Television's Great Writer
published: March 20, 2014, recorded: April 2006, views: 1744
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This talk, by one of television’s most dark-minded auteurs, may inspire some viewers to upgrade their cable service to HBO, or at least to rent DVDs of his classic police dramas. David Milch, in the flesh, proves as provocative as some of his finest creations.
In the course of a conversation with David Thorburn, (a former Yale colleague), Milch touches on previous works, like NYPD Blue and Hill Street Blues, delves into Deadwood, his new, alternative Western series, and reveals astonishing pieces of his own biography.
Prodded to reflect on some of his twisted but charismatic TV characters, Milch says, “My old man used to beat me pretty good. And I adored him. He wound up taking his own life.” That’s for starters. Milch goes on to describe his surgeon father’s gangland relatives; his father’s suicide; and where he’d learned that his father had died (at a “pitch” meeting). It should not surprise, then, that Milch deeply understands “the torment some souls are exposed to.” He has suffered bouts of heroin and alcohol addiction, and describes himself as an obsessive-compulsive who doesn’t let his hands touch anything while writing, and so dictates his TV scripts.
His town of Deadwood incorporates real and fictional characters, whose language is salted with obscenity. Traditionalists have objected. Milch, after researching 19th century American history, feels that the classic American movie Western was a product of the Hayes production code, which prohibited profanity in deed and word. In his Deadwood, there is no rule of law, and “the metrics of speech are important” in reflecting this.
After 9/11, Milch determined never again to set a series in contemporary times. He says the popular media “assaulted the collective sensibility” with fear-mongering images, a deliberate “habituation of the viewing public to the shaping of human experience in distorted forms.” The war in Iraq was presented like a three-week miniseries, with a beginning, middle and end -- “an infantile drama, being staged to narcotize the American public.” Milch believes the American viewing public, addicted to TV, can’t grapple with moral problems present in the real world. So, he says, “I’m doing what I can to tell stories which engage those issues in ways that can engage the imagination so people don’t feel threatened by it.”
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