"Treme" creators David Simon and Eric Overmyer talk about the late David Mills
At a press lunch today for HBO's upcoming series "Treme," executive producers David Simon and Eric Overmyer paid eloquent tribute to their colleague and friend, writer David Mills.
A veteran writer for previous Simon series such as "The Wire," "The Corner" and "Homicide" (as well as stints on "NYPD Blue" and "ER"), Mills was an important member of the "Treme" team and collapsed on the show's New Orleans set on Wednesday, apparently because of a brain aneurysm.
Still shocked by his friend's sudden demise, Simon explained that the two men had met while working for the college paper at the University of Maryland and remained close as the two went on to become journalists and then television writers. "I wrote my first script with him when we were both newspaper reporters and had no ambitions in television," he said. "It was a lark."
After the critical success of "The Wire," Simon is often heralded as a great -- if not the greatest -- television auteur of our time, but Simon said he cringes every time he hears someone talk about "David Simon's 'Treme' " because "it's so collaborative. What makes good television is the writers' room." Or as he later put it, "I'm the frontman in a very good band."
Simon pointed out that Mills had struggled for three or four years to get projects off the ground at the networks. "The process had wearied him to the point that he didn't think he'd stay in television," Simon noted, until he and his team lured Mills into working on "Treme" -- not because of his expertise about New Orleans but because of his distance from it. Both Simon and Overmyer were "very invested" in the city and its history and culture, whereas "David Mills didn't know a lick about New Orleans. What we really needed were people from outside" who could help them shape a real narrative and could answer questions like, "How does this resonate for people outside New Orleans? That's what David did."
Overmyer and Simon also expressed admiration for Mills' great ability to conjure full-bodied characters. Overmyer recalled that after Mills worked on "The Corner" as co-writer and co-producer, someone asked the African-American Mills if he wrote all the black characters and Simon wrote the white ones. The very forthright response from Mills: "We both write human beings." As an example, Overmyer noted that "Mills wrote the hell out of Andy Sipowicz on 'NYPD Blue.' "
Simon said he was heartbroken that Mills wouldn't be around to see the show's premiere on April 11. But as Overmyer noted, "We spent Wednesday on set with him and I think if he could have chosen [how to die], he'd die on the set of 'Treme.' "
Photo: David Mills in 1995. Credit: Rhonda Birndorf/AP