The one-hour drama series TREME will launch its ten-episode first season on HBO in April, it was announced today by Sue Naegle, president, HBO Entertainment. From David Simon (“The Wire,” “Generation Kill,” “The Corner”) and Eric Overmyer (“Homicide,” “The Wire”), the show follows musicians, chefs, Mardi Gras Indians and ordinary New Orleanians as they try to rebuild their lives, their homes and their unique culture in the aftermath of the 2005 hurricane and levee failure that caused the near-death of an American city.“New Orleans is a city which lives in the imagination of the whole world,” says Overmyer. “We wanted to capture something authentic about
it, as its people struggle with the after effects of the greatest calamity to befall an American city in the history of this country.”
Simon adds, “What happens in New Orleans matters. An ascendant society rebuilds its great cities.”
TREME begins in fall 2005, three months after Hurricane Katrina and the massive engineering failure in which flood control failed throughout New Orleans, flooding 80 percent of the city and displacing hundreds of thousands of residents. Fictional events depicted in the series will honor the actual chronology of political, economic and cultural events following the storm.
“As much as possible, we’re trying to show fealty to the post-Katrina history,” Overmyer notes. “New Orleanians have had their lives transformed by the storm and its aftermath, and we want to be careful in our presentation of that.”
Simon adds that viewers familiar with “The Wire,” the previous HBO drama on which he, Overmyer and fellow executive producer Nina Noble labored, should not expect a similar drama set in another city.
“In some fundamental ways,” he says, “TREME is centered on the ordinary lives of ordinary people. It is political only in the sense that ordinary people find themselves dealing with politics in their own lives. That said, New Orleanians – those who have been able to return, especially – are passionate about their city.”
The drama unfolds with Antoine Batiste, a smooth-talking trombonist who is struggling to make ends meet, earning cash with any gig he can get, including playing in funeral processions for his former neighbors. His ex-wife, LaDonna Batiste-Williams, owns a bar in the Central City neighborhood and splits her time between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, where her children and new husband have relocated. Concerned over the disappearance of her younger brother David, or Daymo, unseen since the storm, LaDonna has turned to a local civil rights attorney, the overburdened and underpaid Toni Bernette, for help. The government’s inconsistent and ineffectual response to the devastation has spurred Bernette’s husband Creighton, a university professor of English literature and an expert on local history, to become an increasingly outspoken critic of the institutional response.
Tremé resident Davis McAlary, a rebellious radio disc jockey, itinerant musician and general gadfly, is both chronicler of and participant in the city’s vibrant and varied musical culture, which simply refuses to be silent, even in the early months after the storm. His occasional partner, popular chef Janette Desautel, hopes to regain momentum for her small, newly re-opened neighborhood restaurant. Elsewhere in the city, displaced Mardi Gras Indian chief Albert Lambreaux returns to find his home destroyed and his tribe, the Guardians of the Flame, scattered, but Lambreaux is determined to rebuild. His son Delmond, an exile in New York playing modern jazz and looking beyond New Orleans for his future, is less sure of his native city’s future, while violinist Annie and her boyfriend Sonny, young street musicians living hand-to-mouth, seem wholly committed to the battered city.
As the story begins, more than half the population of New Orleans is elsewhere and much of the city is wrecked, muddied and caked in mold, while other neighborhoods remain viable. The tourists have yet to return, the money that follows them is scarce, and residents can take solace only in the fact that the city’s high levels of crime have migrated to Houston and Baton Rouge. And for those returning, housing is hard to come by, with many people waiting on insurance checks that may never arrive.
The ensemble cast of TREME includes Wendell Pierce (“The Wire,” HBO’s documentary “When the Levees Broke”) as Antoine Batiste; Khandi Alexander (“CSI: Miami,” HBO’s Emmy®-winning “The Corner”) as LaDonna Batiste-Williams; Clarke Peters (“Damages,” HBO’s “The Wire” and “The Corner”) as Albert Lambreaux; Rob Brown (“Stop-Loss,” “Finding Forrester”) as Delmond Lambreaux; Steve Zahn (“A Perfect Getaway,” “Sunshine Cleaning”) as Davis McAlary; Kim Dickens (HBO’s “Deadwood”) as Janette Desautel; Melissa Leo (“Homicide: Life on the Street”; Oscar® nominee for “Frozen River”) as Toni Bernette; John Goodman (“The Big Lebowski,” “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”) as Creighton Bernette; Michiel Huisman (“The Young Victoria”) as Sonny; and classical violinist Lucia Micarelli as Annie.
