Back in 2002, former Baltimore Sun crime reporter David Simon and novelist/former Baltimore detective Ed Burns came together to make a TV drama chronicling the war-on-drugs policing they’d seen on the ground in their Maryland city. Exactly 20 years ago yesterday, the first episode of The Wire aired on HBO, initiating a five-season arc that was crowned last year in a BBC critics poll as the best series of this century.
But if they were faced with pitching the show today, both Simon and Burns agree their detailed, moody epic wouldn’t stand a chance of getting the green light.
“No, definitely not,” Burns told the New York Times when asked if he thinks The Wire would receive studio backing today. “HBO was going up the ladder at the time.”
It’s certainly easy to argue the network’s affinity for dramas, especially in the early aughts (would HBO even exist as it does today without The Sopranos?) But Burns explained that these days, in a post-Game Of Thrones world, studios just aren’t interested in telling the same kinds of niche, slow-burn stories.
“We caught that moment where networks were thinking, ‘Oh, we need a show for this group of people,’” Burns shared. “But 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.”
Despite possible wariness over HBO’s current creative interests, Simon has a new limited series on the streamer, We Own This City, based on fellow Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton’s book of the same name (subtitle: A True Story Of Crime, Cops And Corruption). In The A.V. Club’s review of the show, Manuel Betancourt describes the series as “a gripping heir to to The Wire.”
For his own part, Burns revealed he’s seen and enjoyed a few of HBO’s other recent big-budget, star-studded limited series—but he doesn’t see them “cutting any 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,’” he said.
If he could do anything differently, Simon said he would attend more carefully to diversity in the writers room. “Why were we inattentive? Because it was so organic to what I’d covered and what Ed had policed,” Simon said. “If I had it to do over again, I would have to look at [the diversity of the creative team] in the same way that I looked at later productions.”