Bart & Fleming: TMZ’s Harvey Levin Faces New Yorker Scrutiny; Did David Milch Deserve THR Expose? by Peter Bart and Mike Fleming Jr.
February 22, 2016 1:00pm
BART: It’s Oscar time in LA, which translates into hell week for publicists but a moment of delicious opportunity for bartenders, hospital orderlies, hotel maids and all the other so-called “sources” who sell scandalous news items to the ubiquitous TMZ. The stars will be drinking and partying this week, and Harvey Levin, who presides over the gossip mayhem, will decide which scoops to air and how much to pay. Levin’s empire daily reminds celebrities, and the rest of us, how appallingly our privacy has been invaded. The battle over Apple’s privacy rules has exponentially expanded this debate to another level. But I also thank The New Yorker this week for reminding us how important, and intimidating, Levin’s empire has become. The major media outlets publicly condemn Levin’s practice of paying as much as six figures to his sleazy sources, but, as the magazine points out, he’s landed stories like Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic rants, Ray Rice’s elevator athletics, Donald Sterling’s negotiations with girlfriends and other cultural milestones. And the sources have been amply rewarded. Is all this disgusting? Yes, but, as Levin proclaims, “most journalism about stars is built on a lie.” And he’s right. And Levin should be applauded for breaking through the walls that publicists have built around their celebrity clients.
FLEMING: I have grudging admiration for Levin, who has melded dogged journalism with under the table payments and turned it into a very profitable business model. Peter, we first met over the phone when you were a producer and I worked on a gossip column for New York Newsday and I believe my greatest contribution came when a friend told me that John McEnroe and Tatum O’Neal were either shopping for an engagement ring or getting a marriage license, I forget which. You’ve got to be a certain type of person to make a living at the expense of others. I didn’t have that hardness in me, even then, and was never comfortable with it. But if you’re going to do that for a living, you might as well be all in. The unapologetic Levin is certainly that. Along the way, his TMZ has exposed: the appalling racist rant of Donald Sterling that forced him to sell the Los Angeles Clippers because his mostly black players wouldn’t play for him; that singer Chris Brown and football star Ray Rice used women as punching bags; that Mel Gibson’s first instinct after being pulled over for drunk driving was to launch a verbal tirade against Jews. Out of the tabloids also came the revelation that married QB Brett Favre didn’t live up to his carefully cultivated Norman Rockwell image by texting pictures of his naughty bit to a woman he fancied, and Bill Cosby’s long string of accusations that he drugged and then had his way with dozens of women. None of this will ever be confused with the work that brought the Boston Globe reporting team a Pulitzer and led to the Best Picture candidate Spotlight, but there is a parallel here about exposing hard truths and pulling back the curtain on the worst behavior of people in prominence.
BART: But it’s a disgusting process, isn’t it? And who benefits and who loses? Was it really worth $250,000 to buy surveillance footage of Beyonce’s sister, Solange, attacking Jay Z in a New York hotel elevator? That’s what Page Six claims, anyway, and Levin never confirms or denies. He just enjoys — and plays God during the process. Levin decides which stars to exploit and which to protect. Some of the vids on Justin Bieber have never been aired. Like the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover of old, Levin believes his store house of undisclosed material provides great negotiating power for future stories.
FLEMING: Nicholas Schmidle’s well researched New Yorker article Digital Dirt reported that Levin gave Bieber a pass for using the “N” word in a parody of a song because the kid was 16, and Levin gave him a break and didn’t destroy his career for doing something stupid at that prime age of stupidity. Every journalist and publication makes judgment calls about which fights to pick, and any journalist who says they haven’t benefited some way by pulling a punch isn’t being honest. Horse trading is part of the game. As for Solange walloping her brother-in-law Jay Z, it got picked up, second hand, by every “legitimate” media outlet in the world, as has the battered face of Rihanna at the hands of Chris Brown, and the Ray Rice video, and any number of videos and audiotapes that somehow fell into the hands of TMZ, which has been such a conduit for scandalous stuff. I’ve been kind of riveted to the FX series The People v OJ Simpson: American Crime Story; it’s remarkable how often the Kardashian children have shown up in the first few episodes. O.J. pal Robert Kardashian is the excuse, but I think the message is that the Simpson trial underscored the public’s insatiable desire for celebrity scandal, and led directly to the rise of reality series, TMZ and the Kardashians.
