Archive for category: Prose Work

Does the News Matter To Anyone Anymore?

20 Jan
January 20, 2008

From The Washington Post
Sunday, January 20, 2008

Is there a separate elegy to be written for that generation of newspapermen and women who came of age after Vietnam, after the Pentagon Papers and Watergate? For us starry-eyed acolytes of a glorious new church, all of us secular and cynical and dedicated to the notion that though we would still be stained with ink, we were no longer quite wretches? Where is our special requiem?

Bright and shiny we were in the late 1970s, packed into our bursting journalism schools, dog-eared paperback copies of “All the President’s Men” and “The Powers That Be” atop our Associated Press stylebooks. No business school called to us, no engineering lab, no information-age computer degree — we had seen a future of substance in bylines and column inches. Immortality lay in a five-part series with sidebars in the Tribune, the Sun, the Register, the Post, the Express.

What the hell happened?

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Best Deleted Scene from The Wire Fifth Season

19 Sep
September 19, 2007

Reprinting with permission, The CityPaper, Baltimore, Sept 19, 2007

We received the below in an e-mail from The Wire co-creator/executive producer/writer David Simon on Labor Day, the Monday after shooting for the show’s fifth and final season concluded the previous Friday. It’s a four-page insert scene the writing staff intimated was coming on the penultimate day of shooting, adding more work to an already packed final production day. According to Simon, rumors of the additional pages started seeping from the production office to the set, instigating some minor grumbling about cramming yet more scenes into a final episode that Simon suggests is already about 50 percent longer than ordinary. But everybody reacted professionally to the schedule changes–assistant directors inquired about what the actors needed, production managers ordered additional film, cast members were told where they needed to be to work on dialogue. And then the pages arrived and as cast and crew read through the scene it slowly became apparent, amid growing laughter, what the pages actually were–a sly thank you from the writing staff to the entire cast and crew responsible for five seasons of one of the finest dramas the small screen has ever seen.

Insert scene: A60-




BUNK, MCNULTY sit, worried. A long beat of frustrated silence before MCNULTY leans back in his chair, speaks.


If they were going to do me, I’d be done already.


Now, later. They’re gonna do you.


I’m not so sure.


You really think we need to discuss this some more? Whatever’s gonna happen is gonna happen.


What are you saying?


I’m not sure this conversation is going anywhere, Jimmy.

MCNULTY thinks on this, nods.


I’m sayin’ this like that song by whatshersame, you know? Whatever the fuck is gonna be is gonna be.


Doris Day.


Say what?


Doris Day. Que-sera-sera?


The fuck are you going on about, motherfucker?


That’s the song. Que Sera Sera, by Doris Day. Whatever will be will be.


The shit that’s clogged up in your fuckin’ head. Amazing.


You brought up the song, bitch. I’m here trying to figure out whether or not I’m gonna get done and you’re talking in gay-ass clichés.


You ain’t goin’ to get done.


How do you know?


How do I know?


Yeah. Which god came down to Baltimore and gave you the power to see the motherfuckin’ future. This is my life on the line here.


Calm the fuck down.


How can I?


Look, you know the rest of the story.


I do?


Motherfucker, they done moved the whole script. And you read to the end of this shit, right?


I know what it says so far, but all these fucking revisions. They’re up to cherry-colored pages . . .






Buff pages. Last revision was buff.


Fuck buff. These pages right here are second white.


That’s what I’m sayin’, Jimmy, we’re far along in the process here.


But they could still revise it more. Like this scene here . . .


They ain’t gonna shoot this bitch.


You sure?


Motherfucker, they lookin’ at a seven-and-a-half page day tomorrow already. Simon tries to add this shit to that sked and the crew will bank his white ass.


I dunno. I think that cocksucker has been asking for impossible shit so long, he just figures . . .


He is a motherfucker, but Jimmy, this one would go too far.


So we’re done?


Done. These pages ain’t gonna actually get shot, Jimmy.


So we’re just talking here.


Talkin’ shit about ourselves for ourselves. We a drunkass pair of meta motherfuckers right now.


I love the way you say shit like that.


Well, it’s the script.


But you make the shit sound good.


I do.


Profane, but poetic.


Yeah, fuck.




Fuck me.


Fuck fuck fuckity fuck fuck.


Aw fuck.


Yeah. Fuck, yeah.

On MCNULTY and BUNK, nodding in fucking affirmation of just how fucking good The Wire crew is, just how fucking grateful the writers are, how there is not–we repeat, not–another scene remaining that we could ask you to shoot,



Michael Olesker Is A Plagiarist? Who Isn’t?

