23 Fascinating Facts About The Wire

Paul Schiraldi, HBO
Paul Schiraldi, HBO

It took a slow-but-steady climb for The Wire to emerge as a cultural phenomenon, but the show that challenged every cops-and-robbers television trope has permeated just about every corner of our culture. On the tenth anniversary of the series' finale, here are 23 facts that might have eluded even the most dedicated Wire diehards. (Warning: spoilers abound.)

1. BARACK OBAMA LOVES IT, AND EVEN HAS A FAVORITE CHARACTER.

On more than one occasion, Barack Obama has cited The Wire as one of his favorite TV shows. Interestingly, during the 2008 presidential election, the show's greatness was one of the few things that both John McCain and Obama could agree on, with McCain mentioning it alongside Seinfeld as a personal favorite. And Obama’s favorite character? It’s pretty much everyone’s favorite character: the gay, drug dealer-robbing, criminal code-having, Robin Hooding stick-up boy Omar. “That’s not an endorsement. He’s not my favorite person, but he’s a fascinating character,” Obama told the Las Vegas Sun, adding that he’s “the toughest, baddest guy on the show.”

2. CREATOR DAVID SIMON RECEIVED A MACARTHUR GENIUS GRANT FOR HIS WORK.

The prestigious MacArthur Fellowship is awarded annually to between 20 and 40 United States residents who "show exceptional merit and promise for continued and enhanced creative work." Over the years, the MacArthur Foundation has cast a wide net with its $500,000 prize, awarding it to the likes of linguists, historians, scientists, poets, mathematicians, journalists, and countless other skilled specialists. However, Simon is one of only two screenwriters to have been awarded the prize (two-time Oscar winner Ruth Prawer Jhabvala received one in 1984) and is the only person to have won the award primarily for work on a scripted television series.

3. THE WRITERS ROOM HAD SOME MAJOR TALENT.

The Wire had several writers whose work extended well beyond the television world. George Pelecanos, one of America’s most successful and well-respected crime fiction writers, wrote eight episodes of The Wire and served as a producer on season three. Richard Price, who has writing credits on five episodes, was already an accomplished writer before getting hired for the show, having written several novels and screenplays, including the critically-acclaimed 1992 crime novel Clockers, as well as the script for Spike Lee’s 1995 film adaptation of his book. Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone writer Dennis Lehane wrote three epsiodes.

4. MANY CRITICS CONSIDER IT THE BEST TV SHOW EVER.

Sonja Sohn and Gregory L. Williams in The Wire (2002)
Paul Schiraldi, HBO

When it comes to pop culture, the word “best” is tossed around so often that it’s hard to take it seriously. But The Wire is one of just a handful of shows you could make a serious case for as "the best show ever.” Entertainment Weekly, Slate, HitFix, and Complex have all, at varying times, named it the best drama ever to appear on the small screen, while almost every other major outlet of note has listed it among the best shows ever; it's part of an elite group that includes Seinfeld, The Simpsons, Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, M*A*S*H, and I Love Lucy.

5. YET THE SHOW NEVER—NOT ONCE—TOOK HOME AN EMMY.

Yep. That’s right. Two and a Half Men won nine Emmy Awards while The Wire, arguably the greatest work ever to grace the small screen, has not-a-one. In fact the show was nominated just twice, both times for its writing: once for the penultimate season three episode “Middle Ground,” which features the infamous Omar-Brother Mouzone-Stringer Bell face-off, and the season five series finale “–30–.”

6. ITS RATINGS RANGED FROM AVERAGE TO AWFUL.

Considering the quality and scope of the show, it was inevitable that The Wire would go down in the pantheon of all-time great TV shows. But the ratings during the show’s five-season run weren’t necessarily indicative of its quality or legacy. The audience topped out at about 4 million viewers, and hovered below the 1 million mark for much of the final season. Compare that to the more than 10 million people who tuned in for Breaking Bad's finale or the approximately 12 million viewers who watched the final episode of The Sopranos. These days, in an even more stratified media landscape, Game of Thrones handed 30.6 million viewers across all platforms for its seventh season finale.

