You can’t help being obsessed with The Wire and not being simultaneously fascinated with David Simon, the man behind the show. His journey is easy to trace back from The Wire. It owes it’s direct ascendants, the books Homicide : A Year on the Killing Streets and The Corner : A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood, where in the former Simon spent a year with Homicide division of Baltimore city, and for the latter crossed over to the opposite side, to observe and write about the policed corner of Baltimore neighborhood. Both those books cover true stories, and much of The Wire reflects those stories. The Wire is more harrowing on the psyche however than any fictional creation. In true Gonzo creationism, it has created a world, which though different in it’s physicality, but has just the same type of games as yours. The insistent message that one carries through is
“The players might change, but the game goes on. And the game is rigged.”
There is a lot that I want to write about on The Wire, which I shall probably cover in a subsequent post, but for now I want to pave the way for Simon who introduces his creation in a book called The Wire : Truth be told, which has essays on different aspects of the show by various people involved in the making (including a brilliant piece tying together Obama’s favorite sport, basketball and favorite show, The Wire with his political choices) .
The David Simon write-up below forms the introduction to the book and is a mash-up of motivations to get the series together, a sort of bibliographic reference to sources, and a thank you to all collaborators. Now, this would sound like a load of bullshit coming from another author riding on the crest of a success. Simon however is arguing about nations feeding self elevating bullshit to their people generation upon generation to continue with an idealized image, a mythology. There is bitching about the television format sold to the commercial break, there is unbelieving head-shakes at the systemic and endemic corruption governing our national life which seems near universal. All themes that I highly resonated with (even though, as he says, I am not proletarian). It’s a fascinating and brilliant read.
Links to some more of Simon’s interviews and articles at the end of this piece, if you want to catch up.
On to David Simon.
INTRODUCTION to THE WIRE
by David Simon
“We’re building something here … and all the pieces matter.”
DETECTIVE LESTER FREAMON
Swear to God, it was never a cop show. And though there were cops and gangsters aplenty, it was never entirely appropriate to classify it as a crime story, though the spine of every season was certain to be a police investigation in Baltimore, Maryland. But to say so nearly a decade ago, back when The Wire first premiered on HBO, would have been to invite certain ridicule. It would have sounded comically pretentious to have invoked Lester Freamon’s claim.
As a medium for serious storytelling, television has precious little to recommend it – or at least that has been the case for most of its history. What else can we expect from a framework in which the most pregnant moment in the story has for decades been the commercial break, that five-times-an-hour pause when writers, actors, and directors are required to juke the tale enough so that a trip to the refrigerator or bathroom does not mean a walk away from the television set, or, worse yet, a click on the remote to another channel.
In such a construct, where does a storyteller put any serious ambition? Where are the tales to reside safely and securely, but in the simplest paradigms of good and evil, of heroes, villains, and simplified characterization? Where but in plotlines that remain accessible to the most ignorant or indifferent viewers. Where but in the half-assed, don’t-rattle-their-cages uselessness of self-affirming, self-assuring narratives that comfort the American comfortable, and ignore the American afflicted; the better to sell Ford trucks and fast food, beer and athletic shoes, iPods and feminine hygiene products. Consider that for generations now the cathode-ray glow of our national campfire, the televised reflection of the American experience – and, by extension, that of the Western free-market democracies – has come down to us from on high. Westerns and police procedurals and legal dramas, soap operas and situation comedies – all of it conceived in Los Angeles and New York by industry professionals, then shaped by corporate entities to calm and soothe as many viewers as possible, priming them with the idea that their future is better and brighter than it actually is, that the time is never more right to buy and consume.
Until recently, all of television has been about selling. Not selling story, of course, but selling the intermissions to that story. And therefore little programming that might interfere with the mission of reassuring viewers as to their God-given status as indebted consumers has ever been broadcast – and certainly nothing in the form of a continuing series. For half a century, network television wrapped its programs around the advertising – not the other way around, as it may have seemed to some. This is not to deny that HBO is a large and profitable piece of Time Warner, which itself is a paragon of Wall Street monolith. The Wire’s 35mm misadventure in Baltimore – for any of its claims to iconoclasm – is nonetheless sponsored by a media conglomerate with an absolute interest in selling to consumers. And yet, on that conglomerate’s premium cable cannel, the only product being sold is the programming itself. In that distinction, there is all the difference.
Beginning with Oz and culminating in The Sopranos, the best work on HBO expresses nothing less than the vision of individual writers, as expressed through the talents of directors, actors, and film crews. For a rare window in the history of television, nothing much gets in the way of that. Story is all.
If you laughed, you laughed. If you cried, you cried. And if you thought – and there is actually no prohibition on such merely because you had a TV remote in your hand – then you thought. And if you decided, at any point – as many an early viewer of The Wire did – to change the channel, then so be it. But on HBO, nothing other than the stories themselves was for sale and therefore – absent the Ford trucks and athletic shoes – there is nothing to mitigate against a sad story, an angry story, a subversive story, a disturbing story.
The first thing we had to do was teach folks to watch television in a different way, to slow themselves down and pay attention, to immerse themselves in a way that the medium had long ago ceased to demand. And we had to do this, problematically enough, using a genre and its tropes that for decades have been accepted as basic, obvious storytelling terrain. The crime story long ago became a central archetype of our culture, and the labyrinth of the inner city has largely replaced the spare, unforgiving landscape of the American West as the central stage for our morality plays. The best crime shows – Homicide and NYPD Blue, or their predecessors, Dragnet and Police Story – were essentially about good and evil. Justice, revenge, betrayal, redemption – there isn’t much left in the tangle between right and wrong that hasn’t been fully, even brilliantly explored by the likes of Friday and Pembleton and Sipowicz.
By contrast, The Wire had ambitions elsewhere. Specifically, we were bored with good and evil. To the greatest possible extent, we were quick to renounce the theme.
After all, with the exception of saints and sociopaths, few in this world are anything but a confused and corrupted combination of personal motivations, most of them selfish, some of them hilarious. Character is essential for all good drama, and plotting is just as fundamental. But ultimately, the storytelling that speaks to our current condition, that grapples with the basic realities and contradictions of our immediate world – these are stories that, in the end, have some chance of presenting a social, and even political, argument. And to be honest, The Wire was not merely trying to tell a good story or two. We were very much trying to pick a fight.
