After Five Seasons, 'The Wire' Bids Farewell

Actor Michael Kenneth Williams. i i

Michael Kenneth Williams stars as Omar Little, a notorious stick-up man, in HBO's The Wire. Nicole Rivellli/HBO hide caption

itoggle caption Nicole Rivellli/HBO
Actor Michael Kenneth Williams.

Michael Kenneth Williams stars as Omar Little, a notorious stick-up man, in HBO's The Wire.

Nicole Rivellli/HBO
Actors Sonja Sohn, Wendell Pierce, Dominic West in HBO's The Wire. i i

Sonja Sohn (left), Wendell Pierce and Dominic West star in The Wire as detectives in Baltimore's overworked — and corrupt — police system. Nicole Rivelli/HBO hide caption

itoggle caption Nicole Rivelli/HBO
Actors Sonja Sohn, Wendell Pierce, Dominic West in HBO's The Wire.

Sonja Sohn (left), Wendell Pierce and Dominic West star in The Wire as detectives in Baltimore's overworked — and corrupt — police system.

Nicole Rivelli/HBO

The HBO series The Wire and its gripping, grim portrait of inner-city Baltimore has come to an end. The 60th and final episode was broadcast Sunday.

The show chronicled life — and death — in Baltimore's toughest neighborhoods and focused on the failure of its major civic institutions, including the police, the school system and the news media.

"It's been six years of storytelling, and we've put in a lot of effort to create this universe, so to say goodbye is certainly bittersweet," says Wire creator David Simon. "But we got to say what we wanted to say, and it's time to tell other stories."

Simon, a 13-year veteran of the Baltimore Sun newspaper, wrote Homicide and The Corner, which inspired hit series by the same names. Wire co-producer Ed Burns, a former Baltimore police detective who also taught in the city's public schools, drew from his own experiences to co-author The Corner with Simon.

As the series comes to a close, Simon and Burns talk with guest host Rob Smith about the process of creating a dark portrait of a troubled city.

David Simon, Unspooling 'The Wire'

David Simon, creator of 'The Wire'

David Simon was a reporter for The Baltimore Sun before becoming a television writer. Scott Wintrow/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Scott Wintrow/Getty Images

As HBO's The Wire comes to a close, creator and executive producer David Simon joins Fresh Air to talk about the show and his career.

The Wire is devoted to Baltimore's darker corners: corruption in the schools, corruption among the police, corruption among city officials, and now corruption among the scribes at The Baltimore Sun. Simon has written many of the episodes of The Wire, and some of the storylines come from his experience as a onetime police reporter for the Sun.

NPR media reporter David Folkenflik, also a former Sun reporter, calls the series "astonishingly sophisticated"; critic David Bianco of USA Today calls the show "one of the best series ever produced for American television, one in which the commitment to honesty and authenticity has never wavered."

(Others, including a former NPR arts editor who's been blogging about the show, say this season's Sun-centered storyline has dragged The Wire off the rails.)

Simon also wrote for Homicide: Life on the Street, a show based on his book of the same name. The Wire's season finale airs on March 9.

'The Wire' Tackles Troubled Baltimore Schools

Maestro Harrell plays middle-school student Randy Wagstaff

Maestro Harrell plays middle-school student Randy Wagstaff in the fourth season of HBO's The Wire. Paul Schiraldi hide caption

itoggle caption Paul Schiraldi
Writer and producer Ed Burns

Writer and producer Ed Burns taught in Baltimore public schools after serving on the city's police force. He says he doesn't think audiences could handle going into a Baltimore public school for a week. Paul Schiraldi hide caption

itoggle caption Paul Schiraldi

The Wire has been described as "the most demanding, intelligent hour on television."

The show's long-anticipated fourth season begins Sunday on HBO.

In its first three seasons, the gritty police drama set in Baltimore — and largely shot there — exposed viewers to some of the city's most intractable problems: its drug wars, corruption at its ports, the dysfunctionality of its police department.

Season four tackles yet another: the city's public school system, cited as one of the worst in the nation. One of the story lines this season follows a group of middle-school students and their goings-on — in and out of school.

The show's writer and producer is Baltimore native Ed Burns. He spent seven years as a teacher in the inner city, after serving 20 years with the Baltimore police.

So Burns has had plenty of experience with kids leaving the classroom ... and making their way onto the street.

Burns says that was the genesis of the season, to "go back to when choices are made."

Initially, the show's writers thought they would focus on a high school. But then they realized that by high school, many choices were already made. Middle school is a "testing ground for the street," Burns says.

"I don't think an audience could handle going into a middle school in Baltimore for a week," he says.

"This is the tragedy of their school experience. They spend time in class warring with the teacher. They're suspended. They go to time-out rooms, and then they hit the streets, and within five years, a lot of them are victims of murders or are committing murders," he says.

Burns hopes the show's harsh critique of the school system will entertain, disturb and ultimately teach audiences something about kids.

He wants them to understand that when kids like those portrayed on the show go in the directions they do, it's not from personal choice, but from other doors shutting around them.

"The trick is to keep all the doors open," he says. "If we can begin to understand that, then maybe we've done something."

Books Featured In This Story

The Corner

A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood

by David Simon and Edward Burns

Paperback, 543 pages | purchase

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Title
The Corner
Subtitle
A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood
Author
David Simon and Edward Burns

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Homicide

A Year on the Killing Streets

by David Simon

Paperback, 646 pages | purchase

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Title
Homicide
Subtitle
A Year on the Killing Streets
Author
David Simon

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