7. THE SHOW HAS ITS ROOTS IN A MOSTLY-FORGOTTEN HBO MINISERIES.

The only time David Simon was actually able to nab an Emmy was for the critically-acclaimed-but-now-mostly-forgotten miniseries The Corner, which won awards for Outstanding Miniseries and Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries or a Movie (plus an Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special win for Charles S. Dutton). Based on a nonfiction book co-written by Simon and The Wire writer-producer Ed Burns, The Corner—which depicted life in poverty-stricken and drug-filled West Baltimore—overlapped thematically with The Wire and also shared a bevy of cast members, including Clarke Peters (Lester Freamon), and Lance Reddick (Cedric Daniels).

8. DAVID SIMON HAD AN IDEA FOR THE WIRE'S SIXTH SEASON.

Idris Elba and J.D. Williams in The Wire (2002)
HBO

Considering the ratings hole The Wire fell into during season five, David Simon surely knew that, like fighting the drug war, holding out hope for a sixth season would have been an exercise in futility. But had The Wire been given a sixth season, Simon thought the exploding Latino population in Southeast Baltimore would have been the subject. According to Simon, the topic would have been directly in The Wire’s wheelhouse, since “immigration is this incredibly potent source of friction and ideology, and maybe always has been in American life.” But the time it would have taken for Simon’s team to research immigration, combined with the low ratings, more or less buried the idea.

9. SIMON IS STILL PREPARED TO MAKE ANOTHER SEASON, UNDER ONE CONDITION.

By the time The Wire had enough critical clout and rabid fandom to legitimately justify another season, David Simon was hard at work on another project, the post-Katrina New Orleans drama Treme, which kicked off in 2010. However, when former Attorney General Eric Holder, yet another powerful fan of the show, gently joked in 2011 that he’d like to see another season, he received a not-so-joking response from Simon, who retorted “we are prepared to go to work on season six of The Wire if the Department of Justice is equally ready to reconsider and address its continuing prosecution of our misguided, destructive and dehumanizing drug prohibition.” Unfortunately, it didn't work out.

10. DOMINIC WEST NEVER THOUGHT THE SHOW WOULD LAST.

In fact, that's one of the main reasons why Dominic West—who starred as Jimmy McNulty—took the show. According to West, a Brit, he landed the role by doing his best Robert De Niro impression, but was reluctant to take the job since it meant signing a five-year contract to live in Baltimore. His agent eased his fears by telling him “don't worry, it'll only last one season."

11. THEY BUSTED OUT BIG-GUN MUSICIANS TO RECORD THE THEME SONG FOR ALL BUT ONE SEASON.

“Way Down in the Hole” was written by Tom Waits for his 1987 album Franks Wild Years, but serious fans of The Wire know it equally well as a song performed by The Blind Boys of Alabama, Waits, The Neville Brothers, and Steve Earle, who all did their own versions for seasons one, two, three, and five, respectively. For season four, however, the theme was sung by DoMaJe, a group of teenagers from Baltimore, in keeping with the year’s themes of adolescence and education.

12. ONLY ONE COP FIRES HIS OR HER WEAPON DURING THE ENTIRE SERIES.

It might be hard to believe, but on a cop-and-criminals show that ended up totaling 60 hours over five seasons, only a single police officer fired his weapon: Roland Pryzbylewski, better known as Prez. By turns the most and least sympathetic character on the show, the officer-turned-teacher fired his weapon a total of three times, accidentally shooting a round at a wall and returning fire at The Towers in the first season episode “The Detail,” then mistakenly firing a fatal and career-ending shot at a fellow officer in the season three episode "Slapstick."

13. DAVID SIMON AND ED BURNS HAVE COLLECTIVELY HELD ALMOST EVERY JOB PORTRAYED ON THE SHOW.

Probably one of the main reasons why The Wire rarely struck an inauthentic note was that producers David Simon and Ed Burns didn't have to fake their knowledge of the worlds they were exploring. Before breaking out with his book-turned-TV-show Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, Simon was a longtime crime reporter at The Baltimore Sun, which gave him an intimate knowledge of not only crime and institutional dysfunction in America's inner-cities, but also the troubles facing the newspaper industry. Burns, on the other hand, served as both a police detective and public school teacher in Baltimore before working on The Wire.