To that end, The Wire was not about Jimmy McNulty. Or Avon Barksdale. Or Marlo Stanfield, or Tommy Carcetti or Gus Haynes. It was not about crime. Or punishment. Or the drug war. Or politics. Or race. Or education, labor relations or journalism.
It was about The City.
It is how we in the West live at the millennium, an urbanized species compacted together, sharing a common love, awe, and fear of what we have rendered not only in Baltimore or St. Louis or Chicago, but in Manchester or Amsterdam or Mexico City as well. At best, our metropolises are the ultimate aspiration of community, the repository for every myth and hope of people clinging to the sides of the pyramid that is capitalism. At worst, our cities – or those places in our cities where most of us fear to tread – are vessels for the darkest contradictions and most brutal competitions that underlie the way we actually live together, or fail to live together.
Mythology is important, essential even, to a national psyche. And Americans in particular are desperate in their pursuit of national myth. This is understandable, to a point: coating an elemental truth with the bright gloss of heroism and national sacrifice is the prerogative of the nation-state. But to carry the same lies forward, generation after generation, so that our collective sense of the American experiment is better and more comforting than it ought to be – this is where mythology has its cost, and a cost not only to the United States but to the world as a whole. In a young and struggling nation, a moderate degree of self-elevating bullshit has a certain earnest charm. For a militarized, technological superpower – overextended in both its economic and foreign policy impulses – it begins to approach the Orwellian.
We began writing The Wire when certain narratives were playing out within the American culture: the shocking frauds at the heart of Enron and Worldcom, outlying harbingers of the economic implosion that was still to come, as well as the institutional scandal of sexual abuse by priests and the self-preservation of the American branch of the Catholic Church. It seemed to us, back in 2002, that there was something hollow and ugly at our institutional core, and from what Ed Burns understood of the Baltimore police department and school system, and from what I had witnessed at the heart of that city’s newspaper, the institutional and systemic corruptions of our national life seemed near universal. In practical ways, America was becoming the land of the juked statistic – the false quarterly profit statement, the hyped school test score, the non-existent decline in crime, the impossible campaign promise, the hyped Pulitzer Prize.
We were observant, but not as prescient as the state of our nation now makes us seem. Or at least, we don’t now count ourselves as prescient; the enormity of the mortgage security scandal and the Wall Street pyramid schemes that wrecked the world economy were too shameless and absurd for even our fevered imaginations. We saw that there were elements in the culture that were parasitic and self-aggrandizing, that the greed and rapaciousness of a society that exalted profit and free markets to the exclusion of any other social framework would be burdened by such a level of greed. We understood that throughout our national culture, there was a growing inability to recognize our problems, much less deal honestly with them. But, forgive us, we had no idea that the greed had become policy, that the rogue elements were not being carried by corrupted systems, but were in command of those systems. We could not have imagined Katrina and the hollow response to that tragedy. We could not have fathomed the empty lies and self-delusions that brought about the senseless misadventure in Iraq. We had a good argument, as far as we knew; but in the beginning we didn’t know how good.
To state our case, The Wire began as a story wedged between two American myths. The first tells us that in this country, if you are smarter than the next man, if you are shrewd or frugal or visionary, if you build a better mousetrap, if you get there first with the best idea, you will succeed beyond your wildest imaginations. And by virtue of free-market processes, it is entirely fair to say that this myth, more than ever, happens to be true. Not only is this accurate in America, but throughout the West and in many emerging nations as well. Every day, a new millionaire or three is surely christened. Or ten. Or twenty.
But a supporting myth has also presided, and it serves as ballast against the unencumbered capitalism that has emerged triumphant, asserting as it does for individual achievement to the exclusion of all societal responsibility, and thereby validating the amassed wealth of the wise and fortunate among us. In America, we once liked to tell ourselves, those who are not clever or visionary, who do not build better mousetraps, have a place held for them nonetheless. The myth holds that those who are neither slick nor cunning, yet willing to get up every day and work their asses off and come home and stay committed to their families, their communities and every other institution they are asked to serve – these people have a portion for them as well. They might not drive a Lexus, or eat out every weekend; their children might not be candidates for early admission at Harvard or Brown; and come Sunday, they might not see the game on a wide-screen. But they will have a place, and they will not be betrayed.
In Baltimore, as in so many cities, it is no longer possible to describe this as myth. It is no longer possible even to remain polite on the subject. It is, in a word, a lie.
In my city, the brown fields and rotting piers and rusting factories are testament to an economy that shifted and then shifted again, rendering obsolete whole generations of union-wage workers and their families. The cost to society is beyond calculation, not that anyone ever paused to calculate anything. Our economic and political leaders are dismissive of the horror, at points even flippant in their derision. Margaret Thatcher’s suggestion that there is no society to consider beyond the individual and his family speaks volumes in the clarity of its late-20th-century contempt for the ideal of nation-states offering citizens anything approximating a sense of communal purpose and meaning.
From Sparrows Point at the southeastern approaches to my city, the corporate remnant of the once-great Bethlehem Steel informs thousands of retirees that money is no longer available for their pensions. Men who worked the blast furnaces and shipyards – the very men who built Liberty ships to beat Hitler and Mussolini – are told that while they may suffer from asbestosis, they no longer have health benefits or life insurance.
From the piers of what was once Maryland Ship & Drydock, luxury condominiums and townhomes now rise in place of industrial cranes, while the yachts and powerboats of Washingtonians speckle an inlet where the world’s great shipping lines once maneuvered. And, as predicted, the grain tower and pier that Frank Sobotka tried to salvage in The Wire’s second season did indeed fall to the developers, who have transformed it into something called Silo Point, featuring luxury housing rather than union-wage jobs.
From Johns Hopkins University – now, by default, the city’s largest employer – comes the news that the remaining families who survived generations of poverty, neglect, and addiction in the barren ghetto just north of the East Baltimore Hospital would be moved out entirely, allowing the university to bulldoze their blocks into a biotechnology park. For most of the last century, Hopkins and city officials could find no meaningful way to connect the great research institution with surrounding communities; finally, they destroyed what remained of the village in order to save it.
From the city school system comes year after year of failure and decay, with graduation rates of no more than 30 percent as we prepare Baltimore’s children to join an economy that has no real need for them. And with each passing election, the test scores magically rise at the third and fifth grades, before collapsing entirely two years later when the same students – having been taught both the test and the Orwellian perfection of the slogan, “No Child Left Behind” – finally opt out and disappear from the classrooms, choosing the corners instead. From the police department, the arrest rates go ever higher as raw statistics dominate actual police work, and the numbers game ensures that the most incompetent commanders are promoted over those actually capable of investigating crime. The clearance rate for homicides – in the 80 percent range 20 years ago – is now below 35 percent.