BART: If Harvey Levin can pull back the layers of secrecy surrounding film and music celebrities, could he do the same for politicians? This may seem like a squalid question, but how much do we really know, for example, about Donald Trump? And could Harvey Levin help? TMZ tried to open a Washington outlet but then changed its mind. My question about Trump may seem frivolous, but consider the Trump empire: Forbes says he’s worth $4.3 billion but, as The Economist points out, Trump doesn’t run a publicly listed company or even a holding company grouping his assets, so little hard data is available. His core of executives consists of family members. He has not made his taxes public. While he likes to boast about his great career in the gaming industry, his holdings were dwarfed by Sheldon Adelson’s (who’s worth $26 billion) and Trump had to dump his Atlantic City losers. Trump is known for yelling and screaming at executives and rivals but no one seems willing to talk. Where is Harvey Levin and his army of “paid” sources? What could they tell us about the inner workings of the Trump empire?
FLEMING: Two grafs ago, you seemed to be looking down your nose on Levin, and now you want to turn him loose in D.C. like some truth crusader? I’m not sure pols have the currency to make such exposure financially worthwhile. The exception is if you’ve got a sex scandal on the order of Monica Lewinsky. Drudge Report is now a conservative aggregation empire, but don’t forget Matt Drudge’s site came to prominence with revelations about Lewinsky’s semen-stained dress. It seemed tawdry, but it factored into impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton after he initially lied about the encounter.
BART: On another level, the mandate for secrecy in Washington was pointed up last week by the death of Antonin Scalia, whose history of bad health had been completely covered up for years. Even reports of Justice Scalia’s death were so muddy that The New York Times sat on it for almost an hour after it was posted by other media. Had TMZ penetrated Washington, Justice Scalia’s myriad secret trips to the hospital would have been disclosed by a receptionist or ambulance driver. OK, I’m not completely serious here, but it seems to me that Washington and Hollywood remain two totally contrasting worlds. We know more than we should about Hollywood, not enough about Washington.
FLEMING: I’ve got nothing for you on that last point. I did find it remarkable how Levin is minting money tapping the ferocious appetite for unvarnished celebrity revelations not only with a successful website and daily syndicated TV show (which I find un-watchable as kids stalk celebrities for airport sound bites) and a bus tour for tourists run by his partner, which actually gets celebrities to play ball and be viewed by gawking fans like zoo animals on a theme park safari tour. That is a better version of those maps to the star homes that have always been sold to tourists, and TMZ is a digital version of the old National Enquirer, with its shocking covers like the hospital shot of a near death Steve McQueen. You know how it’s said that every great fortune probably began with a great crime? Well, it seems these days like tomorrow’s general media celebrity tale began with yesterday’s salacious gossip item on TMZ or one of these other sites. If so-called legitimate news media were really that horrified by what TMZ was doing, it ought not to pick up second hand all the scoops being generated. Frowning on Levin while taking the safe route by recycling footage attributed to TMZ so you don’t have to pay to get the information or face the wrath of celebrity lawyers, well, that is hypocritical. And when they break a story about the tragic deaths of Michael Jackson or Whitney Houston, it’s ghoulish, but every publication follows their lead. What does it say when a prestige magazine like The New Yorker devotes page after page to Levin’s empire?
