Every now and then, HBO tackles something that that the other networks don't even try -- a massive movie or mini-series, with texture and complexity. The lates is "Show Me a Hero," which debuts Aug. 16 and continues for two more Sundays; here's the story I sen t to papers:
By Mike Hughes
LOS ANGELES -- Back
in 1999, “Show Me a Hero” presented real-life urban politics as
an epic battleground.
The non-fiction book
stepped back a decade, to a court order requiring public housing in
Yonkers. Passionate people raged; colorful characters emerrged.
This was, said HBO's
Kary Antholis, a “tale of race, politics and redemption.” And it
was ideal for David Simon, the former Baltimore newsman who had
launched “Homicide” and “The Corner.”
Simon wanted to do
“Hero” for TV, but other projects -- “The Wire,” “Generation
Kill,” “Treme” -- intervened. Now, 16 years later, he's finally
produced and co-written a six-hour HBO mini-series.
“The great irony
is that (near Yonkers), the same fight, with the same rhetoric ... is
going on right now,” Simon said.
housing was once considered a splendid idea, said LaTanya Richardson,
who plays one of the new residents. “It was built to help people
who came back from the war.”
Then it became
something else, Simon said, “basically stacking the poor and
hyper-segregating the poor in massive housing projects,” often in
areas where jobs had vanished.
By the '80s, that
“stacking” approach had changed; scattered housing was proposed.
Still, the old image – giant towers of crime and despair –
So Nick Wasicsko,
who had been a cop and a city councilman, campaigned against public
housing. In 1988, at 28, he became the nation's youngest big-city
Simon said, was “wholly white, (with) no outlet for black political
action or Latino political action in Yonkers.”
the courts stayed firm ... and Wasicsko began to lean toward
compromise and compliance. “Learning about the real Nick Wasicsko,
I fell in love with him and I really wanted to understand who he
was,” said Oscar Isaac, who plays him.
This is a giant,
Shakespearean story – but in the Lear/Romeo/Macbeth sense of
darkness. Wasicsko took some heroic steps; for the title of her book,
Lisa Belkin adapted the F. Scott Fitzgerald quote: “Show me a hero,
and I'll write you a tragedy.”
There were powerful
forces pushing in that direction, including Hank Spallone, another
cop and councilman. “He was very charismatic,” said Alfred
Molina, who plays him. “He would walk into a room and kind of suck
up all the energy.”
He died in 2009, but
Simon did have one chance to meet him. “David told a great story
about Hank meeting them in a diner,” Molina said, “arriving 45
minutes late and then saying, 'No, I can't sit. I can't sit. I can't
stay' .... And then spoke for about a half-an-hour.”
These men were
surrounded by swarms of angry people. “We did have to embrace
chaos” to make the mini-series, director Paul Haggis said.
Using the actual
locations, when possible, he had 400 speaking roles. He had a giant
story of a time for heroics and for tragedy.
-- “Show Me a
Hero,” 8-10 p.m. on three Sundays, beginning Aug. 16, HBO.
-- Opener reruns
that night at 1:05 a.m.; also 5 p.m. Tuesday, 9 p.m. Wednesday, 11:30
p.m. Saturday (Aug. 22), 4:30 p.m. Aug. 23; more on other HBO