And from the city’s last remaining daily newspaper, a string of buyouts and attritions now leaves Baltimore’s premiere watchdog institution with 140 reporters to report on a city once covered by 500 souls. And the Baltimore Sun is not alone in its collapse; from Martin-Marietta to Koppers to Black & Decker to General Motors comes a seemingly endless string of layoffs, reductions-in-force, half-shifts and idle assembly lines. And the city empties; drive through East or West Baltimore and behold a world of boarded-up rowhouses and vacant lots.
The new Baltimore? The Baltimore reborn?
It is here, too, at points, certainly: new technologies, tourism, an ever-expanding service economy. And yet this Baltimore is distant from too many people, heard only as a rumor in the east and westside ghettos, in Pimlico and Brooklyn and Curtis Bay and Cherry Hill. For too many in those neighborhoods, the new Baltimore exists as vague talk about a job at a computer screen well beyond the county line, where mice scrape on pads and cursors ticktack through data streams. If you sensed the sea change and caught the wave – if you were smart enough to tear up your union card and walk away from your father’s local to start over at a community college somewhere – then you are there in that world, perhaps, and not here in this one, and maybe it is all for the better.
But so many were left in the shallows – men and women on the streets of Baltimore who are, every day, reminded that the wave has crested, and that now, with the economic tide at an ebb, they are simply worth less than they once were, if they are worth anything at all in a post-industrial economy. Unemployed and under-employed, idle at a West Baltimore soup kitchen or dead-ended at some strip-mall cash register – these are the excess Americans. The economy staggers along without them, and without anyone in this society truly or sincerely regarding their desperation. Ex-steelworkers and ex-longshoremen, street dealers and street addicts, and an army of young men hired to chase and jail the dealers and addicts, whores and johns and men to run the whores and coerce the johns – and all of them unnecessary and apart from the New Millenium economic model that long ago declared them irrelevant.
This is the world of The Wire, the America left behind.
Make no mistake: a solitary television drama cannot – and would not – claim to be all of Baltimore, or by extension, all of America. The Wire does not claim to represent all of anything as large, diverse, and contradictory as the American experience. Our storylines and our cameras rarely ventured to Roland Park or Mount Washington or Timonium, and the lives misspent and misused in our episodes are not the guarded, viable lives of private schools and county tax-bases and tree-lined business parks. The Wire is most certainly not about what has been salvaged or exalted in America. It is, instead, about that portion of our country that we have discarded, and at what cost to our national psyche we have done so. It is, in its larger themes, a television show about politics and sociology, and, at the risk of boring viewers with the very notion, macroeconomics. And, frankly, it is an angry show, but that anger comes honestly.
I used to work at a great gray newspaper in Baltimore until Wall Street found the newspaper industry and eviscerated it for short-term profits, and out-of-town chain ownership proved that they could make more money producing a mediocre newspaper than a good one. The worship of the bottom line, coupled with the venalities of transplanted, prize-sniffing editors, sucked all joy from the place. My co-creator and fellow writer, Ed Burns, worked at a police agency in Baltimore, until organizational politics and Peter-Principled, self-preserving commanders undermined the best police work. On the writing staff of the show since the first season, George Pelecanos sold shoes and tended bar, and then spent years researching and writing novels about that portion of the nation’s capital that remains virtually invisible to the nation’s leaders, the Shaws and Anacostias where black life is marginalized in the very shadow of the great edifices of American democracy. A fourth writer, Rafael Alvarez, saw his father’s career on Baltimore’s harbor tugs end on the picket line outside McAllister Towing and was himself working as an ordinary seaman on a cable-laying ship when HBO came calling for an episode or two. A fifth, Richard Price, spent hour after hour, day after day in the Jersey City housing projects to find his lost and tragic voices, just as a sixth, Boston’s Dennis Lehane, brought to the page the working-class hurt and hunger of the rough-and-tumble Charlestown and Dorchester neighborhoods. And don’t leave out Bill Zorzi, who spent years covering the smoky backrooms of Baltimore politics before joining the staff to help create and guide the show’s political dynamic.
These are professional writers, of course. It would be a pompous fraud to claim that those of us who inhabited The Wire’s writing room are perfectly proletarian. It is one thing to echo the voices of longshoremen and addicts, detectives and dealers, quite another to claim those voices as our own. The D’Angelo Barksdales and Frank Sobotkas live in their worlds; we visit from time to time with pens poised above splayed notepads.
But neither would it be fair to categorize The Wire as a television show written and produced by people who were intent on writing and producing television. None of us is from Hollywood; soundstages and backlots and studio commissaries are not our natural habitat. Hell, never mind Los Angeles, with the exception of Price – and his great Dempsey books speak to the worn Jersey cities across the river – we are not even from the literary capital of New York.
Instead, The Wire and its stories are rooted in the ethos of a second-tier city, of a forgotten rust-belt America. No, it isn’t as if the angriest and most alienated souls in West Baltimore or Anacostia or Dorchester actually hijacked an HBO drama series and began telling tales. But, at this point, it’s as close as television has come to such an improbability.
Which credits HBO as well, for giving us the chance to voice something other than the industry’s standard fare. The Wire could not exist but for HBO, or, more precisely, a pay-subscription model such as HBO. Nor could Oz or The Sopranos or Deadwood or Generation Kill. These are stories that can entertain and amuse, but also disturb and nettle an audience. They can, at their best, provoke viewers – if not to the point of an argument, then at least to the point of a thought or two about who we are, how we live, and what it is about our society and the human condition that makes it so.
The first season of The Wire was a dry, deliberate argument against the American drug prohibition – a Thirty Years’ War that is among the most singular and comprehensive failures to be found in the nation’s domestic history. It is impossible to imagine pitching such a premise to a network television executive under any circumstances. How, he might wonder, do I help my sponsors sell luxury sedans and pre-washed jeans to all the best demographics while at the same time harping on the fact that the American war on drugs has mutated into a brutal suppression of the underclass?
The second season of The Wire was even more of a lighthearted romp: a treatise about the death of work and the betrayal of the working class, as exemplified by the decline of a city’s port unions. And how exactly do we put Visa-wielding consumers in a buying mood when they are being reminded of how many of their countrymen – black, white and brown – have been shrugged aside by the march of unrestrained, bottom-line capitalism?
