Thursday, April 1, 2010

David "The Undercover Brother" Mills, Noted Screenplay Writer and Journalist has Passed Away

"You come at the King you best not miss." Rest in peace David.

You were a true Renaissance Man--writer, journalist, scholar (even if you were modest about your work), and all around creative type. Funny, it wasn't until a few months ago that I realized that The Undercover of the first popular blogs to give us some love...was your project. Now it all makes sense. You were cool people, and although it is little comfort in their grief, I do hope your family finds some solace in the great body of work you have left behind for us all.

David Mills, Emmy-winning screenwriter, dead at 48

David  Mills

David Mills (left) is shown in this Sun file photo from April 2000 with actress Khandi Alexander, and writer David Simon as they stand outside at the premier of the HBO television movie "The Corner" at the Senator Theatre.

David Mills, a University of Maryland graduate and Emmy-award-winning screenwriter for his work on "The Corner," collapsed on the set of HBO's "Treme" Tuesday and died in a New Orleans Hospital, according to series creator David Simon. He was 48 years old. The cause of death was a brain aneurysm.

Mills was working as a writer on the new HBO series from Simon and Eric Overmyer, which is set to debut April 11. He was a long-time friend of Simon's since their college days on the University of Maryland student newspaper, The Diamondback. Mills collborated with Simon on scripts for the NBC series, "Homicide: Life on the Street" and HBO's "The Corner."

The duo went from being newspaper reporters -- Simon at The Baltimore Sun and Mills at The Washington Post -- to near-instant success as two of the best screenwriters working in network crime drama. Their work on "The Corner," won an Emmy for best writing for a TV mini-series in 2000.

Mills went on to join Steven Bochco's writing staff at "NYPD Blue." He also wrote for the NBC medical drama "ER." In 2003, he created and served as executive producer for the short-lived NBC crime drama, "Kingpin," the saga of a Mexican drug operation.

While the writing was again top-notch Mills, the series failed to attract an audience right out of the box, and was cancelled after six episodes. It was Mills' bad luck to be working in network TV rather than pay cable, where the series would have surely found an audience had it been given a chance to grow.

While he lived in Los Angeles, Mills spent a lot of time in the Baltimore and Washington area because of his involvement on "The Corner," "Homicide" and "The Wire." In the 1990s, he appeared several times as a guest on what is now WYPR-FM, Baltimore's public radio station.

Sheri Parks and I interviewed Mills at length on our weekly "Media Matters" show that aired on what was then WJHU, and he was one of the the most illuminating conversationalists I have ever encountered. While the conversation always started with TV screenwriting, it invariably tracked into some of his interests and passions -- George Clinton and the Funkadelics and race and politics. The enthusiam and joy that Mills brought to such topics were contagious.

Sitting in a radio studio listening to Mills talk about his work was an intellectual high to be savored. I wondered as I wrote a preview last week about the pilot for "Treme" how much Mills had to do with the music. It was the finest use of music I have ever heard in a TV series.

Mills wrote about those topics on his blog, "Undercover Black Man." His autobiographical information at that site was vintage Mills in its economy and firm sense of professional identity.

"I used to write for newspapers," he said. "Now I write for TV shows."

His last post at "Undercover Black Man," carried the headline "'Treme' is less than two weeks away."

"And... TV critics are starting to weigh in" he wrote. "The Baltimore Sun’s David Zurawik dug the first episode."

I "dug" almost every television thing that David Mills ever did.

1 comment:

saltzmas said...

RIP David Mills.

In light of the death of this important African American in film I believe it is more necessary than ever to discuss the portrayal and involvement of African Americans in film and media.

What constitutes a “black” film? Does it merely include African American actors or must the plot center on the African American community and cultural themes? Join our discussion tonight on WGBH’s Basic Black where we will address these questions as well as the overall cultural significance of films and libraries. You can tune in to the conversation at 7:30 pm on Channel 2 in Boston or watch online at You also have the opportunity to participate in a live online chat throughout the show!