David Mills: A Writer Who Worked on the Best

Update: Writer Skye Dent, who knew David Mills through the WGA, sends along the following thoughts about him. My original item is below:

Because David was so light-skinned, a lot of people in
Hollywood
thought he was white when they first met him.  But, even while
pitching
to people who would clearly treat him different knowing he was
black, he
would casually drop it in the conversation so that there was no
mistake.  He was not a black writer, but rather a writer for whom
writing and being black were of equal importance to his
identity

David’s success was on a level beyond that of most
writer-producers in Hollywood.
That in itself is enough to celebrate his
loss.  But, I will always remember him for the heart and courage he
displayed in regularly being there for people of color on much lower
levels,
when he didn’t need to be. I guess that says it all.

David
took the
time to do things that maybe he didn’t need to do, but things that
someone
ought to have. A successful man with a sense of ethics.

If you’re judged by the company you keep, David Mills certainly hung around with TV’s best and brightest.

The former Washington Post writer — who made a successful leap into TV in the 1990s — tragically died of a brain aneurysm in New Orleans, where he’s been working on “Treme,” the new HBO drama from producers David Simon and Eric Overmyer. He was only 48, but had made a sizable mark through his collaboration with Simon — with whom he worked on “Homicide: Life on the Street” and the HBO miniseries “The Corner” — as well as writing stints on “NYPD Blue,” “Picket Fences” and “ER.”

In 1997, Mills — then just 35, and a relative neophyte in Hollywood — participated in a round-table discussion of TV writers that I conducted for the Los Angeles Times. He seemed smart and passionate about his new-found career.

Mills sounded slightly dazzled still about working with showrunners like David E. Kelley and David Milch. “These are the people who are kind of making [television] a writer’s medium, in the sense these writers have a distinctive writer’s voice, as distinctive as David Mamet or [Ernest] Hemingway,” he said. “These are shows that even the audience, I think, gets a sense of ‘Wow, this is good writing.’ I think that’s something new since the ’80s in drama, a sense of TV as great writing.”

Mills also spoke about the pressure he felt to produce a level of drama that would stand apart from the crowd. “When you think of what stories to tell, and what characters to create, you have to raise the bar really high: Is this story compelling enough? Are these characters real enough? There’s just so much out there — how do you stand out amid everything else that’s out there in the pop culture?”

Looking through Mills’ resume — including “Treme,” premiering April 11, a review of which is to come soon — he clearly found a way to associate himself with programs that manage to “stand out amid everything else that’s out there.” He will be missed.

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