‘The Wire’ creators David Simon and Ed Burns, on the show 20 years later

David Simon admits that it takes a special kind of [expletive] To say, “I told you so.”

“But I can’t help her, okay?” recently said. “No one enjoys a guy saying, ‘I told you so,’ but it was organic. Ed and then the other writers, when they came on board, we were all watching some of the same things happen in Baltimore.”

Two decades ago, Simon, a former Baltimore Sun police reporterAnd the Join Ed Burns, a retired Baltimore homicide detective and public school teacher, to create “The Wire” on HBO. “The Wire,” which premiered on June 2, 2002, and was acquired from Baltimore inhabited by Simon and Burns, featured a cast of unforgettable characters such as defender Omar Little (played by the late Michael K. Williams) and gangster with the highest ambitions, Stringer Bell (Idris Elba).

They were an indelible cut from the crime show with a lofty purpose: to present a damning indictment of the war on drugs and a broader dissection of institutional collapse, expanding over five seasons to explore the decline of working-class opportunities and public education. Among other American civic pillars.

This wasn’t a hit with TV: in real time, the show only gained a small, loyal audience and had a hard time avoiding cancellation. But over the years, “The Wire” has been hailed as one of television’s greatest shows, even as the systemic decay it depicted became more and more evident in the eyes of its creators.

Burns and Simon went on to collaborate on other high-profile projects for HBO, recently We own this city. A mini-series created by Simon and fellow Wired alumni. George PelicanosBased on the true story of the Baltimore Police Department’s Corrupt Weapon Tracking Task Force. In separate interviews, Burns and Simon discussed the legacy of “The Wire” — Burns over the phone from his home in Vermont and Simon in person at HBO’s Manhattan offices — and why it couldn’t be made the same way today. They also spoke about the show’s inspiration and the devastating impact of US drug policies. Here are edited excerpts from those conversations.

Could you ever imagine that ‘The Wire’ would have that kind of staying power two decades later?

Ed Burns The first thing that comes to my mind is that this show is going to live forever, because what it’s trying to portray will be there forever. It’s getting worse. That’s it. It is expanding. It’s not just an urban thing anymore. It’s everywhere.

David Simon Ed and I are in Baltimore, George in Washington, Richard Price in New York — we’ve been experiencing a lot of the same dynamics. There were policies, and there were places we knew they wouldn’t win. They would continue to fail. And we soon became a culture that didn’t even realize its own problems, let alone solve any of them. So I felt like, “Let’s do a show about this.”

I didn’t expect the complete breakdown of the truth, the idea that you could bravely make your way to the top. I did not expect the political collapse of the country in terms of [Donald] trump card. [The fictitious Baltimore mayor in “The Wire,” Tommy Carcetti] He is a professional politician. Donald Trump is unique. It’s hard to even think about how much the political culture has deteriorated now because of Trump.

The show seemed to indicate a breakdown of truth with the trumped-up serial killer story in the final season, and how the media handled it.

Simon We wanted so badly to critique the media culture that could allow the previous four seasons to go on and not really care about any of the systemic issues. We’d go out there, but I didn’t expect social media to make mainstream miscalculations nearly irrelevant. You don’t even have to respond to inattentive press, but it’s professional. You just have to create excitement in a disorganized environment where the faster the lie the more gruesome it gets. If truth is no longer a measure, you cannot properly judge yourself.

burns If you look at the map, half of the Midwest and West is dehydrated, and we treat it like we used to treat a dead body in the corner or a handcuffed man. It’s like bad news or a car accident: “Oh my God, look, this hurricane tore this whole city apart.” And that’s it.

There is no energy. I’ve always thought about trying to write a story where the government developed an algorithm to identify sparks, Malcolm X and Martin Luther Kings, these kinds of people, when they’re young, and then they either take it away with a carrot or beat them with a stick. Because you need sparks. You need those individuals who will stand up and then rally the people around them, and we don’t have that — those sparks, that self-sustaining rage.

Is it a conflicting legacy that “The Wire” has gained a larger audience over the years, yet the institutional decay it highlights has apparently worsened?

burns Recently, the Biden administration and the New York mayor’s administration said they wanted to increase the number of policemen on the streets. I’m glad what they do is the definition of insanity: If you try something, it just doesn’t work. Try again, it is not working. It’s time to try something different. They are still doing the same thing.

It is true that “defunding the police” is not the correct way to present the controversy. But redirecting the money away from the police to people who can better handle some aspects of it would be a good thing. And then doing something more dramatic, like creating an economic drive, other than drugs, to help people get up and start making something with their lives.

how should We own this city. To view it in relation to “The Wire?”

