Having written about the origin’s of HBO’s innovative “K Street” series, writer and dear friend Henry Bean looks back at the project with the advantage of time and distance:
The episodes ran thirty minutes. When I look at them today, they feel like coherent, dramatic wholes, though that was less palpable when they first aired. Like many advanced works of art, K Street taught you how to watch K Street; or, rather, Steven invented K Street and taught us all how to watch it, even those of us working on the show. There are character threads that run through the show, and stories build here and there, tensions rise and abate, though there is rarely, if ever, a big dramatic climax. As in life, things go on; sometimes sequences or whole episodes are tightly plotted and driving forward, at others they meander messily around.
The characters always control the frame. Steven would tell the actors (or real people) what a scene was about and what, in general, he needed them to accomplish, and then they would do it their own way, while he and the other cameramen photographed them and our soundman tried to balance the voices. Sometimes the performers did not do what they were asked, but instead of having them do it again, Steven would work with what they had done. In this sense, every moment was a surprise. Because we didn’t “write” next week’s episode until after this week’s had been on the air, we were making up the story as we went along, adapting our inventions to an established reality. And what viewers seemed to enjoy (the relatively small audience that liked and watched) was exactly that feeling of spontaneous invention, the sense – as in a Renoir film — that life was being caught on the fly.
From what I’ve read about the making of shows like Survivor and its descendants, K Street is closer to “reality” than most of them, and, in fact, less like normal scripted drama than they are. I don’t think it’s too much to say that it has a method and a curiosity like a Renoir film. It wants to know, above all, what people are like, what they do, why they do it. And it wants to know this without being “told.” It wants to feel their inner lives in outward behavior, in the moment, in a pure being the needs neither past (explanatory history) nor future (dramatic resolution). If, as is often said, every film is really a documentary of what takes place in front of the camera, K Street is a show that knows that that’s what it is. And it know that situation, story and constructed characters are just devices to get you there.