Television's Great Writer
04/20/2006 5:00 PM BartosDavid Milch, Creator, Executive Producer and Writer, DEADWOOD, HBODescription: 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 Bluee 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 in front of his brother and mother; 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."
About the Speaker(s): David Milch graduated Phi Beta Kappa and Summa Cum Laude from Yale, where he won the Tinker Prize for highest achievement in English. He then earned an M.F.A.from the Writer's Workshop at Iowa University. He left a teaching career at Yale to write for Hill Street Blues. He served as Executive Story Editor and subsequently as Executive Producer.
In 1987, he created Beverly Hills Buntz, and in 1989, Milch served as Executive Producer of the ABC series Capital News, starring Lloyd Bridges. In 1992, Milch co-created the history-making police drama NYPD Blue. Milch took home Emmyså for Best Writing in a Drama for the 1996-1997 and 1997-1998 seasons. Milch created another police drama, Brooklyn South, co-authored, along with NYPD Blue producer Bill Clark, True Blue: The Real Stories Behind NYPD Blue, and served as creative consultant for Steven Bochco's Murder One and Total Security. Since forming Redboard Productions, Milch co-created Big Apple, a one-hour drama set in New York City's FBI field office. Host(s): Office of the Provost, Communications Forum
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