The Wire is a complex, innovative crime drama created by David Simon that was broadcast on HBO from 2002 to 2008 (for a total of 60 episodes over the course of five seasons). The show was both set and produced in Baltimore, Maryland, and is said to have a very realistic portrayal of the city’s demographics, as well as accuracy in depicting the crime and law enforcement processes.
The show’s premise focused on different areas of crime that occur within Baltimore, including illegal drug trading and the local government. Creator David Simon explained the purpose of the show, saying, “We are not selling hope, or audience gratification, or cheap victories with this show. The Wire is making an argument about what institutions—bureaucracies, criminal enterprises, the cultures of addiction, raw capitalism even—do to individuals. It is not designed purely as an entertainment. It is, I’m afraid, a somewhat angry show.”
The Wire was praised for using actors who are not typically recognized for their other roles in the entertainment industry rather than using big-name stars, thus creating a feeling of authenticity and realness for the show’s dynamic characters. The show was also praised for its often controversial social and political thematic matter, which bears a heavy focus on institutional dysfunction and government surveillance.
Despite the large quantity of positive reviews from critics, The Wire received relatively low ratings throughout its run and did not win any major television awards. Simon attributed the poor Nielsen ratings to a variety of factors: the complexity of the plot; a poor time slot; heavy use of esoteric slang, and a predominantly black cast. Critics, however, have called The Wire the best show on television, some even asserting it to be better than the groundbreaking HBO Original Series The Sopranos. President Barack Obama even claimed that The Wire was his personal favorite television show.