Season Three? A rumination on our political culture and the thin possibility of reform, given the calcified oligarchy that has made raw cash and simple soundbites the mother’s milk of American elections. And having established our City Hall, the stage is set for viewers to coldly contemplate the state of public education and, by extension, the American ideal of equality of opportunity and what that might mean for the likes of Michael, Namond, Randy, and Duquan in the drama’s fourth season.
Finally, for anyone who has come as far as season five, a last reflection on why these worlds endure, why the crime stats stay juked and the test scores stay cheated and the majors become colonels while the mayors become governors – a depiction of what remains of our media culture, a critique that makes plain why no one is left to do the hard work of explaining the precise nature of our national problems, so that we have become a nation that comfortably tolerates failing schools and corrupting drug wars, broken levees and bought politicians.
And through all of this, how can a television network serve the needs of advertisers while ruminating on the empty spaces in American society and informing viewers that they are a disenfranchised people, that the processes of redress have been rusted shut, and that no one – certainly not our mass media – is going to sound any alarm?
The decoupling of the advertising construct from a broadcast entity was the key predicate for the political maturation of televised drama. It made it possible for writers such as Burns, Price, Lehane and Pelecanos to work in television without succumbing to shame and self-loathing. And again, HBO was smart enough to simply let it be.
As I learned on my earlier experience in network television, the NBC executives used to ask the same questions every time they read a first-draft Homicide script:
“Where are the victories?”
Or better still:
“Where are the life-affirming moments?”
Never mind that the show was called Homicide, as head writer and executive producer Tom Fontana liked to repeatedly point out, and never mind that it was being filmed in a city struggling with entrenched poverty, rampant addiction, and generations of de-industrialization.
Brave soul that he is, when Fontana wanted to write three successive episodes in which a violent drug trafficker escaped all punishment, he was told he could do so only if the detectives shot and killed the villain at the end of a fourth episode.
Good one, evil nothing. Cut to commercial.
To bring it all the way back, The Wire had its actual origins in the main Baltimore County library branch in Towson, where I went as a police reporter to schmooze a city homicide detective named Ed Burns.
It was 1985, and I was working on a series of newspaper articles about a career drug trafficker whom Burns and his partner, Harry Edgerton, had managed to bring down with a prolonged wiretap investigation. Edgerton, or at least his facsimile, would later become known to NBC viewers as Detective Frank Pembleton. But Burns? Too implausible a character, even for network.
When I first met Ed, he was sitting by the checkout desk, a small pile of books atop the table in front of him. The Magus by John Fowles. Bob Woodward’s Veil. A collection of essays by Hannah Arendt.
“You’re not really a cop, are you?”
Seven years later, when Burns – having alienated many of his bosses in McNulty-like fashion with his sprawling investigations of violent drug gangs in the Westside projects – was contemplating retirement and life as a city schoolteacher, I approached him with an alternative.
If he could delay his teaching career for a year and a half or so, we could venture together to one of Baltimore’s one hundred or so open-air drug markets, meet the people, and write a book about the drug culture that had consumed so much of our city. Which corner? Pick a corner, any corner, at random.
The idea appealed to Ed, who had spent 20 years watching the city police department win battle after battle with individual drug traffickers, yet continue to lose the war. As a patrolman in the Western District, a plainclothesman assigned to the escape squad, and finally a homicide detective, Burns was impressed by the organizational ethos of the West Baltimore drug trade. Amoral and brutal they might be, but the true players were committed – more committed, perhaps, than much of the law enforcement arrayed against them. It was not unlike Vietnam, he acknowledged, and it is fair to say that as a veteran of that losing effort as well, Ed Burns was more entitled than most to render the comparison.
We chose Monroe and Fayette streets in West Baltimore and spent 1993 and much of the ensuing three years following the people there. The Corner was published in 1997, and by then – with my newspaper increasingly the playground of tone-deaf, out-of-town hacks – I had moved across town to the writing staff of Homicide, hired by Barry Levinson and Tom Fontana.
As a day job, it was a great one. And I found that the artifice of film and the camaraderie were enough to offset my exile from the Sun’s city desk, where I had long imagined myself growing old and surly, bumming cigarettes from younger reporters in exchange for back-in-the-day stories about what it was like to work with Mencken and Manchester.
Script by script, Tom shaved my prose style until the pacing and dialogue began to show muscle. Then he slowly began adding fresh responsibilities, sending me to set calls and casting sessions and editing. Jim Finnerty, the production manager and line producer who has long played Stringer Bell to Fontana’s Avon Barksdale, offered lessons of his own in practical filming, crew management, and, most of all, making the day.
“You become a producer to protect your writing,” Fontana explained.
By the time The Corner was published, Tom was already locked down in Oswald Penitentiary, proving to HBO and the world in general that even the most discomfiting drama now had a place on American television. Perhaps, I thought to myself, there was room at HBO or some other premium channel for something as dark as life on an open-air drug corner.
Tom and Barry didn’t see The Corner as material for a continuing series, but Fontana was good enough to call Anne Thomopoulos at HBO on my behalf. At the resulting meeting, it became clear that the cable channel was willing to take a shot, provided I could pair myself with a black writer.
It didn’t matter to me one way or the other – I knew I had those Fayette Street voices in my head – but the other white folk in the room were not about to let a lone pale scribbler produce a miniseries about black drug addicts and dealers.
“How about David Mills?” I ventured.
One of the HBO execs in the room, Kary Antholis, startled. “Do you know David Mills?”
“We’re friends. I worked on my college newspaper with him. We wrote our first script together.” And so we had. A second-season Homicide episode in which Robin Williams had guest-starred. Mills had taken that outcome as an omen, quitting his reporting job at the Washington Post and moving to Los Angeles, where he had spent five years making a name for himself in network television. Kary had known about Mills for a long time.
“If you can get Mills on this, that would be great.”
I volunteered him as an executive producer, no problem. And upon leaving the HBO offices, I used a cell phone to catch the man at home: “Hey, David. I know what you’re doing for the next year.”
On the production side, Jim Finnerty volunteered a protégé, assuring me I could do no better for myself. Nina Noble had been first assistant director on the premiere season of Homicide and had worked her way up in the Fontana organization. Of course, I immediately agreed to the partnership: a recommendation from Finnerty is enough for such things.
