I take something of pride in sometimes indulging in great cultural luxuries long after their novelty has waned.
With that knowledge, I’ll share my thoughts on finishing the complete five-season DVD set of celebrated HBO drama ‘the Wire‘ to encourage readers to watch it again, assuming you’ve seen the show at some point since it first aired in 2002.
It’s not difficult at all to piggyback that suggestion onto the concept of the state of media and the future of news.
David Simon, the creator and primary writer of the serial drama based on the inner-workings of drugs, policing and politicking in gritty post-industrial Baltimore, was himself, quite famously, a newspaper reporter for the Baltimore Sun, giving him a career of insight.
Notably, each of the five seasons take on a different focus of the Baltimore city structure — from the drug trade, to unions to policing to, yes, reporting. So in the past few weeks after finishing the final season, I’ve delved into writing, stories, concepts and conversations. Even if you know the show well, it might be worth seeing what’s out there and, yes, connect it to media.
The clearest take away is not a new one, but its connective tissue is.
The Wire, like fiction for hundreds of years, went further to create interest, understanding complexities and raise concerns than any journalism ever has. ..Ever.
But, the important part is that Simon’s writing was so good because it was seen as so authentic. In turn, the show was so authentic because Simon came from years reporting on what he soon wrote and his other contributors had backgrounds in police work or other knowledge bases.
Journalism can be wonderful for truth but there’s a great chance no one will much see it until it’s on TV.
In one of the contributing writers suggests in a New Yorker profile of Simon that “The Wire” would be “a novel for television,” it’s a story about the “decline of the American empire.”
That’s a compelling, important story — telling the tale of post-industrial historic U.S. cities — that might be important that everyone understand, as it correlates to policy, culture and socialization.
What’s more, the show conveyed the cyclical nature of our problems. Drugs and education and unions and policing and reporting: we never truly fix problems — because they’re way more complicated than we want to admit.
The mayoral candidate that appears in the last three seasons is a reform candidate. Like many of the politicians I have met in my short reporting career, he truly believes in change. Frankly, I believe the vast majority of legislators do want to positively impact their communities — I really do. But it’s complicated. There are so many competing interests and to stay in power, you have to compromise and make trades.
It’s a cycle, like the drugs and education and the rest.
Simon was making sure you’d never be able to watch ‘Law and Order’ ever again, sayings things like, “the sort of bombastic writing tone that broadsheet editors often mistake for voice.” Slate called the program ‘the best TV show ever broadcast in America.’
After the final season, Bill Moyers interviewed David Simon:
- Stealing Life | Oct. 22, 2007 | by Margaret Talbot | New Yorker
- The Angriest Man In Television | January 2008 | by Mark Bowden | The Atlantic
- David Simon on cutting “The Wire” | March 10, 2008 | Q&A by Heather Havrilesky
Other characters grew their own celebrity, notably Felicia ‘Snoop’ Pearson, a hardened drug-trade soldier whose character was based loosely on her own persona. Below, she is part of a Larry King special.
Why is it called The Wire?
The show’s title referred to the wiretap that a unit of the Baltimore police force was using to keep a local drug organization under surveillance. Ultimately, the term suggested more—the way that the show allowed viewers to eavesdrop on various recondite power plays, and the way that poverty, politics, and policing were interconnected in a struggling post-industrial city. In Simon’s view, “The Wire” was never “a cop show. We were always planning to move further and further out, to build a whole city.”[Source]
The final season on the life of the Baltimore Sun:
This final season of the show, Simon told me, will be about “perception versus reality”—in particular, what kind of reality newspapers can capture and what they can’t. Newspapers across the country are shrinking, laying off beat reporters who understood their turf. More important, Simon believes, newspapers are fundamentally not equipped to convey certain kinds of complex truths. Instead, they focus on scandals—stories that have a clean moral. “It’s like, Find the eight-hundred-dollar toilet seat, find the contractor who’s double-billing,” Simon said at one point. “That’s their bread and butter. Systemic societal failure that has multiple problems—newspapers are not designed to understand it.” [Source]
David Simon and other staff, talk about the show’s ‘love letter to Baltimore.’
An interesting Wire prequel, in which young Omar Little foreshadows his future:
And finally, the famed first scene of the show’s first season:
4 thoughts on “The Wire: yeah, the HBO Baltimore drama is mad decent”
Given what you know about the current state of journalism in an inner city, do you feel his portrayal was both accurate and complete?
I know a lot of people (myself included) think the journalism storyline was the most heavy-handed/pedantic of the 5 major storylines covered during the show -possibly because it was too personal to him.
I think the journalism scene right now is just moving too swiftly to have much an accurate take on it. I don’t pretend to know the details of the Baltimore scene or — let’s be real — the real details of an aging newsroom, but I think we can agree that was personal.
Great series, I’m going to last season, but arguably one of the greatest series of all time.