Burns and Simon, along with fellow “Wire” alum George Pelecanos, most recently turned their attention to the true story of the Baltimore Police Department’s corrupt Gun Trace Task Force for the HBO limited series “We Own This City,” starring Jon Bernthal as a real-life cop convicted of stealing and selling drugs.
Yet on the 20th anniversary of “The Wire,” which premiered June 2, 2002, retired Baltimore homicide detective Burns criticized other modern HBO series, saying that “The Wire” would “definitely not” have been greenlit if pitched today.
“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,” Burns told The New York Times. “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.'”
Burns added that in 2002, HBO was “going up the ladder at the time” and truly “didn’t understand” “The Wire” until the fourth season. “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,'” Burns said.
While “The Wire” went on to introduce audiences to Michael B. Jordan, Idris Elba, and late legendary talent Michael K. Williams, the series “stole” from Greek tragedies, the Western film genre, and Stanley Kubrick’s “Paths of Glory,” according to former Baltimore Sun police reporter Simon, to create a staggering inside look at then-modern corruption between bureaucracy and criminals.
Simon described every season as a “novel,” which led to hiring real-life authors like Pelecanos and Richard Price for the writing staff. However, looking back, Simon admits they “didn’t attend, in any real way, to the idea of diversity in the writers’ room” despite writing screenplays involving POC characters.
“It wasn’t even about Black and white,” Simon said. “But other than David, who did a couple scripts for us, and Kia Corthron, the playwright, did one, we were really inattentive to diversity. That wasn’t forward-thinking.”
Simon clarified, “Why were we inattentive? Because it was so organic to what I’d covered and what Ed had policed…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.”
And Burns added a special message to the city of Baltimore: “I’m sorry [Baltimore] was labeled the city of ‘The Wire,’ because we could’ve taken that show into any city, in exactly the same way,” Burns said. “Akron, Ohio, would have suddenly become the ‘Wire’ city. So it’s a shame that it was pushed onto this little town.”