Mills, Noble, myself – that was all the producing we needed for a six-hour miniseries, or so I thought. But HBO had doubts aplenty, and the execs wanted a visual producer in the mix. Antholis arranged interviews in New York with several candidates.
Enter Bobby Colesberry, whose résumé of nearly two decades producing high-end features made me nervous. I saw myself and David fighting with Feature Boy over the down-and-dirty scripts, and over the rough-and-tumble, handheld manner in which we wanted to shoot the drug corners. I saw Nina, too, fighting with him to keep the budget down, to make him realize that series television was not a place for two-page days and arcing crane shots.
So there was little trust in Kary’s office that day, particularly when we walked in and saw a copy of The Corner splayed open in front of this Colesberry fellow, its pages already marked up in two different colors of ink. A healthier soul might have taken this as a good sign: here was a producer, a veteran of an industry where studio suits reduce all stories to single-sentence concepts, endeavoring to read a 550-page tome and then begin charting scenes and shots in his head. Instead, I’m embarrassed to say, I trusted him not at all.
“We’ll take your script notes, but the last pass is ours.”
“And we don’t want to be frozen out of production. We’re not as experienced as you, but David and I know how to put film in the can.”
Months later, with The Corner beautifully cast and crewed, and with Charles “Roc” Dutton turning in magnificent dailies as the director of all six hours, I thought back to that first meeting with Bob Colesberry and realized I did not want to put anything to film ever again without him. For something that had begun as a shotgun wedding, it was turning out to be quite a marriage.
Looking past The Corner even before it aired, I thought about what it was that I still wanted to say about the drug war, about policing, and, ultimately, about what was happening in the city where I lived.
The Corner was the diaspora of addiction brought down to microcosm – a single, broken family struggling amid the deluge in West Baltimore. The scripts had allowed us to probe the human dimension of the tragedy; the failure of policy, however, could only be implied with something so intimate.
And so back to Mr. Burns, who was by now getting the full dose of the Baltimore public educational system as a middle-school teacher of social studies. There were days, Ed assured me, when a Western District patrol shift felt safer and more manageable than a tour of duty at Hamilton Middle School.
We turned in the pilot script a few months after HBO had collected a trio of Emmys for The Corner, and, so, the timing felt right. After all, had we not delivered on that previous project? Just write some checks and send us back to Baltimore where we belong.
But Carolyn Strauss and Chris Albrecht were unconvinced. The show’s emphasis on surveillance would be new, and the tone of the piece was different from network fare, but The Wire, as it began to be called, still appeared to be a cop show. And HBO’s primary concern became apparent: if the networks do cop shows, why are we doing one? The nightmare was to imagine critics across the country finally declaring that this was not in fact HBO, but TV.
I asked Carolyn for a chance to write two additional scripts, if only to show that the pacing, arc, and intention of this drama would be decidedly different from anything on a network. She agreed, and I went back to work as The Corner team drifted away, looking for fresh work elsewhere.
Nina Noble produced and managed the HBO movie Shot in the Heart for Fontana-Levinson, then headed home to North Carolina. Dave Mills went back to Los Angeles and began banging his head against the network wall, working on a series of pilots and producing a promising gangster epic, Kingpin, which, in true network fashion, would be canceled after six episodes. Bob Colesberry returned to features, producing the science fiction film K-Pax with Kevin Spacey.
In the end, it took HBO more than a year to agree to shoot even a pilot. There was a second pass of the three scripts, followed by a begging-ass memo to Chris Albrecht by yours truly, followed by an ingathering of The Corner crew – save only for David Mills, who could not be budged from a fat development deal. I remember picking up the phone to call Colesberry in Los Angeles, catching him as he was just completing post-production on the Spacey film.
“I bet you thought that HBO show was dead,” I remember saying to him.
“Very dead,” he admitted.
Asked what I had done to get the green light on the pilot, I confessed that other than begging Chris Albrecht, I was not entirely sure. I read Bob the memo over the phone, and in his own gentle, Bob-like way, he affirmed that it was pathetic, and that, ever after, I should consider myself Mr. Albrecht’s bitch.
“Also, no one likes the name Jimmy McArdle.”
Bob considered this for a moment. “How about McNulty?”
“It’s my grandmother’s family name.”
“McNulty it shall be.”
By November 2001 we were back on the streets of West Baltimore. The scripts were in many ways the same ones that I had originally turned in, albeit with some scenes added to the pilot that hinted at the surveillance techniques that would be employed later in the season, once the detail had slowly earned the probable cause to secure a wiretap.
The casting by Alexa Fogel in New York and Los Angeles, and the redoubtable Pat Moran in Baltimore, surpassed all expectations.
Only the role of McNulty gave us fits, until a bizarre videotape landed in Baltimore, shipped from a London address. On it, an actor was tearing through the orange-sofa scene in which Bunk and McNulty jack up a reluctant D’Angelo, search him, find his pager, then walk him away in handcuffs.
Unlike every other casting tape ever made, however, this one seemed to be the merest suggestion of a scene. The actor, a square-jawed, Jack-the-Lad sort named West, was reading the McNulty lines, then pausing in silence, reacting to emptiness where the responding lines should have been.
With several weeks of fruitless searching for a lead actor weighing on our souls, the tape caught us off guard. Bob and I watched this weird half-scene for a long moment, then fell out of our chairs, laughing uncontrollably. Hearing us, Clark Johnson, the Homicide veteran who was directing the pilot, entered the room, watched a few moments of tape, then joined us on the floor.
“What the hell is this goofy motherfucker doing?”
The audition tape may have been comic, but the performance itself – when we gathered our wits and began to concentrate on what the actor had going – was impressive. A week later in New York, Dominic West explained that he couldn’t get anyone in London to read the scene with him, and he didn’t have access to a casting office to put himself on tape. His girlfriend had tried to help, but her full English accent kept making him laugh, throwing off the scene. Best she could do was keep quiet and hold the video camera steady.
“I didn’t know what else to do,” our McNulty confessed, “except say my lines and leave spaces where the other lines are supposed to be.”
By the time we returned to shooting the remainder of the first season, Ed Burns and I had drafts of the first six episodes in hand, as well as elaborate beatsheets that brought us all the way to the final episodes. Deliberate planning and overarching professionalism had exactly nothing to do with it, but rather a sense that a story so intricate, with so many characters and so much plotting, had to be considered a single entity.
