Beau Willimon Responds

Re: Narcos

Hey Bob,

Great post. It’s truly an exciting time for television. Always appreciate when you give HOC a shout-out. Loved how you traced back the last 30 years of TV to where this current era began. And you’re right – “Sopranos” was a game-changer. But to give credit where credit is due, Tom Fontana’s “Oz” really got the ball rolling. It was the first one-hour drama that HBO ever produced.

Tom is a friend and mentor of mine, so I have to admit some bias, but I think it’s fair to objectively state that “Oz” – which aired two years before “Sopranos” in 1997 – paved the way for the “Sopranos” and everything to follow. Tom was a big part of the revolution-before-the-revolution – working on shows like “St. Elsewhere” and “Homicide: Life on the Street” – complex, sophisticated network shows that created an appetite for the premium cables dramas that succeeded them. “Oz” showed what was possible. HBO basically said to Tom: “Here’s the resources, make something interesting.” And he did. And television changed as a result.

Yes, “Sopranos” took it all mainstream. Its impact is gargantuan. But let’s not forget David Simon’s “The Wire” either, arguably the best television show in the last half century. Tom Fontana was a mentor to Simon. In Simon’s own words from this Salon interview: (

“(“Homicide: Life on the Street” writer-producer) Tom Fontana took me on when I was looking at television as kind of a lark, as something I might do for a couple of years for money as I finished my second book. I had no intention of making a home in that medium. It was years before I looked up and realized that I had. Tom was incredibly gracious and open about sharing everything he knew about how to make television shows.”

“The Wire” may not have had the viewership of “The Sopranos” when it first aired, but its reputation and impact continues to grow. It’s sort of like the Velvet Underground of 21st Century TV – only a few thousand people saw it when it first aired, but they all started TV shows. Its influence on the mainstream can’t be denied. Tom Fontana and David Simon’s contribution to everything all of us are watching is profound and indelible.

All my best,
Beau Willimon

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