14. DAVID SIMON HAD TO LITERALLY BEG TO HAVE THE SHOW KEPT ON THE AIR.

Simon, in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, said thatThe Wire was canceled after season three, and The Wire was nearly canceled again—I had to grovel and beg and plead—after season four.” Despite the difficult journey getting five seasons of The Wire made, Simon praises HBO for allowing him to finish his story without too much interference, stating that the network was “very liberal in terms of allowing the people involved in the production of these shows to find their own vision and try to execute.”

15. OMAR IS BASED ON A REAL PERSON.

Wendell Pierce and Michael Kenneth Williams in The Wire (2002)
HBO

The Robin Hood-esque Omar may seem too perfect a TV antihero to have sprung up from real life, but like so many characters from the show, he’s partially drawn from a real-life Baltimore inspiration: a former drug dealer stickup boy named Donnie Andrews. After surrendering himself to detective-turned-producer Ed Burns for taking on a contract killing to support a heroin addiction, Andrews served time in prison and eventually became an anti-gang mentor to younger prisoners. After working with him to research their book The Corner, Simon and Burns eventually lobbied for his release from a life sentence, which he was granted in 2005 following 22 years served. Andrews continued his activism until his death, from a heart condition, in 2012. Although there are many similarities between the two, Andrews, unlike Omar, was not gay. That aspect of Omar's character was borrowed from Billy Outlaw, another stickup artist inspiration.

16. BUBBLES IS BASED ON A REAL PERSON, TOO.

Bubbles was based on another real-life Baltimorean who went by the moniker “Possum” (his real name remains unknown to the public). A heroin addict who had a drug sentence dropped in exchange for turning over criminals at $50 to $100 a head, Possum had a photographic memory and, like Bubbles, used hats to mark potential criminal targets to surveilling police. According to retired detective Ed Parker, Possum "worked for everybody—FBI, DEA, city narcotics, homicide." Simon chronicled Possum’s double life in a 1992 article for The Baltimore Sun, which doubled as an obituary; Possum died from AIDS shortly after being interviewed.

17. ONE OF BALTIMORE'S MOST INFAMOUS DRUG KINGPINS HAS A ROLE IN THE SHOW.

Thought to be one of the inspirations for Avon Barksdale, Melvin Williams trafficked heroin in Baltimore throughout the 1970s and 1980s to the tune of, according to the man himself, "a couple hundred million” dollars. Williams was arrested in 1985 following a wiretap investigation led by Ed Burns. Shortly after, while working for The Sun, Simon wrote a series of articles on Williams titled “Easy Money: Anatomy of a Drug Empire.” Williams served time in jail off and on until 2003, and played the role of West Side string-puller The Deacon in seasons three and four.

18. MANY OF THE ACTORS ARE BALTIMOREANS THROUGH AND THROUGH.

Cast members plucked from Baltimore included Jay Landsman (who, in a particularly confusing twist of fate, ended up playing Dennis Mello instead of the character Jay Landsman who was, as you might have guessed, based on the real-life Jay Landsman) and the aforementioned Melvin Williams. Another notorious Wire character to have been a lifelong Baltimorean was Felicia “Snoop” Pearson, who played an eponymous and murderous member of Marlo Stanfield’s crew, in a portrayal Stephen King called "perhaps the most terrifying female villain to ever appear in a television series." Like Williams, Pearson has had a troubled relationship with the law, having spent time in prison for second-degree murder at age 14, and then again after getting picked up in a sweeping Baltimore drug bust in 2011.

19. THERE WAS ALMOST A SPINOFF CENTERED AROUND BALTIMORE POLITICS.

Reg E. Cathey, Aidan Gillen, and Jay Landsman in The Wire (2002)
HBO

According to Simon, after the politically-charged third season of The Wire, he hatched a plan to create a spinoff series, The Hall, that would follow the rise of Tommy Carcetti and get even more real about the dirty business of Baltimore politics. Simon even went so far as to write a script and start putting a writing team together, but HBO told him no on the grounds that "we only want one show that nobody is watching in Baltimore, not two!"

