The Wire 20th Anniversary Featurette: 'What Is It We're Paying Attention To?'

It's been 20 years now since the series premiere of "The Wire," which first aired on HBO on June 2, 2002. Two decades later, series creator and writer David Simon and producer and writer George Pelecanos are taking a look back at the show's legacy in a new featurette.

Set in Baltimore, Maryland, "The Wire" unfolded in a novelistic (or, as the show called it, Dickensian) fashion over five seasons and 60 episodes. From the drug business to the ports to the government, school system, and newspaper trade, each season delved into a different side of the city and its institutions. Actors like Dominic West, Idris Elba, Wendell Pierce, Lance Reddick, Clarke Peters, Aidan Gillen, Seth Gilliam, and the late Michael K. Williams, to name but a few, were less well-known at the time but have since gone on to achieve increased recognition. Simon brought to bear his background as a police reporter to craft a realistic portrayal of law enforcement and criminals, and the result was a TV series that still ranks as one of the greatest of all time.

The reputation of "The Wire" should precede it, but you never know. In today's oversaturated streaming market, maybe there are still some viewers who are on the fence about watching it (or rewatching it). If that's the case, perhaps this video will get you in the "Wire" mood.

'This is America, and we are as we were'

"'The Wire' is about the drug war," Simon says at the beginning of the video, "and I wish, 15 years later, that 'The Wire' were anachronistic as a whole, and that there was nothing it could say now to our present moment that it was trying to say then. Unfortunately, this is America, and we are as we were."

Pelecanos talks about how he became involved in the show, and Simon reveals that they "didn't have a lot of notes" from the network. "What notes we had, we could usually shoot down," he says. It's interesting to hear that they had so much leeway and were not pressured to cast big stars, but were free to simply go with the best actors. In a lot of ways, the city is the real star of "The Wire."

Killing off characters in the penultimate episode of a season has become de rigueur for a certain brand of prestige drama in the Peak TV age, but "The Wire" was ahead of the curve with that, and it often fell to Pelecanos to pen those episodes, which left the show's actors not wanting to read his scripts. Needless to say, there wasn't a happy ending for every character on "The Wire," and it wasn't the kind of Hollywoodized show where its police protagonists were guaranteed to come out triumphant or where the news that was printed was guaranteed to be true. The final question, Simon says, is "What is it we're paying attention to?"

All five seasons of "The Wire" are streaming on HBO Max.