Peter, we just watched Deadpool break every superhero movie rule and gross half a billion dollars in two weeks. The public craves disruption. I’m not going to sit here and judge Levin and his TMZ army or any muckraker. One of my favorite magazines ever was the old Spy, which cleverly punctured the balloon of entitlement, and I laughed hard when the New York Post covered disgraced Subway pitchman Jared Fogle’s prison sentence on child pornography with a front cover that suggested he “Enjoy a Foot Long In Jail.” Many who get thumped deserve it, and the only problem I have is when paparazzi hound the children of stars. I recall an actor with kids once describing his daily reality of walking his kids into their school. Hulking, intimidating thugs with cameras, yelling at children in hopes they will look up and make a more salable picture subject. Those paparazzi, the actor said, form a semi-circle around their subjects so the backdrop behind the kids is clear. If they were photographing other hulking paparazzi screaming at children, they’d never be able to sell the pictures–even people who want prying photos might be appalled to see grown men screaming awful things at little kids who happen to be the progeny of movie stars. The rest of it? It’s Chinatown, Jake, and celebrities do have the option of not misbehaving or photographing intimate moments and leaving them around the house. I won’t judge Levin, but I don’t have it in me to make a living at the expense of others. Deadline’s policy is that if it relates to business, it’s fair game. Staying out of personal lives makes it easier to sleep better at night.
BART: Another example of “knowing too much” relates to the Hollywood Reporter’s exposure last week of David Milch’s personal demons. Milch is a four time Emmy winner (NYPD Blue and Deadwood among others) who has managed to blow $100 million on his gambling habit and owes the IRS $17 million. The THR story is well-written and well-reported, but do readers really need to know the details of the poor writer’s drug problems and financial misdeeds? He’s a writer and writers are supposed to be crazy. At what point does an artist deserve privacy? TMZ might have given the story thirty seconds and moved on. THR’s detailed analysis seemed at once good journalism – but a violation of privacy.
FLEMING: I would not have been proud to have my byline on that story. In my last days before ending a 20-year run at Variety, I was so conflicted with making the decision to join Deadline that my back went out. Bam. I hit the floor and could not get up. I was speaking with Milch and Michael Mann about the race horse drama Lucky that they’d just set at HBO. Milch was sympathetic to my sudden back flare-up; he suffered from back problems his whole life. I wrote the story, moved on, and two days later, Milch delivered to my house a back pillow, which really helped. This was the first time I’d spoken with Milch and I don’t think we’ve spoken since and since I don’t cover TV often, he gained nothing by doing this; he was being kind. Now, I recognize the guts it took to dig up and expose the famous writer’s personal spiral, and it is certainly startling he lost that much money. I just didn’t see it doing much for the greater good, though; no crime was exposed. THR profited at the expense of a fundamentally decent, flawed man. From those hacked Sony email documents on down, every journalist has to draw lines of decency in the sand in the digital age, only to cross them out and make new ones in order to stay competitive. It is impossible to imagine you will always feel good about every decision made under those conditions, when you look back.
Not surprisingly, even the article above, halfheartedly trying to defend the right of a celebrity to some level of privacy, is misrepresenting the facts. The number of “Mr.Milch’s $17 million debt to IRS” travels from one article to another, perhaps because it sounds more sensational than the actual $5 million.
“Segal then informed Rita that “she and David were approximately $17 million in debt — $5 million in unpaid taxes and penalties, $10 million in mortgages(…) and $2 million in fees to NKSFB and others”. That is the original text in the THR article.
Thank you for this correction, Sven! In general, it has been bothering me that this personal problem of Mr. Milch is not able to stay private. Now that I know that the facts have been misrepresented it’s another reason why journalists (even if they are “just bloggers”) should be held to fact-checking standards.
I recently updated http://DeadwoodChronicles.com so it is now a WordPress site. When I setup the blog I saw all the articles about Mr. Milch’s debt and I specifically chose not to put any posts about it on the site. It just seemed too… unseemly.
OTOH, maybe it’s the wake up call he needs to get help… I wish him the best and hope that this news does not delay the Deadwood Movie that has been approved by HBO.
