Along with creating “The Wire,” David Simon has been a self-described “lifelong union man” as a member of the Newspaper Guild and the Writers Guild of America, and as the WGA strike continues, he made it clear how little he thinks the entertainment industry’s top execs respect him and his peers.
“The truth is, there has always been a healthy contempt for the creative element in this industry, not on the part of everybody, and I’ve had good relationships with people at the studios and certainly there have been moments in my career where I’ve been very grateful for working with somebody who understood the complexity of what we were trying to do,” Simon said on “Freakonomics” author Steve Levitt’s podcast “People I (Mostly) Admire.”
“But certainly the people who are closer to the Wall Street analysts and the people who are closer to the money side of this and the people who are running the studios — I don’t think they have a clue what it is that writers do,” he continued.
In a lengthy chat published Friday, Simon explained many of the issues facing writers in this strike, including the erosion of the writers’ room and the path of upward mobility for younger writers and the threat of artificial intelligence. Simon sees parallels to his time when he was part of the union for the Baltimore Sun, where he worked as a city reporter for 12 years and gained much of the material that he used to make “The Wire.”
Simon said that during his time there, he saw the owners of the Sun decimate the newsroom, laying off veteran reporters with higher salaries to cut costs while not seeing their revenue decrease. He believes that there is a possible future in which studio executives find it more profitable to have writers phased out from the production process.
“They came to the point of saying, ‘We understand that we will make more money with a newsroom of 100 people, many of whom are recent hires, hired at lower wages and without the seniority, than we will in the newsroom of 450 people in Baltimore who are going to really cover the city. And people will still take this and we’ll still make money. And we have a market share that is reliably ours,’” Simon said.
“There are people who are thinking, ‘We can do this for a lot cheaper. We can get rid of the writers.’ And I think they’re saying we can make more money putting out bad television than we can putting out good. In the short term, there may be places where they’re right. I think in the long term for the overall health of the industry, they’re digging their own grave,” he continued.
As for how much longer this strike is going to last, Simon believes that studio execs are entrenched in the positions on term employment and AI that WGA opposes, and that there’s “several months” to go before the guild may see any results.
“This is being dictated by Wall Street and by the people who answer to Wall Street. And their metrics are ambitious in the sense of preserving AI and eliminating term employment for film and TV writers,” Simon said. “They have a ways to go before they give up on that notion. And they’re going to spend the summer, at least, inflicting pain on us as we walk the line.”
You can listen to Simon’s full interview on “People I (Mostly) Admire” here.