20. ACTORS WORKING ON THE SHOW SAW BALTIMORE'S DANGEROUS SIDE.

The book Difficult Men, which chronicles the rise of modern television, details one role research ride-along that ended with Seth Gilliam (Ellis Carver) and Domenick Lombardozzi (Herc) ducking gunfire in the backseat of a police car. On another, Wendell Pierce (Bunk Moreland) reported seeing “a guy with a knife still in him” as well as a cop trying to take a man who’d been shot downtown for questioning instead of to a hospital.

21. DAVID SIMON CITES A SURPRISING SOURCE AS THE SHOW'S BIGGEST INFLUENCE.

“Dickensian” is a word that’s often tossed around to describe the serial fiction of The Wire, but David Simon goes back—way, way back—when citing the biggest influence on his show. In an interview with Slate, Simon noted “the guys we were stealing from in The Wire are the Greeks. In our heads we're writing a Greek tragedy, but instead of the gods being petulant and jealous Olympians hurling lightning bolts down at our protagonists, it's the Postmodern institutions that are the gods.”

22. PARODIES HAVE SPRUNG UP EVERYWHERE, BUT MOSTLY AFTER THE SHOW ENDED.

Because it took a few years for The Wire to seep into the national consciousness, it wasn’t exactly rife for parody during its 2002 to 2008 run. But many send-ups have hit the Web since, including Funny or Die’s The Wire: The Musical, which popped up in 2012 and featured several members of the show’s cast, a Saturday Night Live Brooklynized version of the show that took aim at the rapidly-gentrifying neighborhood of Bushwick, and a “Key and Peele” parody about, well, pants-pooping.

23. BARS ON THE WIRE ARE FULL OF SURPRISES.

In the season five episode “Took,” actor Richard Belzer is seen arguing his bar tab, presumably in a cameo of his Homicide: Life on the Street and Law and Order: Special Victims Unit character Detective John Munch. (To further complicate the Landsman situation, Munch was also partially based on the real-life Jay Landsman.) Another bar surprise comes when Commissioner William Rawls pops up in a gay bar in season three. Interestingly, Rawls' suggested homosexuality never comes up again throughout the rest of the series.

SpongeBob SquarePants Spin-Offs Are Coming to Nickelodeon

PARAMOUNT PICTURES and VIACOM INTERNATIONAL INC
PARAMOUNT PICTURES and VIACOM INTERNATIONAL INC

Are you ready for the SpongeBob SquarePants television universe?

The aquatic animated series, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, might soon be expanding into spin-offs if new Nickelodeon president Brian Robbins has his way. Speaking with Variety, Robbins expressed enthusiasm for opening up the SpongeBob mythology to include new series based on supporting characters.

“That’s our Marvel universe,” Robbins said. “You have this amazing show that’s run for almost 20 years.” Robbins speculated that new original shows could conceivably feature SpongeBob—the fry cook finding fun and adventure in the ocean city of Bikini Bottom—teaming with his friend Patrick or see characters like Sandy Cheeks and Plankton star in their own projects.

The strategy is part of Robbins’s goal to branch out into delivering more titles in the Nickelodeon library in order to compare with the deep well of content offered by streaming services like Netflix. Viewership across several family entertainment channels is down, with Nickelodeon seeing a 24 percent drop in its audience aged 2 to 11 in the fourth quarter of 2018 compared to the same timeframe in 2017. Cartoon Network and the Disney Channel suffered 37 percent and 30 percent drops, respectively.

Robbins believes more programming is part of the solution to retaining viewers. Rather than make a “zillion” episodes of one popular show, Robbins would prefer to see the channel grow into a more diverse programming lineup so people can binge a series and move on to the next.

In addition to more SpongeBob, Nickelodeon is also planning a CGI Paddington series for younger viewers inspired by the recent live-action films. Paddington and Paddington 2 actor Ben Whishaw—who recently won a Golden Globe for his work in A Very English Scandal—will again voice the bear. The network is also producing revivals of the popular 1990s hits Are You Afraid of the Dark? and All That.

