Eight years ago, a hurricane named Katrina came whipping though New Orleans. Its subsequent flood, exacerbated by man-made neglect, exposed the scandalous, fragile and triumphant lives of thousands of people. In April of 2010, not quite five years later, Home Box Office (HBO) debuted a cable television series depicting famed screenwriter (The Wire) David Simon’s interpretation of what life in one of New Orleans’ most historic neighborhoods was like during the months immediately following the 2005 flood. Treme would spark controversy and debate among viewers and New Orleanians alike, and eventually would influence a number of people to move to the charming and quirky place unraveling before them on their TV screens. New Orleanian or not, if you watched it, Treme affected us all. But mostly, Treme has been a major network series to finally make honest efforts to “get” New Orleans — too “get” our complex layers, our place in the world, and our je ne sais quoi.
As the Treme team prepares to air the premiere of its fourth and final season this Thanksgiving weekend, OffBeat takes a look back at some of its noteworthy moments, and the ways in which the television show involved or affected the lives of the real people it portrayed, in a series retrospective below:
- March 18, 2010: OffBeat posted the season one trailer here.
- March 29, 2010: Even before the first episode of Treme aired, the producers staged a cast and crew benefit for the New Orleans Musicians Clinic non-profit organization after filming season one in town. Daryl Pfeif recounts the evening.
- Quotable: This was in hopes that “the production’s legacy in New Orleans might result in something more tangible than viewer ratings or critical reviews.”
- BONUS: Photo gallery from the benefit event here.
- April 1, 2010: Alex Rawls previews the first season premiere of Treme in “HBO’s Treme: To Tell The Truth” from an exclusive vantage point inside Tipitina’s music club during a location shoot, just weeks before the series debut.
- Quotable: “Treme’s not only going to open America’s eyes,” Wendell Pierce says, “but it’ll give locals something to think about. It’s going to challenge New Orleanians. Why should we save New Orleans? Are we getting a little too relaxed? You can’t sit back on your laurels.”
- July 12, 2010: Alex Rawls interviews series regular and soundtrack musician Steve Earle “on the Emmys, Treme and New Orleans.”
- Quotable: ”I’ve written stuff for films before, but this is one of the best songs I’ve ever written,” Earle says. “You’re assuming a character when you write any song in the first person, but I don’t believe everything that John Walker Lindh says in ‘John Walker’s Blues,’ either. It was okay with Allen and the other musicians when we recorded it at Piety.”
- July 8, 2010: HBO’s Treme is nominated for two Emmy Awards; one for Best Director and one for Best Score.
- August 1, 2010: Alex Rawls reflects on the pros and cons of season one, enters the “insider versus outsider” conversation about the series narrative and its varied perspectives in “HBO’s Treme: I’ll Be Your Mirror.“
- Quotable: “We were all moved and gratified at how intensely positive most of the reaction of New Orleans was,” co-producer Eric Overmyer says. “It’s what we hoped for, but it surprised me how close to the surface everybody’s feelings still are about that time. I’ve never worked on a show were the response has been so intensely personal.”
- September, 2010: OffBeat releases the track listing for the first edition of the Treme soundtrack.
- January, 2010: Alex Rawls gives HBO’s Treme a “Best of the Beat ‘Heartbeat Award‘”
- Quotable: “One thing I’m certain of is that we’re going to be authentic,” actor Wendell Pierce (Antoine Batiste) says. “I know that’s very important to New Orleanians. We’re very protective of our culture and its depiction because we’ve seen so many bad Mardi Gras movies over the years. Treme approaches it like anthropologists.”
- February, 2011: Good deeds, civic engagement: cast and crew of Treme host 2nd annual “My Darlin’ New Orleans” benefit gala.
- February, 2011: The Treme Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, Season One is nominated for a 2010 Grammy Award.
- February, 2011: Steve Earle’s song, “This City,” from the Treme soundtrack, is nominated for a 2010 Grammy Award.
- March 30, 2011: HBO releases first Treme DVD box set, Alex Rawls interviews Steve Earle again; this time about recording at the legendary (and now closed) Piety Street Studios for his new album and mini-doc, his experience writing music for TV and film, and how acting and living in New Orleans has influenced his recent music in “Steve Earle’s Back.”
- April 1, 2011: Alex Rawls interviews Treme co-creator David Simon about his reflections on season one, viewer reactions to the main characters, and where he envisions the series to go.
- Quotable: “You know I have respect for Frank’s Place. It was the first [show] that argued for New Orleans intelligently. It was the first thing to argue for culture intelligently. Where you live and how you live somehow matters, which is becoming increasingly rare in America as we become more and more generic.”
- April, 2011: Alex Rawls talks to Tom McDermott, John Boutté, Davis Rogan, Paul Sanchez, the Pine Leaf Boys, Basin Street Records and Frenchmen Street businesses about how they’ve been “Touched by Treme.” Whether their appearances in the show have been large or small, how are their lives different since HBO came to town and put them on national television?