The thought of omitting the news did cross my mind, Save. However, nothing even remotely disrespectful to Mr.Milch had ever appeared on our site and never will. The facts of his financial troubles are widely publicized already and it seems appropriate to post it here, where we have a more or less current and representative collection of related info all in one place. (Not a Library of Congress, of course, a pity! :))
Besides, Mr.Milch is, unusually for a celebrity, open and painfully frank about his personal life. I watched a lot of his YouTube lectures and video recordings and can say it is at times uncomfortable to hear and sometimes simply heartbreaking.
Jeff Bridges Will Star in David Milch’s Adaptation of ‘Shadow Country’ Posted on Tuesday, February 23rd, 2016 by Jack Giroux
Deadwood fans saw a slight flicker of hope last month for the long-awaited sequel to the series. Concluding David Milch‘s riveting series as an HBO film has been talked about for years, but it’s finally seeming, oddly, more realistic as the years go by.
HBO programming president, Michael Lombardo, said they’re just waiting on Milch to make it happen, and that he was currently busy with another project. That other project? Possibly an adaptation of Shadow County, starring Jeff Bridges, for HBO.
The Hollywood Reporter published a very in-depth piece about Milch’s financial struggles and gambling addiction, titled “How the $100 Million ‘NYPD Blue’ Creator Gambled Away His Fortune.” It’s a bit odd reading that much about a stranger’s personal life, but the piece does cover Milch’s career highs and lows and what he’s been working.
Briefly touched upon in the story (via Indiewire) is Shadow Country. Milch is writing an adaptation of Peter Matthiessen‘s epic period piece. Set in the 19th century, the story follows outlaw E. J. Watson.
Here’s the book’s synopsis:
Inspired by a near-mythic event of the wild Florida frontier at the turn of the twentieth century, Shadow Country reimagines the legend of the inspired Everglades sugar planter and notorious outlaw E. J. Watson, who drives himself relentlessly toward his own violent end at the hands of neighbors who mostly admired him, in a killing that obsessed his favorite son.
Shadow Country traverses strange landscapes and frontier hinterlands inhabited by Americans of every provenance and color, including the black and Indian inheritors of the archaic racism that, as Watson’s wife observed, “still casts its shadow over the nation.”
From what I’ve read about Matthiessen’s book, it sounds massive and well suited for HBO. Jeff Bridges, presumably, will play outlaw E. J. Watson. Admittedly, Bridges has starred in some disappointing films since winning an Academy Award for Crazy Heart, but he is Jeff Bridges, and you gotta be excited about the idea of him delivering Milch’s dialogue.
The executive producer and writer’s last two shows for HBO, John from Cincinnati and Luck, didn’t quite connect with audiences. John from Cincinnati was probably a little too out there for some viewers, while the the gambling drama faced plenty of bad luck. Neither show lasted more than two seasons.
We’re not sure when we’ll see Shadow Country, but hopefully sooner rather than later.
Besides, Mr.Milch is, unusually for a celebrity, open and painfully frank about his personal life. I watched a lot of his YouTube lectures and video recordings and can say it is at times uncomfortable to hear and sometimes simply heartbreaking.
SANTA MONICA, CALIF. – David Milch points to a framed black-and-white photo of a man in a suit, clutching a rake, cleaning a pile of garbage.
