ (Cheryl Gerber/Associated Press)
By Sarah Rodman
Globe Staff / April 9, 2010

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PASADENA, Calif. — After the universal acclaim that met “The Wire,’’ fans had high expectations for the next series from David Simon: HBO’s “Treme,’’ which chronicles the lives of New Orleans residents after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

In talking about the show, Simon, its creator and a former reporter for the Baltimore Sun, said, “New Orleans, to me, represents a place where it’s a triumph of American urban culture. It’s the best that an American city can be and also the worst in a lot of ways, but it has created a culture that has gone around the world.’’

Simon, co-creator Eric Overmyer, and “Treme’’ star Wendell Pierce met with reporters here recently to talk about the show.

Q. Are you concerned about the wider appeal of “Treme’’?

Overmyer: We always have been. When we were talking about this, we thought, well, a lot of movies have been shot in New Orleans, and some television shows have been set there, but we never felt that they got the city right or that they showed much of the city beyond the same six locations everybody seemed to use: Bourbon Street, the streetcars, the Garden District. But we’ve always been concerned about how to translate New Orleans. So yes, we’re concerned. We’re hoping that through the characters and the characters’ stories, people invest in that, whether they’ve been in New Orleans or not.

Pierce: I was concerned, like all New Orleanians, about the authenticity of it. A lot of times you see bad TV movies about New Orleans and it’s Mardi Gras every day, and everybody is dressed up, and outside the window you see a parade going by. I knew that David and Eric had a unique ability to find the specificity in a culture and depict it in a way that was authentic.

Q. Can you talk about the state of the city now?

Overmyer: For me, it’s the same city, but it’s not the same city. All of the good and all of the bad [have] come back. It’s like a big tree that you see the scars from the storm, but the tree is still standing. It’s still there.

Simon: The city, for me, feels like it gives you this one moment of just incredible beauty or wit or class, and then it follows it up by doing a pratfall or something darker than a pratfall. Again, the dystopia of that place is tangled up in the joy, and they come from the same place. There’s a reason they made the funeral into something exotic and fun. . . . There is a very dark undercurrent to New Orleans, and it’s what makes the art of the place so intense.

Pierce: Someone from “The Wire’’ crew said, “You must be excited about being home and working on this show.’’ And I said, Yeah, and a part of me is a little embarrassed. . . . All of those years in Baltimore, I used to talk about New Orleans, New Orleans, New Orleans. And now you guys are here, and you are seeing a damaged city. It’s a little embarrassing that it doesn’t take that much art direction to make it look like three months after.