- Quotable: “Once people saw the show, that changed a lot of people’s attitudes about what we were doing,” Leyh says. “The level of justified mistrust and paranoia that was there in the beginning was proportional to the amount of love and respect that we got after we crossed that bridge.” At the same time, Leyh hopes that good experiences with Treme don’t cause musicians to let down their business guard. “I hate to think we might lull people into a false sense of trust,” he says. “Those people in Hollywood are motherfuckers.”
- April 1, 2011: Alex Rawls reviews the official release of Treme: Music from the HBO Original Series, Season One by various artists (Geffen Records).
- June 16, 2011: “A Night In Treme” live concert tour takes the real musicians of Treme to stages across the United States in a “Treme On Tour” revue.
- August 1, 2011: Treme top bloggers convene for a video conference to review season two of the HBO series.
- August 15, 2011: HBO executives explain why they renewed Treme‘s contract for a third, and open-ended, season — despite relatively low viewership in respect to many of their other shows, and reduced viewership during season two in “HBO Stands Behind Treme.”
- Quotable: …because they like it and think it’s telling important stories, Richard Plepler (HBO Co-President) and Michael Lombardi (HBO Programming President): “There wasn’t any question from Michael and me that we wanted David to continue his narrative, and we told him that,” Plepler said. “It really wasn’t, frankly, even a decision for us. He wasn’t done telling the story, and we have such respect for him and regard for him, we want him to feel he’s expressed what he wants to express.”
- May 1, 2012: Alex Rawls reviews the official release of Treme: Music from the HBO Original Series, Season Two by various artists (Rounder Records).
- May 21, 2012: Treme receives a 2011 George Foster Peabody Award for new/alternative media in television programming.
- September 1, 2012: Treme Music Supervisor Blake Leyh Dishes On Season Three in an interview with John Swenson.
- September 19, 2012: OffBeat premieres Sneak Peek: Exclusive Preview From HBO’s Treme, Season Three (Video).
- September 23, 2012: Amanda Schurr previews Treme‘s season three, releases announcement that HBO will indeed produce a fourth, albeit shorter, season for airing next year.
- November 28, 2012: OffBeat publisher and editor-in-chief, Jan Ramsey, blogs about her views on Treme, Davis [McAlary/Rogan], expanding the culture and the changing Frenchmen Street. She notes that OffBeat Magazine gets a cameo shout-out in season three as it prepares for its 25th anniversary, and Ramsey “tsks” fellow New Orleanians for not following the show.
- December 5, 2012: OffBeat chief Jan Ramsey recounts her experience as an extra on the set of Treme, when the HBO series re-created the 2009 edition of the local music monthly’s annual Best of the Beat Awards at the House of Blues for a season four episode in her post, “My Day In Treme.” (We’ll have to watch season four to see if this portion of said episode made it through the cutting room floor.)
- February 13, 2013: John Swenson observes the day “HBO’s Treme Finishes Shooting Its Final Season” and snags some closing remarks from the series co-creators, David Simon and Eric Overmyer. Swenson even gets props from Simon for hipping him to the character that he now knows as Davis Rogan/”McAlary.”
- Quotable: “It was a great coincidence, you walking by then,” said Simon. “Your review of The Once and Future DJ in OffBeat introduced me to Davis. I read it and said, ‘Who is this guy?’ So I get the album and the first song I hear on it is ‘Godzilla vs. M.L.K.’ That’s how it started and now we’re here at the end listening to ‘Godzilla vs. M.L.K.’again.”
- November, 2013: John Swenson talks to Treme‘s Wendell Pierce [who plays a fictional Antoine Batiste] about the HBO series and New Orleans’ Joshua Generation for OffBeat‘s December 2013 cover story (out now).
It is certainly swell to know OffBeat, whether its cameo in season four gets cut or not, played its natural role in HBO’s Treme. From David Simon reading our alternative music monthly for research, to Jan and Joseph’s spot at a re-do of the 2009 Best of the Beat Awards toward the end of their very last filming season, these are surreal moments when you realize that you have already been immortalized, movie star or not.
The fourth and final season of Treme premieres on Sunday, December 1 at 8 p.m. CST. If you don’t have HBO, or simply prefer to watch with fellow New Orleanians, Buffa’s Lounge at 1001 Esplanade Avenue will once again host free public viewing parties from 7 p.m. until 11 p.m. on Sundays through December until the season finale. Buffa’s will screen each week’s episode at 8 p.m., and then again at 10 p.m., with live musical performances from some of the show’s musicians in between screenings. A cash bar and full kitchen menu will also be available.
We should also take the time here to remember original Treme co-creator and writer David Mills, who unfortunately passed away at 48 years old from an erupted brain aneurysm while working on the show’s set, just two weeks before the premiere of season one’s first episode. Mills also collaborated with Simon on The Wire, among other award-winning shows and publications. He, Simon and Overmyer are widely regarded as the creators of Treme. Highly respected among his peers, Mills also now has a scholarship in his name at his alma mater at the University of Maryland.
Treme Season Four Extended Trailer