[h/t Variety]

13 Things We Know About Stranger Things Season 3

Netflix
Netflix

[Warning: There are lots of Stranger Things season two spoilers ahead.]

Like we all hoped, Stranger Things season two turned out to be a worthy follow-up to the Netflix series' addictive debut season. Now, though, we’re left with plenty of questions, mysteries, and theories to chew on as we wait for season 3. But for everything we don’t know about what the next season of Stranger Things will bring us, there are more than enough things we do know to keep those fan theories coming. Here’s everything we know about Stranger Things season 3 so far.

1. It will premiere on Independence Day.

On December 31, 2018, Netflix decided to welcome in the new year by sharing that Stranger Things will return on July 4, 2019. The announcement—which featured footage from Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve 1985—could not have been more on-brand.

2. There will be another time jump.

The third season of Stranger Things won’t pick up right where the second one left off. Like the show experienced between the first two seasons, there will be a time jump between seasons two and three as well. The reason is simple: the child actors are all growing up. As the Duffer Brothers told The Hollywood Reporter in 2017:

“Our kids are aging. We can only write and produce the show so fast. They're going to be almost a year older by the time we start shooting season three. It provides certain challenges. You can't start right after season two ended. It forces you to do a time jump. But what I like is that it makes you evolve the show. It forces the show to evolve and change, because the kids are changing.”

3. There will be a total of eight episodes.

In January 2018, executive producer Shawn Levy told Glamour that season 3 would likely include eight or nine episodes, explaining that "The number of episodes will be dictated by the amount of story that excites us." Just a few months later, Levy told Collider that they had settled on eight episodes. And in December, Netflix released the episode titles.

4. It will be smaller in scale.

If the series’s second season was about expanding the Stranger Things mythology, the third season won't go bigger just for the sake of it, with the brothers even going so far as to say that it will be a more intimate story.

“It’s not necessarily going to be bigger in scale,” Matt Duffer told IndieWire. “What I am really excited about is giving these characters an interesting journey to go on.”

5. A lot of the action will go down at the local mall.

In July 2018, Netflix dropped a fun teaser for the third season (yes, that is Steve Harrington) that promoted Hawkins's new Starcourt mall. (Hey, it's the '80s!) Fans loved it—but also wondered whether it would be a place that we'll see in season 3. Indeed we will, and it will bring a different sort of look and feel to the show. "Aesthetically it's going to feel very different," Ross Duffer said. "Everyone is going to this new mall, seeing movies, and, of course, the Hawkins pool is open for business. I think there'll be a sense of fun and joy."

6. The Mind Flayer will be back.

The second season ended on a bit of a foreboding note when it was revealed that the Mind Flayer was still in the Upside Down and was seen looming over the Hawkins school as the winter dance was going on. Though we know there will be a time jump at the start of next season, it’s clear that the monster will still have a big presence on the show.

Executive producer Dan Cohen told TV Guide: "There were other ways we could have ended beyond that, but I think that was a very strong, lyrical ending, and it really lets us decide to focus where we ultimately are going to want to go as we dive into Season 3."

What does the Mind Flayer’s presence mean for the new crop of episodes? Well, there will be plenty of fan theories to ponder between now and the season 3 premiere.

7. It will be the "grossest" and most "brutal" season yet.

Noah Schnapp in Stranger Things
Netflix

While the cast and creators have remained tight-lipped about any key season 3 details, they have promised some scares. "While it's our most fun season, it also turns out to be our grossest season," Ross said. "We're inspired by John Carpenter's The Thing. We're inspired by [David] Cronenberg. We have a little bit of a George Romero vibe in there as well. There are horror movies and horror masters that we haven't really paid tribute to as much in previous seasons that we are definitely going to get into this season."