An early script note from HBO execs – who, by and large, were gentle and discerning with their input – argued that an early-episode robbery by Omar and his crew should be omitted, primarily because the robbery was perpetrated on random street dealers who had no value to the central plot.
Our counterargument was basic: wait.
Omar seemed an aside early on, just as Lester Freamon and Wallace seemed to be mere hangers-on. But in time, they would prove themselves essential to the story. And we needed the street robbery to hold Omar’s place in the tale, to remind viewers that he and his crew were still in the world, so that by the fifth episode, when McNulty and Greggs try to pull him up for information, we are still aware of who, exactly, this much-talked-about Omar is and what it is he does for a living.
After all, we had it in mind that we would not explain everything to viewers. The show’s point of view was that of the insider, the proverbial fly on the wall – and we had no intention of impairing that point of view by pausing to catch up the audience. Consequently, all of the visual cues and connections would need to be referenced fully and at careful intervals.
Perhaps the first fundamental test of our willingness to forgo exposition and an end-of-every-episode payoff came in the fourth episode of that first season, when D’Angelo Barksdale first claimed responsibility for the murder of a woman in an apartment out near the county line. Fronting for the boys in The Pit, D’Angelo describes the murder in some detail and suggests that he was the shooter. Later in the episode, McNulty and Bunk Moreland are in an emptied garden apartment, examining old crime-scene photos of a slain young woman and reworking the geometry of the murder.
The five-minute scene offers no explanation for itself beyond the physical activities of the detectives as they address the crime scene and the almost continuous use of the word ‘fuck’ in all its possible permutations – an insider’s homage to the great Terry McLarney, a veteran Baltimore murder police who once predicted that Baltimore cops, in their love of profanity, would one day achieve a new and viable language composed entirely of such.
A casual viewer could watch the scene and ascertain that the detectives had figured out the murder scenario. They conclude, in fact, by locating a rusting shell casing outside the kitchen window.
But what exactly is that scenario? And does it match the murder that D’Angelo spoke of earlier? And what were the white speckles on the floor in the crime-scene photo – the droplets that Bunk pointed to? And how did that lead McNulty to open the refrigerator door, then slam it closed? And why, for Chrissakes, will no one explain what the hell is going on?
For the answers, viewers would not have to merely wait out the episode, but all of them. Only during D’Angelo’s interrogation at the season’s end does he corroborate the crime scene details in a way that convinces Bunk and McNulty of his authenticity. And, even then, the exposition is at a minimum.
When D’Angelo explains that he had brought cocaine to the woman, who told him she would put it “on ice,” the detectives acknowledge the connection to their crime scene with a single word:
“Refrigerator,” says Bunk.
And McNulty nods casually.
Such calculating restraint offered viewers a chance to do something that television rarely, if ever, allows its audience: they were free to think hard about the story, the different worlds that the story presented, and, ultimately, the ideas that underlie the drama. And the reward for such committed viewers would come not at the end of a scene or the end of an episode, but at the end of the season, indeed, at the end of the tale.
As storytelling, it seemed like the best way to do business. But, even so, we had to acknowledge that this much plotting from episode to episode was an extraordinary risk, even for HBO. We would certainly lose some viewers: those who did not devote enough effort to follow the intricate story, those who gave it their all but were confused nonetheless, and those who, expecting an episodic television drama, would be bored to death by the novelistic pace of The Wire.
Bob Colesberry and I told ourselves repeatedly that we were making the drama for those remaining. A couple dozen or so hard cases, at least.
Before the first season aired in June 2002, HBO made sure to send as many as five consecutive episodes to critics – all of those we had edited. The hope was that by seeing more episodes, those being asked to consider the show would understand that while the pilot episode violated many of the basic laws of episodic television, it was at least an intentional affront.
To that same end, in a series of press interviews, I began referring to the work as a “visual novel,” explaining that the first episodes of the show had to be considered much as the first chapters of any book of even moderate length.
“Think about the first few chapters of any novel you ever liked, say, Moby-Dick,” I told one reporter in a phone interview. “In the first couple chapters, you don’t meet the whale, you don’t meet Ahab, you don’t even go aboard the Pequod. All that happens is you go with Ishmael to the inn and find out he has to share a room with some tattooed character. Same thing here. It’s a visual novel.”
All of which sounded great to me until I hung up the phone and turned to confront a certain Baltimore writer by the name of Lippman, who has penned and published nine actual novels and with whom I share quarters. Her lifework is replete with hardback covers, actual chapter breaks, and descriptive prose that goes a good deal further than “INT.
HOMICIDE UNIT/HEADQUARTERS – DAY.”
“First of all,” she informed me, “you just compared yourself to Herman Melville, which even by your egotistical standards is a bit over-the-top. And second of all, if The Wire is really a novel, what’s its ISBN?”
A mouthy broad; clever, too. But, fortunately, a lot of critics were less exacting with my hyperbole, and, more important, they actually put four or five tapes into their machines before writing reviews. At least in the hinterlands they did. In New York, where time runs faster than elsewhere and critics can give you no more than an hour to make your case, The Wire suffered poor reviews in every single newspaper. We went oh-for-four in The Big Apple, feeling much like the Orioles on a long weekend at Yankee Stadium.
Ratings dipped, too, but HBO – being HBO – did not panic.
“We love the show,” Carolyn Strauss said repeatedly, reassuring us. “We don’t care about ratings, so you shouldn’t care about ratings.”
For his part, Chris Albrecht called to say he had just watched the cut of Episode Five and “it’s getting better with every episode.”
I hestitated to argue that I thought they were all good episodes, that they were paced precisely for the maximum payoff over 13 hours. Instead, I took the comment to heart, reminding myself that when you read a good book, you are more invested with every chapter. What Chris was sensing was our intention.
By the last third of the season, the tide had slowly turned. Viewers were fully committed and there were more of them; ratings began to rise amid some healthy word of mouth. A couple of New York critics revisited the show and affirmed its worthiness. The actors, too, began to sense that we were building a different kind of machine. One Monday on set, Andre Royo, who owned the role of Bubbles, sauntered over to a pair of writers to say he had watched the previous night’s episode:
“Every time I start to wonder what you all are doing with a scene, I just wait a couple episodes, and, sure enough, there’s a reason for it.”
Other actors, notably those on the wrong side of the law, began to wonder what we would do if we were picked up for a second season, what with Avon and D’Angelo Barksdale heading to their respective prison cells.
Corey Parker Robinson, who played the role of Detective Sydnor, thought he had it figured: “They’re gonna get out on a technicality, right?”
