Commentary: On Television

Drug War Film and Television On Television On the Drug War

The Wire and Baltimore

It seems that despite the most temperate reply possible, I’ve been drawn into another absurdist debate about whether The Wire, or Homicide, or perhaps even The Corner is good or bad for Baltimore.  This time, the righteous indignation about the tarnish applied to my city’s reputation is from a gentleman named Mike Rowe.  A Baltimore native, he is employed elsewhere in this great diaspora of television and he has now assumed the mantle of defender of my city’s reputation. Mr. Rowe marks his displeasure with our work by reductively describing it as a depiction of “drug dealers” and “pimps” that is sufficient to convince anyone that Baltimore is a mere cesspool, certain and fixed.  In this simplicity, he joins, by late count, a few business leaders, several political aspirants and at least two police commissioners in decrying narratives that don’t provide the imagery with which Baltimore wishes to adorn itself. Having been specifically...

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A forced move, actually

It had been three years since The Wire stopped airing on HBO, and in Baltimore, a certain settled tolerance for the drama had become the norm.  So I was surprised when the current police commissioner asked a question about The Wire at a public forum, vented openly.  This was a sleeping dog; let it lie, brother.  Instead, the commissioner insisted that we had smeared the city and that the slander would “take decades to overcome.”  He said those of us who worked on the drama owed Baltimore an apology. The comments hit the internet, but at first weren’t picked up anywhere and seemed to slip below the waves.  Just as well, I thought, because I haven’t been in a rush to tell Baltimore officials what they need to think about Homicide, The Corner or The Wire.  They’re entitled to dislike the work if they do.  My battles with city officials were always contained within the argument that they could express any opinion they liked, so long as they didn’t try...

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“Treme” primer: Curtain-raiser, New Orleans Times-Picayune

From The Times-Picayune Sunday, April 11, 2010 Reprinted with permission. In the first episode of “Treme,” to be broadcast tonight on HBO, a character will reach into her purse and produce an apple-flavored Hubig’s pie. She will do this in late November 2005. With the rest of her dessert menu no longer available, the character, a local chef, will then serve the local delicacy to a patron of her restaurant. We offer this bit of information freely, as Exhibit A in what will surely become a long list of cited inaccuracies, anachronisms and equivocations through which New Orleanians reassure themselves that not only is our little drama a fiction, but that those who have perpetrated this fiction are indifferent to facts, chronologies, historical possibilities. True, the Hubig’s bakery in the Marigny did not reopen until February 2006, and true therefore, any such pastry found in a woman’s purse should by rights be a pre-Katrina artifact and therefore...

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On Television

Justifiable

Published in Sports Illustrated Reprinted with permission. In their series’ five years on NBC, the producers of Homicide: Life on the Street have used police tape to cordon off  fictitious murder scenes on streets and back alleys all over Baltimore.  But the show had never tried to stage a crime at the city’s best- known setting: Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The idea that Peter Angelos, the owner of the Baltimore Orioles, and the Maryland Stadium Authority would permit Homicide to portray some grisly murder there, made-for-TV or not, seemed hopelessly far-fetched. But in what producers David Simon and Jim Yoshimura describe as a moment of  “pure, unencumbered genius,” they jiggered the plot so that the ballpark brass not only embraced the idea but also happily allowed Orioles pitchers Armando Benitez and Scott Erickson to make cameo appearances. In this season’s second episode, which is to air on Friday, the victim and the killer are both obnoxious men with thick Long Island accents...

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On Newspapering and Journalism On Television

The Wire’s Final Season and the Story Everyone Missed

From the Huffington Post, March 17, 2008 Reprinted with Permission Well now, it’s been a week since The Wire‘s final episode and a certain calm has descended, leaving a little less agita and a little more reflection. A moment for one last question: That wasn’t too vicious, was it? Sure there was a fabulist and, yeah, he snatched the big prize. Couldn’t resist, sorry. That was a bit beyond the historical reality; at the historical Baltimore Sun, he was a mere Pulitzer finalist. And okay, the city editor, the honorable fellow, the one for whom journalism was an ethos, he got slapped down and thrown to the copy desk. We did that, too, because hey, to criticize such a newsroom culture did indeed carry those risks in Baltimore.

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A Final Thank You To Those Who Watched

FROM HBO.COM On the occasion of airing The Wire’s last episode March 2008 A last thank you to those HBO subscribers who took the time and care to accompany us on this journey. The Wire arrived six years ago to little fanfare and modest expectation. It demanded from viewers a delicate, patient consideration and a ridiculous degree of attention to detail. It wasn’t for everyone. We proved that rather quickly. But episode to episode, you began to understand that we were committed to creating something careful and ornate, something that might resonate. You took Lester Freamon at his word: That we were building something here and all the pieces matter. When we took a chainsaw to the first season, choosing to begin the second-story arc with an entirely different theme and different characters, you followed us to the port and our elegy for America’s working class. When we shifted again, taking up the political culture of our mythical city in season three, you remained loyal...

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Down To the Wire

Almost six years after “the best show on TV” began, the man behind the series comes clean about why he did what he did. From Baltimore Magazine, Feb. 2008 Reprinted with permission. ART CREDIT: FRANK STOCKTON “We want to be out of The Wire business,” says the mayor of Baltimore, repeating the affirmation that began this call twenty minutes ago, stalling us in the Safeway parking lot on Boston Street. I am curbside at the grocery, caught between a cup of carryout coffee and an afternoon writer’s meeting, cellphone hard against my ear, playing liar’s poker with a politician. “You’re telling me a week before we begin shooting,” I explain again. “I’m happy to move the show out-of-town for season three, but I can’t do it now. You’ve waited too long to tell me.” Pelecanos stands beside me, listening to half a conversation, staring across the outer harbor toward the production office to which he can’t return. “Look,” I offer the mayor, “we’ve built our sets in the county and the...

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On Television The Wire

Best Deleted Scene from The Wire Fifth Season

Reprinting with permission, The CityPaper, Baltimore, Sept 19, 2007 We received the below in an e-mail from The Wire co-creator/executive producer/writer David Simon on Labor Day, the Monday after shooting for the show’s fifth and final season concluded the previous Friday. It’s a four-page insert scene the writing staff intimated was coming on the penultimate day of shooting, adding more work to an already packed final production day. According to Simon, rumors of the additional pages started seeping from the production office to the set, instigating some minor grumbling about cramming yet more scenes into a final episode that Simon suggests is already about 50 percent longer than ordinary. But everybody reacted professionally to the schedule changes–assistant directors inquired about what the actors needed, production managers ordered additional film, cast members were told where they needed to be to work on dialogue. And then the pages arrived and as cast and crew...

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Busted: Confessing to Crimes of Fashion

This ran as an essay that accompanied photographs of “Homicide,” “NYPD Blue” and “Law & Order” actors dressed magnificently.  My own attempts at the sartorial are no longer even comic to those who know me.  In fact, the only hyperbole in the piece is that I gave Terry McLarney more credit for being anything more than a kindred soul.  McLarney once confided to me that when he had to iron one of his own shirts, he only did the front:  “With a sportscoat, that’s all they’re ever gonna see anyway.” DS   FROM DETAILS MAGAZINE -1994 Reprinted with permission. Investigations Division: a cubicle containing two chairs, a couple of filing cabinets, and a government-issue desk. Behind that desk sits Colonel Richard Lanham, who is giving me official notice that the Baltimore Police Department will allow me to shadow a shift of homicide detectives for a year and then write a book about it. “With certain stipulations,”...

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