Getting The Wire Renewed Was Always An Uphill Battle

Even though it's now widely considered one of the best television series in the history of the medium, if not the very best, David Simon's "The Wire" was frequently on life support. It was a critics' darling, but viewership was never robust, and Emmy voters repeatedly shunned it (the taste-challenged organization coughed up all of two nominations during the show's run). Fortunately, HBO understood the value of committing to a high-quality program regardless of ratings. This is why top-flight artists like Martin Scorsese, Tom Hanks, and David Milch took their network-unfriendly series to the pay-cable channel.

Still, the sword of Damocles hung over "The Wire" at the conclusion of every season. Could HBO justify keeping the show on the air when it kept coming up short in the two metrics that truly matter? This uncertainty was tough for Simon, but especially brutal for the actors.

The Bunk rides The Wire

Wendell Pierce never received an Emmy nomination for his portrayal of the streetwise Detective Bunk Moreland, but he is worshiped among fans of "The Wire." If there's a soul of the show, he might be it. Bunk is a principled cop who puts his head down and does the unrewarding work of investigating cases that have little hope of ever getting solved. His partner, McNulty (Dominic West), is a constant source of aggravation, largely because he's an anti-authoritarian drunk who hates to lose an argument.

It's a fun dynamic, and we were lucky to get five seasons of it. As Pierce told The Washington Post, it's a miracle that we even got more than one:

"Almost every year we had to wait to see if we were renewed. I remember one particular year David [Simon, creator, writer and executive producer] had to turn in six spec scripts before they gave approval. When we first saw it, it was so new and innovative in the way it told stories that I distinctly remembered telling Sonja Sohn and Andre Royo — we were watching it together — Save your money. Cause this s— is going nowhere."

A miraculously long-lived series

Over a decade removed from the show, Pierce is proud of his work. "Twenty years in," he said, "It pleases me to know that people are sharing it generationally with their kids who are now of age." There is a long, depressing list of great shows that failed to survive a critically acclaimed first season or two due to poor ratings: "I'll Fly Away," "Frank's Place," and "Freaks and Geeks" died shockingly quick deaths. Had "The Wire" aired on a major network and failed to garner a single Emmy nomination in its first two seasons, it would've certainly been canceled. 

So cherish our good fortune that Simon got to see "The Wire" through to the end, even if its message was that the American experiment seems doomed to die, and soon.