“It’s my wife’s idea of my mind,” he said. The debris, piled high and towering like a mountain, represents the past. The rake is twice the height of the man. “His instrument is more powerful than he is,” Milch said. Milch’s instrument is writing. It, too, is more powerful than he, and it happens here in this small room inside a small blue house on a Santa Monica side street. This house is the office for Milch’s company, Red Board Productions. It’s nice, but nice as in modest, not glamorous. The house has white lattice trim. There’s a picnic table on a patchy front lawn. This is where Milch makes stories. This is his Hollywood. It’s not what you’d expect from the Buffalo native who created shows like “NYPD Blue” and “Deadwood,” the man who racked up dozens of awards and many tens of millions of dollars for his writing. Some of those awards – a plaque of his star from the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a handful of Humanitas prizes, a pair of Peabody trophies, “the ones I didn’t sell,” Milch said – are in the next room over. So is a cream-colored couch with a yellowish stain. “This is a lovely sofa,” said Milch, wearing a dark T-shirt and jeans. “I don’t know what this is. Wax of some kind?” The place has the feel of a startup production company, one started by a scrappy pair of young producers who scraped together some money, salvaged some furniture and masked their bare-bones operation with unbreakable self-belief. But it’s not. This is the headquarters of a 71-year-old Hollywood legend, a man who’s widely considered to be one of the most celebrated writers in television history, a man whose creativity danced with demons to bring him to this place. On the wall above the sofa are index cards with the names of characters from “Shadow Country,” a novel Milch is adapting for HBO. Steps away, in the writing room, are stacks of treatments and scripts for a revival-to-be of “Deadwood,” his acclaimed HBO series set in the lawless Wild West. There’s a painting, done by his wife, Rita Milch, with colorful splashes of greens and blues. It shows the Milches’ estate on Martha’s Vineyard, the place where they used to bring their three now-grown children. They don’t go there anymore. That place, along with their Southern California mansion, was put on the market. Today, the Milches live in a Santa Monica rental home. They’re in debt – $17 million of debt – according to media reports. But they don’t seem unhappy. They don’t seem defeated. “Today I’m blessed to be relieved of certain obsessions that have organized my behavior in the past,” Milch said in his soft growl of a voice. “Is that adequately euphemistic?” Milch is writing. He’s teaching. And the only bets he’s making are on his own creative muscles. … Growing up in the Delaware-Amherst area of Buffalo, Milch, a Nichols School graduate, was the second of two sons. His father, Elmer, was a physician; his mother, Mollie, served on the Buffalo Board of Education. Milch’s family was close-knit, he said, but didn’t spend a lot of time doing things together. The influence of his father ran deep. Elmer Milch, said his son, had three primary interests: his family, his profession, and horse racing. David’s older brother, Robert, embraced one of his dad’s passions and became a doctor. David latched on to another: Horse racing. Starting at age 6, David traveled with his father every August to the races in Saratoga. “He was kind of an elusive figure in my life,” David said. “That was about the only thing we really did together.” On that first trip, Elmer Milch handed David a $20 bill and had the waiter run his little boy’s bets. David won a third of his wagers that day, “but I kept all the tickets,” Milch wrote in his 1995 book, “True Blue.” Those early lessons in handicapping and wagering stoked what became a fiery obsession. As a wealthy television writer and producer, Milch became a horse owner and won two Breeders’ Cup races. Milch was a big bettor, winning – and losing – loads of money. (He also parlayed his passion for breeding into an HBO series called “Luck,” starring Dustin Hoffman. It was canceled in its first season after the deaths of multiple