It did not win Emmys and was outsold by The Sopranos when it came to viewing figures. Every season was difficult to get recommissioned. This spring ten years ago, The Wire ended after five series.
Even though it was filmed 10 years ago, the series still receives constant praise from critics for its comprehensive look at Baltimore. It includes everything from drug dealers to the police department to schools and printed media.
Michael K Williams, the actor who played Omar Little (arguably the show’s most famous character), has served as a jury at Canneseries, a festival that evaluates international TV series the same way a film festival juror would. He believes that despite television’s cultural dominance, there is little that resonates. Yet, The Wire has always done so.
Michael K Williams as Omar Little, the drug dealer. (Credit to Canneseries).
“I believe it has stayed with people because they still find it relevant today, given the current climate in America. He says that it is a bit sad that it is still relevant in 2018.
He says that The Wire’s longevity is because its writers, Ed Burns and David Simon, worked in Baltimore’s Police Department, and, in the case of Burns as a teacher. This means that the writing was grounded in real life.
Williams says, “It was my first show that was made as what I call edutainment.”
It looked so deeply into the problems in our society from our politicians to the police department, our school’s system, and the media. It was a representation of what was going on in our community.
David took a hard look at it and did something. He didn’t focus on the bad or good guys. They were people trying to do their best. It was about grey lines, and I know that viewers appreciated that honesty. I’ve met drug dealers, law enforcement officers, and gangsters who all agreed that it was brutally honest. It was also right on the point because David and Ed wrote it from their own experience and not fiction. It’s that reason people love it, I believe.”
The birth of the binge
The Wire also broke the mold in another way: unlike other TV shows of the era – The Sopranos and Sex and the City – The Wire featured a lot of black actors in its ensemble cast and gave Williams career breaks, as well as his co-stars Michael B Jordan and Idris Elba.
David Simon and Ed Burns created The Wire based on their experiences with Baltimore’s Police Department, the city’s schools system, and newspapers. (Credit to Alamy).
Williams explains that Williams was asked the question, “Where are all the black actors ?’, “And The Wire responded, ‘Well. Here are some of them.’ Others, like myself, just graduated from drama school and were allowed to showcase their talents. It was believed that David picked us up on the street, but that we were playing ourselves. This gave it its authenticity.
“It was also on The Wire that I first heard the term ‘novel TV’. It was a visual equivalent to a Dickens novel with many characters and various scenarios. I also saw ‘binge-watching’.
The Wire’s ensemble cast featured a variety of actors from ethnic minorities, including Sonja Sohn, Idris Elba, and Michael B Jordan.
The Wire had a peak viewing figure of around four million viewers on HBO, which produced the series. The Sopranos, also produced by HBO at the same time, was lavishly rated and won several awards. It often competes with The Wire to be the ‘all-time great TV series. Michael K Williams jokes about how one episode of The Sopranos costs the same as a whole season of The Wire. Benjamin Rozovas is a French film critic and TV critic who believes that The Wire’s longevity may be due to its inconsistency for so long.
He says that it was only considered the “best thing ever on television” about a year after its completion, even though some critics praised it during its airing. It was 10 years since the first season aired when it became a huge hit. It was described as an under-rated, un-seen, and under-the-radar gem about inner-city life.
It did give rise to the must-watch TV’ television. In the case of The Wire, it just so happened that it was true. This was something that we had never seen before. It’s not a coincidence that The Wire ended just as the Obama presidency began in 2008. Culturally, those who watched it raised their consciences. It played its part.
The Wire was produced by HBO. It also had The Sopranos, an award-winning rating show (Credit: Alamy).
Rozovas says that the series was able to air during the so-called “golden age” of TV, which occurred at the beginning of the new millennium. This was before TV had become aware of its existence and its staying power. Series like Mad Men and Breaking Bad look like rehashes. In an era when every new TV show is celebrated as a groundbreaking masterpiece, the ‘innocence” of must-see TV has been lost.
The city is the star
This type of market makes it hard to discern which shows have the ‘x-factor in 2018. Sandra Oh, who was previously on Grey’s Anatomy but is now starring in Killing Eve. Killing Eve premiered at Cannesseries and received rave reviews. Already, a second series was commissioned.
Oh, stars alongside Jodie corner and Fiona Shaw. This all-female spy-versus-assassin thriller was adapted by Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Oh believes audiences continue to look for new things, just as The Handmaid’s Tale was a success in 2017, especially for women.
Sandra Oh, who was a Grey’s Anatomy star, is now in Phoebe Waller Bridge’s new thriller Killing Eve (Credit: BBC America).
“I was thinking that in this world of billions of channels and so much content it’s hard to find a unique voice. Phoebe Waller-Bridge is an example of someone who does have it, and Killing Eve also has it, I believe,” she said.
“Television has changed so much since the beginning of the century that all the parts must move together for it to survive and thrive. But I believe now you need to say something unique in the way you present it, or in its tone and style. It’s about unique authorship…”
The Wire made Baltimore the main character, not its ensemble cast. Perhaps this is why Bron/The Bridge was a ‘Scandi noir” detective series that went on to great success. After its 2011 debut, the show is back for its fourth season. Two of its creators, Bjorn Stein and Mans Marlind, said they wanted to tell a story about two nations, not one about a female sociopathic detective.
The Bridge creators, like The Wire’s, focused their story around a specific location. In this case, it was Sweden and Denmark. (Credit to Alamy).
“We wanted to tell a story about Sweden and Denmark. We wanted to tell stories about the wealthiest and the poorest. Stein explains that there were many things we didn’t like about Sweden or Denmark at the time and that Stein wanted to comment.
“The thriller genre fits perfectly. It is very Scandi that crime stories center around social commentary. While I don’t think the grisly murders are disturbing, you still need to have an idea that will make you bleed.
“We believe the world must be real. It doesn’t matter what Game of Thrones is, the world must feel real.
Maybe The Wire is worthy of its praises. Michael K Williams believes that The Wire would be able to stand scrutiny even in 2018 if it were to premiere now.
He believes that “Oh boy, it’d explode if it were on Cancelled TV Shows now.” “We did it without social media. There was no Instagram or Twitter. Can you picture the conversation now? It would have been a huge hit. It may have even won Emmys.”