It was an understandable assumption, given that we were standing on a film set in the West Baltimore projects, where we had thus far filmed much of our story. But in our heads, the writers were already elsewhere, and, as a finishing touch, we made sure to deliver McNulty to the police boat at the end of the last episode.
By then, a lot of viewers had forgotten Sergeant Landsman’s prophecy in the pilot episode, that McNulty would ride the boat if he didn’t stop provoking the departmental brass. As far back as the pilot, we had decided on the substance of a second season, should there be one.
And when McNulty shipped out with the marine unit, it happened – typically – without dialogue, with nothing more than Bunk Moreland and Lester Freamon walking to the edge of the dock and tossing him a fifth of Jameson’s beneath the roar of boat motors.
If you got the joke, great. Thanks for staying with us.
If not, hey, sorry. It’s what we do.
It’s Laura Lippman, again, who gets a mention for making me read George Pelecanos. Not that I hadn’t been given fair warning of what George had been doing with his D.C. novels – half a dozen other writers had urged me to check him out, comparing his voice and material to that of The Corner. But we Baltimoreans have this chip on our shoulders about Washington, and though I’d grown up in the same D.C. suburbs as George, I had long ago taken my allegiances north, embracing every stereotype about those tie-wearing, GS-rated, lawyer-assed sonsabitches down I-95.
When I finally cracked The Sweet Forever and saw that Pelecanos had been mining a different Washington altogether, it made perfect sense. And, later, upon encountering George at the funeral of a mutual friend, I tried to explain what we were trying to do with The Wire, and why he might want to be a part of it.
“It’s a novel for television,” I said, but under my breath, for fear that my consort, also in attendance at the memorial, would overhear.
Like many writers, George had suffered the slings, arrows and indignities of trying to get so many of his own worthy stories to film, and he immediately grasped the possibilities. In the feature world, after all, it’s the studios, if not the directors and stars, who have the drag. In episodic television, by virtue of the continuing storylines, it’s the writer with the suction. And at HBO, this is more so.
During the first season, George was given the penultimate episode – particularly because it included the stark, horrifying death of Wallace. The drama of that singular moment required a writer who had built so many of his novels toward similar crescendos. And George, true to form, nailed it.
Would he come back for Season Two? Would he commit to working as a story editor and producer? He certainly didn’t need the money; his day job of drop-kicking genre fiction into the literary ether was enough without the hassle of a television gig.
But George, who loves film and can’t resist a story well told, not only signed on, he set about enlisting other novelists who were doing much the same kind of work.
We could promise Richard Price and Dennis Lehane no reward commensurate with the talent. The best we could offer was that, unlike any other film project with which they might become involved, The Wire would not compromise story for the sake of a studio, a director, or a movie star.
“If you get fucked over, at least it’ll be another writer doing it to you.”
And while both Lehane (Mystic River) and Price (Clockers) are masters of a strain of crime fiction that long ago rendered the presumed boundaries of genre meaningless, the addition of Price to the writing staff seemed especially appropriate, if not at all probable.
Anyone who has ever read Clockers – which is to the cocaine epidemic of the early 1990s as The Grapes of Wrath is to the Dust Bowl – understands the debt owed to that remarkable book by The Wire. Indeed, the split point-of-view that powers The Wire is a form mastered first in the modern novel, and Price, in his first Dempsey book, proved beyond all doubt how much nuance, truth, and story could exist between the world of the police and the world of their targets.
On learning that the Season Three lineup of writers would include Price and Lehane, Bob Colesberry was beside himself with glee. And whom,I teased him, did he want Pelecanos to bring us for a fourth season? Elmore Leonard? Philip Roth? How about this Melville fuck I keep mentioning? He hasn’t worked in a while, has he?
And Bob would laugh at the effrontery of it, though in his own way, he, too, was expanding the show during the second season, transforming it from a limited cops-and-dealers saga into something larger, something panoramic enough to justify all the writing and acting talent.
The rotting piers and rusting factories of the waterfront – and, most of all, those Gothic cranes at Seagirt and Locust Point – gave Colesberry the visuals he needed to show just what could be done with a television series shot on location.
His standards had always been those of the directors he had worked with in his long feature career – Scorsese, Parker, Benton, Forsyth, Ang Lee – and Bob had learned well, rising from location manager to first AD to line producer. He was not a deskbound executive. He was instead a set rat, familiar with every aspect of filmmaking and committed to serving story.
His elegance, and that of Uta Briesewitz, the show’s director of photography in those early years, found subtle ways into the film throughout the first season. In the pilot episode, note the decision to stay wide, filming from across the street as Wee-Bey berates D’Angelo for talking about business in a car. As Bey dresses the less experienced player down, he stands outside a carryout and beneath a neon sign that reads BURGERS.
D’Angelo, humiliated, is framed beneath a second sign: CHICKEN.
The camera stays wide as Wee-Bey starts back to the parked SUV, only to pause as two police cars, blue lights flashing, wipe frame and wail away, seemingly after those, unlike Bey, who fail to take the lessons of the street to heart.
Film such as that, conceived and edited with intelligence and restraint, was Bob’s stock-in-trade. The projects of West Baltimore and the taut, credible precinct sets of production designer Vince Peranio guided the show’s first year to an appropriately claustrophobic look, just as the rogue fashions of costume designer Alonzo Wilson suggested a violent and stunted street world. All of it was creativity with absolute context.
As the show began to grow – carving off fresh slices of Baltimore – so, too, did Colesberry expand the show’s visual sense of a working city. And even as Season Two was underway, Bob and I were contemplating a third season in an altogether different locale, and a fourth elsewhere, too. With each season, by showing a new aspect of a simulated American city in all its complexity, we might, by the end of the show’s run, have a chance to speak to something more universal than Avon Barksdale or Jimmy McNulty or drugs or crime.
To do the same show over, season after season – this was never an option. And Bob – who was once made to concede that the last pass on The Corner scripts would be writers-only – had become a partner in every aspect of the storytelling. He was never happier about the show’s plotting than during the writers’ meetings for the third season – meetings at which he was a full and welcome participant.
Midway through the meeting on the second episode, in fact, Richard Price expressed surprise on learning that the man sitting to his immediate right was not actually a fellow writer.
“Bob’s an executive producer.”
A title which, in Hollywood terms, is often synonymous with asshole. Price was truly thrown, later confessing out of Colesberry’s earshot that this was the only production he knew in which you could not discern someone’s job title by the way he behaved.
