oprah the butler

That sound you just heard was a million The Wire obsessives, all emerging from their subterranean lairs at the same time (as most Wire fans burrow underground, subsisting on nothing but Wire marathons, YouTube clips and constant assurances that “you come at the king, you best not miss”). This natural phenomenon happens very rarely, but when it occurs, it can mean only one thing: David Simon has announced some new TV project.

And, indeed, he has. As Deadline reports, the head writer/creator/showrunner of The Wire (and Supreme God-King amongst those strange, mole-like TV bingewatchers) is now working on a Martin Luther King Jr. miniseries for HBO. The series is based off of Taylor Branch‘s “America in the King Years,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning history of the civil rights movement. Simon will be writing at least the first episode and the series bible (essentially, an encyclopedia of all necessary characters, settings and major details), then he and Eric Overmyer (producer on The Wire and co-creator of their later series, Treme) will be “seeing the entire mini through completion.” Simon might not be showrunner (at least not yet), but his name’s still attached, and that’s more than enough to slake the thirst of desperate Wire fans worldwide.

But, as you may know, this isn’t the only MLK project in the works right now. Actually, it’s one of four, the other three consisting of:

  • Selma, directed by Ava DuVernay. Oprah Winfrey has just come aboard this one as producer, so its troubles are pretty much over, buried under a mountain of Oprah-bucks and free cars.
  • Memphis, directed by Paul Greengrass at some point far into the unforeseeable future. Right now he “still isn’t ready to move on” to filming the biopic. I have no idea what that means.
  • Oliver Stone‘s MLK movie — the one that no longer has anything to do with Oliver Stone. Recently, Stone wrote up a draft of the screenplay, and the producers rejected it, so Stone walked, rendering it “the MLK movie formerly known as Oliver Stone’s MLK movie.”

Ok, so now Simon’s just another part of the great MLK pack. But here’s where things start to get weird. Simon may be writing the series (or part of it, anyway), but there’s a producer onboard as well. A producer named Oprah Winfrey — whom, you might have noticed, has already staked her claim on one of the films listed above.

It sounds a little strange, but it’s probably terrific news. Having Winfrey producing two separate Martin Luther King Jr. stories makes it seem like Selma and HBO’s miniseries aren’t really each other’s competition. And if they’re allies (allies funded by Oprah, no less), then their combined forces may barrel past the other two contenders and end the great MLK war once and for all. Plus, Oprah might be able to grease the extremely greaseless wheels of the current King estate. Any film based on the late Dr. King needs the blessing of his current family, and the modern-day Kings have developed a reputation for rejecting anything that might have a tinge of controversy to it (which, according to Oliver Stone, was the reason for his screenplay’s rejection).

Simon is not known for sugarcoating things like affairs, wiretaps or pretending to be a disabled old man to rob a bunch of drug dealers. So it’s all but certain that Simon’s take on King would be something the estate would object to. But Oprah Winfrey is a powerful force, and with her involved, Simon might have a little more leeway than he normally would with such sensitive material.

Don’t expect this to be on HBO anytime soon, though. While Deadline reports that HBO had immediately fast-tracked the miniseries, Simon himself actually downplayed his involvement, when asked by The Baltimore Sun:

“Eric Overmyer and I have taken on a project that was already in HBO’s development stable,” he told them in an email. “We have agreed to go into a room with Taylor Branch and others and see what can be done for a six-hour miniseries.  But as per Blown Deadline’s development projects, this is behind another miniseries project for HBO that is closer to production and that we hope to be announcing shortly.”

It does not sound like he’s a fan of Deadline. But it does sound like he’s got another surprise project in the works, which should be enough to pacify The Wire‘s hordes for a little while longer. And when it’s announced, keep your ears peeled. I’d expect we’ll hear that same sound — grunting, crumbling dirt and a sudden muting of The Wire‘s theme song — very shortly.


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