Simon It’s a separate story. We are very serious about getting into real police jobs, real activities and a real scandal that happened. So no, it’s not related to “The Wire” being in that sense. It’s a weapon of the drug war we’ve been trying to monetize in “The Wire.” If “The Wire” has one political message – I don’t mean a subject; If he only had a sharp political argument about politics – it was, “Ending the Drug War.” And if the phrase “We own this city” carries one core message, it is “End. No. Medicine. War.” In capital letters and between each word. It’s just a surefire idea of ​​where we’re always headed if we don’t change the mission of the police in America.

Is “We Own This Town” intent to provide a sharper criticism of the police than “The Wire”?

Simon No, I don’t think there’s much difference between the two, other than the depth of corruption of the bad cops. Police work is as necessary and reasonable as ever.

In many cases, and in many places like Baltimore, the national clearance rate Collapses During the last thirty or forty years. This is no accident. This is because they have trained generations of policemen to fight the drug war. It takes no skill to get up in a corner, throw everyone against the wall, go in their pockets, find the stashes of the floor, mark everyone’s go, and fill the wagons. This is not a skill set that can solve a murder.

It’s not me saying, “Oh, the police work was great.” No, I understand that there have always been problems with the police. But we are one of the most violent cities in America. And all the talk about abolishing the police or defunding them – I’d be happy to stop the drug war. I’d be happy to change the mission, but I don’t want to break up the police money. Good policing is essential, or my city becomes unbearable. You’ve seen case work done correctly, you’ve seen case work done wrong, and that’s important.

burns I am sorry [Baltimore] The city was named “The Wire”, because we could have taken this show to any city, in exactly the same way. Akron, Ohio, suddenly became a “Wire” city. So it’s a shame to be pushed into such a small town.

Will ‘The Wire’ be green lighted if it airs today?

burns No definitely not. HBO was going up the ladder at the time. They didn’t understand “The Wire” until season four. In fact, they were thinking of canceling it after three. We caught that moment where the networks were thinking, “Oh, we need a show for this group of people.”

But now, it should be Game of Thrones. It must be great. It should be separated from stepping on anyone’s toes. I’ve watched two limited series on HBO, and they’re good shows, but they don’t cut new tracks. These wealthy women quarrel among themselves in the city. I don’t see anyone saying, “Hey, that’s a really cool show.”

Simon No, because we haven’t touched, in any real way, the idea of ​​diversity in the writers’ room. I tried to get it Dave Mills, who has been my friend since college, to work on “The Wire”. But this could have been organic. He was just a friend. It wasn’t even about black and white. But other than David, who wrote two scripts for us, and Kia Corthron, the playwright, who did one, we weren’t really interested in diversity. This was not forward thinking.

Why were we oblivious? Because it was too organic for what I had covered and what Ed had tuned in. And then, I started bringing in novelists. The first man was George Pelicanos, whose books on the capital were the same things I was covering. And I happened to read his books, and I was like, “Maybe this guy can write what we’re trying to do.” Then he said, “Look, you’re trying to write novels. Every season is a novel. We should hire novelists.” And so we went and got the price. If I have to do it again, I’ll have to look at it [the diversity of the creative team] The same way I looked at the subsequent products.

In retrospect, is there anything else you wish the show had done differently?

burns I wish season 5 had taken a different direction, in terms of the newsroom, and not disrespected the idea of ​​an investigation. But it’s okay. What we tried to get over were the children we saw [Season 4] They became, as they approach adulthood, the men we have seen [Seasons] 1, 2, 3 and 4. It was continuous. This is just the next generation.

Other than the fact that the issues he highlighted are still prevalent, why do you think “The Wire” has such staying power?

Simon Nothing is in the void. I would like to give Oz credit for showing me that there is this web that will tell a dark story and tell a story for adults. “the kill” [Simon’s first book] It was made into a TV show. But with “The Corner” [Burns and Simon’s nonfiction book centered on a West Baltimore drug market], I was like: “Rights are nothing. No one is going to put that out on American TV.” And then I saw Oz, and that was the moment I looked at HBO and said, “Oh, would you like to do a mini-series about a neighborhood full of drugs and about the drug war?”

Then the other places we robbed: we stole from Greek tragedies, the idea that institutions were gods and were bigger than people. So, thanks for the college course that made me read Greek plays. Thanks to “Paths of Glory”, which was a movie about institutional necessity, [Stanley] Kubrick movie – I took things liberally from there. Thanks to a group of novelists, Pelecanos, Price, [Dennis] Lehane, who decided that they were ready to write for TV. Obviously, the cast and crew and everyone else.

But it was a show ready where TV would end up, and that’s where a lot of luck involved. The idea that you tap on TV and decide that you want to watch something that was made 10 years ago or that was just published; Or you’ll wait until enough episodes are available to over-watch them; Or you have thinner, so you’ll watch four hours of the mini-series and you’ll pick it up whenever you want – boy, I wasn’t expecting that.

burns It is like the West: it is steeped in legend. But the legend is a reality. Today, 20 years ago, 20 years from now – the same. And every generation to come, every group of kids discovers it and injects more life into it.