18 Jan
January 18, 2006

From Baltimore City Paper, Jan. 16, 2006
Reprinted with Permission

IN THE SMALL NEWSROOM OF THE COLLEGE NEWSPAPER where I learned rudiments of craft, there was affixed to one wall a parody of Edgar Allan Poe, which began, “Once upon a deadline dreary . . . ”

The author, an alumnus of the University of MarylandDiamondback, had butchered “The Raven,” evoking the gothic plight of a journalist trapped at a typewriter, trying to keep his work fresh as he exhausted new developments in the top few paragraphs and was reduced to recounting backstory. To conclude each stanza, the haunting voice came to him:

Rewrite the background, ever more.

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‘The Wire’ loses a talented, trusted set of eyes

15 Feb
February 15, 2004

Behind the scenes, Bob Colesberry was a showbiz giant

Appreciation, from the Baltimore Sun, Feb. 15, 2004
Reprinted with permission 

It was a shotgun wedding of sorts, with an HBO executive playing pastor.

I was there to get a book that I had written, an account of a year on a Baltimore drug corner, made into television. I had another writer with me, a trusted college friend with experience in episodic drama. David Mills had worked a few years on NYPD Blue, just as I had a couple years under Tom Fontana on Homicide. And we had already hired a line producer who would help us put film in the can.

So why was I being ushered to this New York office to meet another producer? Some studio type named Colesberry. A film producer, no less, from the world of big-budget features where everyone had a producer title, whether they did any work or not. He would probably ask for crane shots and try to rewrite scripts and screw up the casting and blow a hole in the budget.

“Don’t commit to anything,” Mills said before we walked into the office. “If he doesn’t feel right, don’t commit.”

But Bobby Colesberry threw us from the first, when he showed up with a copy of the book not only dog-eared, but marked in the margins with two different colors of ink. In a world in which all stories are reduced to single sentences by studio execs, this man had read a 600-page tome and thought hard about it.

“We’ll take your notes,” I warned him. “But the last pass on the script is ours.”

Of course, he said.

“And we don’t want to get frozen out of production. We may not be as experienced as you, but we know how to put film in the can.”

Great, he said, and Mills and I shared a look. Too easy. Our distrust grew.

“Look,” said Colesberry, “I read the book and I want to help you tell that story.”

We left the HBO offices doubtful and frightened. Two months later, by the time The Corner was in pre-production, I realized I never again wanted to shoot a reel of film without Bob Colesberry as my partner. By the time we began working again to create The Wire, I had learned to love the man, not just for the work we did together, but because of the person he was.


Much left unsaid

When he died Monday of complications from surgery, I realized that I hadn’t said a tenth of what I felt within his earshot. To other people, yes, all the time. To reporters and critics and other people in the film industry, I would invoke his name in every discussion of The Corner or The Wire, insisting that these projects existed only because of his partnership.

But Bob was the quiet one. And television critics tend to be big on story and character, which means ink for writers and actors.

He never complained, of course, being used to the background. For more than 20 years, he had worked arm-in-arm with real talents in the film world — Martin Scorsese, Alan Parker, Ang Lee, Barry Levinson, Robert Benton — and always he had quietly buried himself in the details of each production, ensuring the survival of fragile film projects and making good movies better.

Bernardo Bertolucci embraced him. Parker told him he had the eye to direct, never mind production. Scorsese credits him with helping to revive his career by shepherding After Hours to critical acclaim. He was nominated for an Oscar on Mississippi Burning, and for Emmys on 61* and the CBS adaptation of Death of a Salesman.

As a producer, he was soft-spoken, subtle and discreet. He made his points after everyone else in the room had already had their say. Bob could back you into a better idea and convince you that it was probably your own. And he was forever pathfinding through the forest of overgrown ego that flourishes on any movie set.

An 18-hour day for the crew was a 20-hour day for Bob, and I remember so many long nights on a soundstage, or worse, out in the street, with everyone slumped in those ridiculous chairs, staring at the monitors. When he was bone-tired, Bob Colesberry — an ex-Army artillery man — would playfully pretend to hold a walkie-talkie to his mouth and softly begin calling in salvo coordinates on the cast and crew, and himself.

Our working relationship was fully revealed to me during the first season of The Wire. One particular scene had been badly blocked by the director and the actors’ performances were a bit off. Out on set with our first unit in East Baltimore, Bob watched the tape and called the editor, Thom Zimny, who made changes and then rushed a tape to West Baltimore, where I was working.