For all of us who worked with him, part of the fun was pushing Bob out of the background – where he had long labored as the right arm of so many talented and noted directors – and bringing him into the light, where he belonged.
When The Corner won an Emmy for best miniseries, Nina, David, and I were determined that Bob should accept the award. And on The Wire, we pressed him into a small cameo as Detective Ray Cole, a shambling, hapless sort who symbolized the workaday ethos of the homicide unit.
Bob assumed he was on the hook for maybe a line or two of dialogue, but with great delight the writers began churning out more moments for Ray Cole, most of them comic and at the character’s expense.
Finally, and most importantly, we pressed Bob to do the one thing for which he had seemingly spent a lifetime preparing: the last episode of the second season was not only produced, but directed, by Robert F. Colesberry. Among other moments, he is the true author of that ending montage of dying industry seen through the eyes of Nick Sobotka – all that spare, brutal imagery, edited together in such a way as to imply the anger of the story as a whole.
When Bob, only fifty-seven, died in February 2004 from heart surgery complications, it seemed to all of us on the show nothing less than an outrage. His best was yet to come, or so we had all assumed.
In the ensuing three years, we did the best we could to maintain the template that Bob Colesberry brought to The Wire. And to that end, we continued forward with many of the same veteran directors that Colesberry chose in those first two seasons, and indeed, with Bob’s wife Karen Thorson handling post-production duties, familiar as she is with what Colesberry would want the film to be. Whatever we got wrong in Seasons Three, Four, and Five, he was unable to prevent, and whatever we got right can safely be credited to the man.
Lastly, we meant no offense.
We staged The Wire in a real city, with real problems. It is governed and policed and populated by real people who are every day contending with those problems. The school system we depict is indeed the school system in which Ed Burns taught. The political infrastructure is that which Bill Zorzi covered for two decades. The newspaper on which we centered some of the final season’s story is indeed the newspaper at which I labored and learned the city.
The mayor does not love us. Nor does the police commissioner, nor the school superintendent, nor the publisher of the Baltimore Sun. Nor should they. If I had their jobs, I would regard The Wire and its antecedents – Homicide and The Corner – as a necessary evil. And, ignoring for a moment the film industry that burgeoned here over the last decade, I would more often than not wonder what is so damned necessary.
In our defense, the story is labeled as fiction, which is to say we took liberties in a way that journalism cannot and should not. Some of the events depicted in the 60 hours of The Wire actually occurred, a few others were rumored to have occurred. But many of the events did not occur, and perhaps the only distinction worth making is that all of them could have happened – not only in Baltimore, but in any major American city contending with the same set of problems.
Certainly, we do not feel that the shots taken were cheap ones. The police department in Baltimore really did cook the crime stats so that the mayor could become governor. The school system truly does fail to graduate the vast majority of students, and faculty are, in fact, teaching the standardized test rather than attempting to educate children. Unionized labor and the dignity of work are disappearing from the city’s landscape, and the war against the only industry remaining in many neighborhoods – the drug trade – has indeed become a brutal farce. And, yes, Baltimore’s surviving newspaper spent the last two decades reducing its staff and content, and concentrating its remaining resources on the petty frauds of “impact” journalism and the prize culture. They actually did abandon comprehensive coverage of the city and now miss nearly every story that actually matters to the life of Baltimore.
It is a harsh critique, no doubt. But for the most part, we live in this city. By choice. And living here, we see what is happening in Baltimore for better and for worse, and we speak to such things as those with a vested interest in the city’s improvement and survival. Speaking as Baltimoreans, we quite naturally found it appropriate to reference our known world in these stories.
But, in fairness, the stories are more universal than this; they resonate not just in West Baltimore, but in East St. Louis, North Philadelphia, and South Chicago. And judging from the continuing reaction to this drama overseas, it seems these stories register as well in cities the writers were in no way contemplating when we began the journey. Perhaps Baltimore isn’t any more screwed up than some other places. If it were the case, then these stories would only have meaning for people here.
The Wire depicts a world in which capital has triumphed completely, labor has been marginalized and monied interests have purchased enough political infrastructure to prevent reform. It is a world in which the rules and values of the free market and maximized profit have been mistaken for a social framework, a world where institutions themselves are paramount and every day human beings matter less.
“World going one way,” says Poot, reflective, standing on his corner. “People going another.”
Many may regard these stories, in their universality, to be cynical and despairing of humanity as a whole. I am not so sure. The problems of this new and intimidating century are worthy of some genuine despair, certainly. And a supposedly great nation that cannot keep a single low-lying city behind functional levees hardly seems capable of grasping the challenge of, say, global warming. Considering that the Netherlands has for generations successfully kept most of itself out of the North Sea, the American institutional response to its problems thus far seems to justify a notable degree of cynicism.
But in all of these Baltimore stories – Homicide, The Corner and The Wire – there exists, I believe, an abiding faith in the capacity of individuals, a careful acknowledgment of our possibilities, our humor and wit, our ability to somehow endure. They are, in small but credible ways, a humanist celebration at points, in which hope, though unspoken, is clearly implied.
True, the stories themselves don’t exalt the bricks and mortar and institutions of Baltimore; nor do they spare American policing, or education, or politics or journalism much in the way of criticism. But they at least reckon with the city honestly, and they are written with a homegrown affection that should be readily apparent even to viewers in London, or Mexico City, or Beijing. Watching The Wire, true citizens of my city will smile when they see the mallet hit a crab claw, or when an a-rabber’s cart trundles past in the background; those foreign to Baltimore will miss many a reference, but not, I believe, the overall sense that they are learning about a city that matters.
If the stories are hard ones, they are at least told in caring terms, with nuance and affection for all the characters, so that whatever else a viewer might come to believe about cops and dealers, addicts and lawyers, longshoreman and politicians, teachers and reporters, and every other soul that wanders through The Wire universe, he knows them to be part and parcel of the same tribe, sharing the same streets, engaged in the same, timeless struggle.
More to read:
Summing up David Simon’s career so far.
David Simon writes in the Guardian “The escalating breakdown of urban society“
Dirt under the rug, Simon writing on his blog
Nick Hornby interviews David Simon for Believer magazine,
The HBO auteur, in New York Times.
The Wire’s war on the Drug War. In Time magazine. About the ineffectiveness of the show as a medium to bring about policy changes. (Nothing has changed)