A City Council resolution suggesting that the government launch a happy, upbeat ad campaign to counter the grim and bloody images of Baltimore on television crime dramas died last night after an Emmy-winning producer threatened to stop shooting his shows in the city.
David Simon, creator of the critically acclaimed series The Wire and Homicide: Life on the Street, said he took the resolution as an attempt by the government to interfere with his freedom to show the truth about the city's problems.
In a letter to City Council President Sheila Dixon, Simon threatened to switch locations for his HBO series The Wire. A move could cost tens of millions of dollars in revenue for the local economy and more than 125 crew-member jobs, said a state economic development official.
"Assuming the council acts on the resolution as written, I will speak with HBO about the possibility of shooting coming seasons of The Wire in another, comparable city, which can stand in for Baltimore in the current storyline," Simon wrote in his letter to Dixon.
City Councilwoman Catherine E. Pugh, who introduced the resolution, had 12 co-sponsors last week -- enough votes for it to pass in the 19-member council. It was on the draft agenda for last night's meeting.
The resolution -- titled "Let's Not Just Imagine a Better Image for Baltimore" -- was vague and likely would have had no effect on Simon's production. It focused on negative language about the city in reviews of The Wire, and called for the creation of a committee of volunteers from business and the film industry to create a series of television ads to showcase positive things about Baltimore.
The resolution said that the city should "determine how the negative images of Baltimore as portrayed in real-crime fiction, TV dramas and movies can be counteracted."
After phone calls to City Council members by Simon and friends of the Maryland film industry, support for the resolution evaporated. At a lunch meeting yesterday, Pugh learned she did not have the four votes necessary to bring the resolution out of committee.
So Pugh said she would rewrite the resolution so that it wouldn't offend the film industry. She said it wasn't dead, but Dixon and several of its former co-sponsors predicted that the bill won't go anywhere.
Pugh said that Simon and others in the film industry misinterpreted the bill, and that it was never an attempt at censorship. "I'm going to rewrite the resolution to make it clear we're not targeting the film industry. The point is ... Baltimore has never had a national commercial promoting itself."
City Councilwoman Lois A. Garey, a co-sponsor of the bill, said she hoped that Simon -- who attended a hearing on the resolution Wednesday -- would be convinced to alter the content of his dark and grim shows about the city to portray Baltimore's beautiful side, as well.
The effort backfired, only angering Simon.
City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. said he withdrew his support of the resolution after he realized it was a bad idea.
"Here we are trying to legislate how people portray the city of Baltimore," he said. "People have First Amendment rights. What are we going to do next? Pass a resolution suggesting that the Ravens call fewer passing plays? This is not our role."