horses raised animal-welfare concerns.) “I think that the interest in horse racing was very much of a permutation of my relationship with (my father),” Milch said, “so there was a driven-ness to it, and a compulsion that … wasn’t necessarily one of the best parts of my life.” Milch has battled a battery of demons: drinking, drugs, death. He had a young friend in Buffalo named Almon – nicknamed “Judgey,” after his grandfather, who was a judge. “He looked like Puck, like a clownish figure, a bit of a devil,” Milch said. “Great grin, always looking for trouble, and it tended to find him.” Milch and Judgey drank. A lot. One night, Milch recalled, Judgey had a 106-degree fever and was standing by a second-floor railing. He leaned over and toppled, falling to the first floor and landing on his bottom. “He got right up,” Milch recalled, “and I had the sense at that moment that this guy was immortal. Nothing was going to take him.” Something did. Milch doesn’t recall all the details – he thinks this happened in Ithaca, “but I’m probably wrong” – but Judgey was killed in a car accident. He was 16. Struggling to make sense of his friend’s death, Milch coped by writing. He penned a story in which he imagined Judgey’s family from the time of his death until his funeral. By the time he wrote the story, Milch was 19 or 20 and a student at Yale University. He decided to show it to one of his English professors, the poet and novelist Robert Penn Warren. “It looked like a very formed and conceived piece of work,” Milch said. “It wasn’t, but Mr. Warren saw something in it.” Warren took the young writer on as an apprentice of sorts, having him read drafts of poetry, and later involving him in a multiyear project studying the work of great American writers. After Milch graduated from Yale, Warren set up Milch with a teaching fellowship at the University of Iowa’s Writers Workshop, where literary luminaries including Kurt Vonnegut were on faculty. That time became a hazy period in Milch’s history: He briefly enrolled in Yale Law School for a draft deferment, got mixed up with guns and drugs, ended up for a time in Mexican jail. “I was in a little trouble,” Milch said, offering no details. “I was more or less in and out of trouble pretty continuously.” After his stint locked up south of the border, Milch ended up back in Iowa, where he studied for his master’s degree and, according to a 2005 profile in the New Yorker, had a side job manufacturing dope. Following that, he returned to Yale, now as a teacher and still working with Warren. He met a young woman named Rita Stern, fell in love, and they married in 1982 – the same year Milch moved to Hollywood and began writing for the cop show “Hill Street Blues.” He eventually became executive producer of the show, earning enough money to fly to Vegas every night to gamble, then jet back to California for work the next morning. If “Hill Street” established Milch financially – according to that New Yorker profile, he earned $12 million on a three-year contract – his next big move etched his place in Hollywood history: With his former “Hill Street” boss Steven Bochco, Milch created the landmark cop show “NYPD Blue.” Bochco ran production; Milch ran the writing. With edgy language – a Milch hallmark – and occasional nudity, the ABC series, which ran from 1993 to 2005, redefined network TV boundaries. It also made Milch a fortune, one his demons would wrest away. “Listen, where there’s a will, there’s a way,” he said wryly at a 2006 Storytellers Series talk organized by the Writers Guide Foundation. “I have (lost) millions and millions of dollars. There is not an amount of money that a writer can earn that I can’t blow.” Milch, with the slightest smile curving his lips, was talking about horse racing. His audience laughed. They probably thought he was joking, or at least exaggerating. He wasn’t. … “How the $100 Million ‘NYPD Blue’ Creator Gambled Away His Fortune.” That February 2016 headline turned heads and dropped jaws. The Hollywood Reporter claimed that Milch, whom the publication estimated earned $100 million in his career, is $17 million in debt and on a repayment plan with the IRS.