Bob had saved the scene visually by cutting deep into dialogue. A bit too deep. The scene didn’t quite make sense storywise. I told Thom to restore some cuts and he did so, ruining the scene visually but keeping the essential story points. Bob countered with more cuts. Finally, on the fourth go-round, I called Zimny.

“Here’s the problem: Bob is the eyes and I’m the ears. We have to be in the same room.”

We got together later that night, after wrap. Half an hour and we had a final cut of the scene.

Into the light

For colleagues, a great delight of the last five years was to slowly coax Bob Colesberry out of the background and toward his rightful place.

First we made him stand at the front of the stage in Pasadena and speak for The Corner when it won the Emmy for best miniseries. And later, on The Wire, we persuaded Bobby — a subtle actor in his own right — to take a walk-on role as a hapless Baltimore homicide detective, Ray Cole. Then we began throwing Cole more lines and more scenes — usually comic, usually at the character’s expense.

Finally, last season, we took Alan Parker up on his prediction, pressing Bob until he agreed to direct the final episode of the season. For the first time in more than two decades of filmmaking, he was no longer standing behind the director’s chair. I barely touched his cut of that episode.

Early last Saturday, he suffered a stroke after surgery, lingering for nearly two days, unable to talk or move. But intellectually, he was all there, trying to reach us as best he could. One blink for yes, two for no. His wife, Karen, was at his side throughout. Family and close friends, too.

“You sonofabitch,” I said when it was my turn. “You’re gonna make me a Yankee fan.”

One blink. Crying, I had to step from his line of sight and wait to catch my voice. Finally, I told him that if he didn’t get out of bed, the producer cuts would be a mess. “I’m just the ears, remember?”

One blink again. I managed to say a little bit more, but all with the lie that he was going to recover. By the next day, Bob seemed to know better and we, too, began hinting at the inevitable. I thanked him not just for the work, but for the doing of it — for the adventure and the friendship. And Nina Noble, the line producer, was promising that we would stay in the wide shots, only going to close-up when necessary, as Bob had long preached.

He wanted to hear music, so Thom Zimny and I ran around Upper Manhattan like idiots to find a boombox and a CD of the show’s first season theme song. Southern gospel filled the I.C.U.

“When you walk through the garden …”

No more blinking. Just a placid expression, eyes straight ahead. An hour later, with family and friends around him, his heart gently gave out.

Those of us who work on The Wire aren’t thinking much about the show right now. No one is ready to care about how to put it back together, about what to do next. We’ll try, of course. Bob Colesberry was a rare professional and for five years, he taught all of us to love his chosen profession in new ways.

But this week anyway, there is a television show in Baltimore, flying blind.

Former Sun reporter David Simon is creator and executive producer of the Baltimore-based HBO drama The Wire. Its third season will begin airing later this year.

Murder, I Wrote

10 Sep
September 10, 1997

R.C. on the corner. Photo by Debra Gertler

From The New Republic, September 1997
Reprinted with permission.

I used to cover crime on the late shift in Baltimore for The Sun. It was a living measured, by and large, in four-paragraph installments. You’d call the cops, ask what was going on, and then, when they emitted a handful of facts about which body fell on which corner, you’d write it up briefly and send it to the night editor. West Baltimore, East Baltimore, lower Park Heights, Cherry Hill—the rowhouses and postwar housing projects were all decidedly similar, and, assuming the casualty was poor and black, the newspaper accounts were similar as well.

“A 21-year-old West Baltimore man was shot to death yesterday….”

“… police say the assailant fled on foot after the stabbing. No suspects have been identified.”

“A 16-year-old Pimlico youth was found murdered ….”

In four years, I manufactured about a thousand of those formulaic morsels. The bodies I wrote about were, for the most part, buried in a handful of $200-a-plot cemeteries and potter’s fields in South and West Baltimore. The newspaper accounts were likewise interred—page D2 in the Maryland-in-Brief regional wrap-up. The detectives who investigated these forlorn cases called them misdemeanor homicides.

I wrote a book about these detectives, and Barry Levinson, a Hollywood director who used to live in Baltimore, decided to turn the book into a network television show. A few months later, a film crew showed up and began ?lming. Cheap motels, broken rowhouses, projects, street corners — the same rotted Rustbelt terrain that had yielded all those stunted news briefs suddenly became a studio backlot. Eventually, I left the newspaper and went to work writing murder stories for the television show.

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