The series will also feature cameos by notable real-life New Orleanians, as well as the talents of many of its extraordinary musicians and other artists associated with the city’s music. Early episodes feature appearances by Allen Toussaint, Dr. John, Elvis Costello, Steve Earle, Kermit Ruffins, Donald Harrison Jr., Galactic, Trombone Shorty Andrews, Deacon John, and the Rebirth and Tremé Brass Bands.
“The disaster impacted people on every possible level – physically, emotionally, and spiritually,” says New Orleans native Wendell Pierce. “The only things people had to hang on to were the rich traditions we knew that survived the test of time before: our music, food and family, family that included anyone who decided to accept the challenge to return. We knew that America was, in the words of Martin Luther King, a ‘ten-day nation.’ We knew our plight wouldn’t stay in the spotlight of the world long. But we are exercising our right of self-determination in the darkness with personal resolve. We are accessing the best of the human spirit and bringing light to this difficult time. That’s what TREME is about. We won’t bow down.”
Longtime friends and collaborators since they both worked on the network drama “Homicide: Life on the Street,” Simon and Overmyer have wanted to make a series about New Orleans and its culture ever since they learned of each other’s affinity for the city. Overmyer has been a New Orleans resident for 20 years, while Simon has been a frequent visitor since the late 1980s.
“Neither one of us could figure out how to pitch it properly. The problem is that in order to convince anyone to let us depict New Orleans, you have to first explain it,” Simon says, adding, “And until Katrina, the only way to begin to explain it was to shoot the film.”
TREME is named for the Faubourg Tremé (an historic neighborhood just to the lakeside of the more celebrated French Quarter). Jazz itself was said to be born there, created by the slaves of Creole planters who were allowed to drum and chant on Sundays and market days in a public area that came to be known as Congo Square. It was in New Orleans that African rhythms and the pentatonic scale of flatted “blue” notes met European instrumentation and arrangements – a cross-cultural creation that transformed music on a worldwide scale.
The 80-minute pilot episode of TREME was directed by Agnieszka Holland (“The Wire,” “Cold Case”). Additional episodes are directed by Simon Cellan Jones (“Generation Kill”) as well as alumni of “The Wire,” including Jim McKay (HBO’s “In Treatment” and “Big Love”), Ernest Dickerson (“Burn Notice”), Anthony Hemingway (the upcoming film “Redtails”), Christine Moore (“CSI: NY”), Brad Anderson (“Fringe,” “The Machinist”) and Dan Attias (“Big Love,” “House”).
In addition to Simon and Overmyer, TREME is written by David Mills (HBO’s “The Corner” and “The Wire”) and George Pelecanos (“The Wire” and HBO’s upcoming miniseries “The Pacific”). Additional writers include New Orleans natives Lolis Elie (author and columnist for The New Orleans Times-Picayune) and Tom Piazza (author of the novel “City of Refuge” and “Why New Orleans Matters”).
Simon’s most recent HBO project, “Generation Kill,” debuted in July 2008. Based on the award-winning nonfiction book of the same name by journalist Evan Wright, it recounted the early weeks of the U.S. march into Iraq from the point of view of the officers and commanders who led the way to Baghdad. The New York Times called the miniseries “impeccable” and “searingly intense,” and USA Today praised it as “honest” and “painfully vivid.”
Finishing its five-season run in March 2008, “The Wire” examined a dystopic American city in which civic institutions and civic leadership could no longer recognize fundamental problems, much less address those problems. Daily Variety said of the Peabody Award-winning series, “When television history is written, little else will rival ‘The Wire’… extraordinary,” while San Francisco Chronicle hailed it as “a masterpiece” and Entertainment Weekly called the show “a staggering achievement.”
TREME was created by David Simon and Eric Overmyer; executive producers, David Simon, Nina K. Noble, Eric Overmyer, Carolyn Strauss; co-executive producer, David Mills; producer, Anthony Hemingway; directors, Agnieszka Holland, Jim McKay, Ernest Dickerson, Anthony Hemingway, Christine Moore, Brad Anderson, Simon Cellan Jones, Dan Attias; writers, David Simon, Eric Overmyer, David Mills, George Pelecanos, Lolis Elie, Tom Piazza.