It also claimed Milch, a race-track fixture, had lost $25 million gambling between 2000 and 2011. A lawsuit filed by Rita Milch against the couple’s business managers Nigro Karlin Segal Feldstein & Bolno LLP claims she wasn’t kept fully informed of his large withdrawals. To prevent her husband from gambling, Rita Milch provides him $40 a week in cash. The article also said the Milches put their Brentwood, Calif., mansion and Martha’s Vineyard estate on the market, and sold personal items to raise money. (The Brentwood home sold in 2014 for $4.8 million.) They now live in a rental home not far from the house converted to an office for David’s company. In separate interviews with The News, both David and Rita Milch acknowledged the story was accurate. Rita Milch noted some of the figures were off, but declined to clarify them, citing ongoing litigation. Though neither discussed the lawsuit in depth, both are open about David’s struggles, which they say are in the past. “All I do is work and be with my family,” David said. “That is true,” Rita said in a separate conversation. “We have cleared away all the rest.” Then, laughing softly she said, “Oh, Dave … ” In a telephone interview, Rita’s devotion to her husband is clear and unwavering. Asked why she fell in love with him many years ago, she said, “His mind, his sense of humor, and his generosity. Those are three pretty good ones, right there.” She laughed softly, and continued. “I’ve never met anyone else like him, that compares to him,” she said. “Yeah, he’s complicated and he can be difficult, but he’s also wonderful and generous and sweet and to me, very touching. He just melts my heart.” Milch speaks of Rita in equally endearing terms. He says she raised their children – Elizabeth, 32, who works for Genius.com; Ben, 30, an artist; and Olivia, 27, a screenwriter – “pretty much on her own, and they’ve turned out wonderfully well.” “There’s no question that had I not been blessed with that relationship,” he said, “things wouldn’t have turned out well.” Did his wife save him? Milch pondered the question for a beat. “Sure,” he said. “Sure. Not by grabbing me by the scruff of the neck, but simply by not participating, and judging as minimally as possible. So during momentary bouts of lucidity, I always saw what was possible, if only I’d stop.” … Here’s what’s possible: Despite the financial tremors and attention on his personal life, Milch is still writing. Under his deal with HBO, the network sometimes tells him what to write. An example of that is the adaptation of “Shadow Country,” a novel by Peter Matthiessen set in the 1900s about a land developer who is also a serial killer. Milch also can pitch projects of his own creation, such as the revival of “Deadwood,” likely to be released in one, possibly two, film-length installments. Milch’s unorthodox creative process is rooted in his long battle with obsessive-compulsive tendencies: He never touches a keyboard when he writes; it’s a distraction. Instead, he sits in a black leather chair and verbalizes the script. One of his assistant writers, a muscular, tattooed man named Scott, types Milch’s words from behind a desk. One computer screen faces Scott; another two are turned outward, toward Milch, who sees the script develop in front of him. He’ll revise – and revise, and revise – until each sentence achieves perfection. Earl Brown, an actor on “Deadwood,” compared Milch’s writing process to watching a piece of coal being compressed into a diamond. “I thought that was such a beautiful way to put it,” said Rita Milch. “It’s kind of an intuitive process,” Milch said. “I wish that it were more systematic, but it just isn’t. Someone said, ‘Man’s accidents are God’s purposes. We miss the good we seek, and we do the good we little sought.’ You’ve just got to stay available to doing the good you little sought.” Here’s what else is possible: Milch is still teaching and mentoring. Twice a week, sometimes more, actor Michael Harney, who worked for Milch on “NYPD Blue” and “Deadwood,” comes to the office with his 17-year-old son Dylan, who is autistic. Dylan writes and shares his work with Milch, who gives feedback. The invitation to write was extended by Milch during a lunch with Harney. Milch asked the actor how Dylan was doing in English class, and Harney said, “He’s doing OK. It’s kind of standardized, how they’re teaching it.” “Well, I can teach it,” Milch said to Harney, who at first thought Milch was joking. But it was a serious offer. “Bring him in,” Milch said. So Harney did, and soon began writing alongside his son in the room with the old couch and the awards that haven’t been sold. Dylan writes about his observations and feelings. His father, who often has played the role of law enforcer on camera, has been working on poetry, short stories and screenplays. Rita Milch said her husband does “some of his best thinking” when he’s teaching. David Milch takes it further. He’s his “best self,” he said, when teaching. “You want to be your best self, and that happens at least 2 percent of the time,” he said. “But typically your best chance to be your best self is when you’re teaching. It’s because you respect yourself. So much of what we do is shame-based, and when you’re teaching, you have the opportunity to answer to the best parts of your nature, so I’m always grateful for that chance.” For Harney, who’s spent Dylan’s entire life fighting for his son’s “right to be heard, to be seen, to participate,” Milch’s interest has been life-changing. “David never wrote him off,” Harney said. “He just says, ‘Hey man, what do you got? Keep going. What do you got? Keep going.’ ” Which is what Milch does, too: He keeps going.