The cast has confirmed this sentiment. Natalia Dyer, who plays Nancy Wheeler, dubbed season 3 “bigger, darker, [and] scarier” than the first two. Noah Schnapp, who plays Will Byers, told MTV News the same, revealing that the “threat,” whatever it may be, is much more intense this time around. "Oh, yeah, the threat is ... it's brutal. It gets bad. It's very big," the 14-year-old actor said. "I feel like every season it kinda gets more—like it's taking over Hawkins."

8. Plenty of leftover season 2 storylines will be featured.

The Duffer Brothers had a lot of material for Stranger Things's second season—probably a bit too much. Speaking with Vulture, Matt Duffer detailed a few details and plot points that had to be pushed to season three:

"Billy was supposed to have a bigger role. We ended up having so many characters it ended up, in a way, more teed up for season three than anything. There was a whole teen supernatural story line that just got booted because it was just too cluttered, you know? A lot of that’s just getting kicked into season three."

9. There will be more Erica.

Priah Ferguson in Stranger Things
Netflix

Stranger Things already had a roster of fan-favorite characters heading into season two, but newcomer Erica, Lucas’s little sister, may have overshadowed them all. Played by Priah Ferguson, Erica is equal parts expressive, snarky, and charismatic. And the Duffer Brothers couldn’t agree more, saying that there will be much more Erica next season.

“There will definitely be more Erica in Season 3,” Ross Duffer told Yahoo!. “That is the fun thing about the show—you discover stuff as you’re filming. We were able to integrate more of her in, but not as much you want because the story [was] already going. ‘We got to use more Erica’—that was one of the first things we said in the writers’ room.”

“I thought she’s very GIF-able, if that’s a word,” Matt Duffer added. “She was great.”

10. Expect Kali to return.

The season two episode “The Lost Sister” was a bit of an outlier for the series. It’s a standalone episode that focuses solely on the character Eleven, leaving the central plot and main cast of Hawkins behind. As well-received as Stranger Things season two was, this episode was a near-unanimous miss among fans and critics.

The episode did, however, introduce us to the character of Kali (Linnea Berthelsen), who has the ability to manipulate people’s minds with illusions she creates. Despite the reaction, the Duffers felt the episode was vital to Eleven’s development, and that Kali won’t be forgotten moving forward.

“It feels weird to me that we wouldn’t solve [Kali’s] storyline. I would say chances are very high she comes back,” Matt Duffer said at the Vulture Festival.

11. Other "numbers" might show up.

Millie Bobby Brown in Stranger Things
Jackson Lee Davis, Netflix

We're already well acquainted with Eleven, and season two introduced us to Eight (a.k.a. Kali), and Levy heavily hinted to E! that there are probably more Hawkins Laboratory experiments on the horizon.

"I think we've clearly implied there are other numbers, and I can't imagine that the world will only ever know Eleven and Eight," Levy said.

12. There might not be many seasons left.

Don’t be in too much of a rush to find out everything about the next season of Stranger Things; there might not be many more left. The Duffer Brothers have said in the past that the plan is to do four seasons and end it. However, Levy gave fans a glimmer of hope that things may go on a little while longer—just by a bit, though.

“Hearts were heard breaking in Netflix headquarters when the Brothers made four seasons sound like an official end, and I was suddenly getting phone calls from our actors’ agents,” Levy told Entertainment Weekly. “The truth is we’re definitely going four seasons and there’s very much the possibility of a fifth. Beyond that, it becomes I think very unlikely.”

13. Cary Elwes and Jake Busey have joined the cast.

The cast of Stranger Things is growing for season three, and two of the most high-profile additions announced so far are Cary Elwes and Jake Busey. Elwes—of The Princess Bride and Robin Hood: Men in Tights fame—will be playing Mayor Kline, who is described as "Your classic ’80s politician—more concerned with his own image than with the people of the small town he governs." All we know about Busey’s character is that he’ll be named Bruce and is described as "a journalist for the The Hawkins Post, with questionable morals and a sick sense of humor."

In March, it was also announced that Maya Hawke, daughter of Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke, landed a role in the upcoming season. According to Variety, she’ll play an "'alternative girl' bored with her mundane day job. She seeks excitement in her life and gets more than she bargained for when she uncovers a dark secret in Hawkins, Ind."

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