There are some TV shows that forever change the landscape of what we see on the small screen. The Wire was one of the first. It was not only must-see TV. It was a moment of social change. It opened people's eyes not just to crime and cops, but to corruption, bureaucracy, legal loopholes, and a broken criminal justice system. The show was deep. You were entertained, you were educated. I watched it, and I think it made me a better person. Nothing was simplistic. It asks so much of you.
But could you make The Wire today? Would it work on television now?
You can have your own opinion, but the creators of The Wire, Ed Burns and David Simon, think not.
Could we make The Wire now?
It's been 20 years since The Wire debuted on TV. Burns and Simon talked with The New York Times and said the landscape of TV now may not have room for a show like The Wire.
Burns said, “Now, it’s got to be Game of Thrones. It’s got to be big. It’s got to be disconnected from stepping on anybody’s toes. I’ve watched a couple of the limited series on HBO, and they’re good shows, but they’re not cutting new paths. They are whodunits or these rich women bickering among themselves in a town. I don’t see anybody saying, ‘Hey, that’s a really great show.'”
Even at the time, the show was revolutionary. It was almost canceled.
Burns said, “In fact, they were thinking about canceling it after [Season 3]. We caught that moment where networks were thinking, ‘Oh, we need a show for this group of people.'"
When looking at shows like The Wire, it's not hard to see why TV might push back on it today. It's a show with a lot of characters, with stories that look unfavorably on cops, criminals, and the justice system inside a city. There are heroes and villains, but no one is clean. And nothing really "big" happens. You get a slow-burn investigation into the criminal underworld and see all the cracks in a broken system.
TV now feels like it is compact, with noisy hooks and huge thrills, like Game of Thrones. TV has shifted like movies, and something has to happen every few minutes to keep people streaming. Most people want clean narratives and characters to root for.
It is hard to imagine a show like this being a massive hit, but I don't want you to believe in a landscape that wouldn't recognize genius.
Let me know what you think in the comments.