Sure, The Wire is beloved now. If you tell people you haven’t seen it, they’ll still get on your case. But back when it was on, from 2002 through 2008, it wasn’t exactly a ratings bonanza. People were all about The Sopranos. Perhaps they didn’t have enough headspace for a complex and brutally honest look at how cities just barely work, if at all, as well. In fact, the last two seasons almost didn’t happen.
A new book by investigative reporter James Andrew Miller, who’s written bestselling oral history books on SNL and ESPN, has a new book out called Tinderbox: HBO’s Ruthless Pursuit of New Frontiers. True to its title, it takes an epic and far-ranging look, across 975 pages, at the cable giant that may have started it all, including the second Golden Age of Television that arguably began with the character based on someone actually named Toby Soprano.
In a new interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Miller discusses The Wire, which began as a police procedural about Baltimore detectives using surveillance technology to probe the drug trade but gradually evolved into a wider look at the city as a whole, each season focusing on different areas of the town. The fourth season, about the school system in low-income neighborhoods, is often considered the best. The fifth, about journalism, is often considered the worst. But we almost got neither.
As per Miller:
The Wire was not a great ratings winner, and it wasn’t a great awards winner for HBO. [Former HBO chairman and CEO] Chris Albrecht was ready to end it [after season three] and David didn’t want to let it go. David wrote a memo about his vision for the [the show’s final two seasons], and then came into a meeting with Chris and [former HBO executive] Carolyn Strauss, and was able to basically argue for the show continuing. Fans should be thankful to Chris Albrecht because he actually listened to what David wanted to do with the show and changed his mind. How many executives would change their mind in a meeting? It’s like going to the Supreme Court on appeal and baring yourself raw. This was a great example of the importance of advocacy and having an executive who listens.
So there you go. A lot of shows aren’t as lucky as The Wire, possibly because they don’t have a home like HBO. Imagine Freaks and Geeks getting another season because Paul Feig was able to convince them to give him one more season. Ditto the newly revived Party Down. But we got another two rounds of The Wire, which means we got two more gos with the late, great Michael K. Williams.