But Linda Williams, a film professor at the University of California- Berkeley, thinks that complaint is short-sighted. She thinks the show helps viewers to understand and even come to respect the city and its people.
Simon says in a video posted on the foundation website that the series are his "ruminations of the end of empire, what it is like for a society to no longer have the will to pull itself as a whole, as a single entity, forward. It is a recipe for the disenfranchisement of significant portions of the country, for a divorce of one America from the other."
After "The Wire" went off the air in 2008, Simon and the playwright Eric Overmyer began working on a series about how the residents of New Orleans were trying to rebuild the city in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
"Treme" might be less epic in scope than "The Wire," but Jed Dietz, director of the Maryland Film Festival, thinks it is just as innovative, albeit in a different way.
"I've never seen anything like the way they have incorporated music into that show, either in television or in films," Dietz said.
"In even the great musicals, the numbers always has a tacked-on feel. But he blends music into the life of the characters and the city in a way that I've never seen before. You'll be watching a scene, and a parade will come through. Or a pickup band will play at the airport. Or the camera passes a pair of street musicians. It's so organic."
Though Simon's schedule is increasingly taking him out of town, he is working on two projects that are set in the Baltimore area: a film on an undisclosed topic that he is writing for Paramount Pictures and an HBO miniseries that he is crafting with Tom Fontana. The miniseries, he says, will look at parallels between Abraham Lincoln's assassination and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
At the moment, though, Simon is heavily involved in pre-production for shooting the second season of "Treme." So when, about 10 days ago, he received a message to call an attorney in Washington on a personal matter, winning a MacArthur was the farthest thing from his mind.
"Being a sensate human being, when I heard that a lawyer had called, I thought, 'Oh, great, this can't be good'," he said. "I thought I was being sued for something. I wondered if I could have run over someone's dog and not remembered it.
"So when I heard the news, my immediate reaction wasn't elation. It was, 'Oh, this isn't so bad. I can manage this.' It took me about a minute and a half to regroup and properly catalogue what was going on."
Simon is married to the novelist Laura Lippman, who also is a former Baltimore Sun reporter.
"Laura and I have celebrated with a certain amount of dry sarcasm," he said. "She is ready to thank the MacArthur Foundation for giving her five years of fresh material. The phrase, 'Hey, genius, you forgot to take out the trash last night,' has been uttered in my house."
Meet the 2010 fellows:
• Amir Abo-Shaeer, a California high school physics teacher.
• Jessie Little Doe Baird, an indigenous language preservationist from Massachusettes.