The inside story of one of the greatest TV shows ever made, The Wire, has been chronicled in a recent book. Fans of the landmark series are quickly devouring All the Pieces Matter, an oral history based on interviews with most of the cast and crew.
It didn’t seem like television shows could ever possibly eclipse films and be more socially relevant. But it suddenly happened. One could argue that The Wire, which premiered in 2002, was the beginning of this sea change. The crime drama series magnificently captured a time in place with gritty realism.
Created by a Baltimore journalist (David Simon) and police detective (Ed Burns), The Wire was pulled straight from real life. Baltimore and its relationship to law enforcement was recreated with stunning cinematography, complex story lines, an institutional dysfunction motif, and unimaginable characters.
The series was so accurate that many in Baltimore chose not to watch it. In front of televisions in their homes, they preferred to avoid a show that so effectively mimicked their immediate surroundings.
With low ratings, the show somehow lasted five seasons. It was also never nominated for any awards. But millions started watching on DVD box sets and streaming services in the years that followed. The Wire eventually became a cult classic and, ultimately, an international phenomenon that belongs on any list of the greatest TV shows of all time.
“The Wire was one of the first shows that was a serial,” says Jonathan Abrams, a sports journalist and author of All the Pieces Matter. “It didn’t open and close cases in the span of an hour, like Law & Order, which we were used to as viewers.”
Indeed, the show must have been difficult to watch in real time. “You were dropped into this dense universe for a week at a time,” Abrams says.
The Wire was ahead of its time in many ways. It is perfect for binge watching, for example, but struggled in an era before entire series were easily viewable through online streaming.
The author knew his book wouldn’t be possible without the permission and participation of David Simon.
“It was like talking to someone whose vocabulary is just bigger than yours,” Abrams says, with a chuckle. “Me and my literary agent wrote him this long letter basically explaining what the show meant to me and why I thought I would be a good person to write this book. It was some of the best stuff I had ever written as a journalist. But the response from his secretary was just like one line from him: ‘I don’t care. He can do whatever he wants to do.’”
“David said his rule was that everything has to start from a kernel of truth,” Abrams continues. “Everything started as non-fiction and then they splintered into the world of The Wire with fiction.”
Abrams quickly realized just how much of the show was pulled from real life, as the first part of his book reflects. He also believes that part of the reason the show struggled when it aired was because it had so many black cast members.
“That’s one of the things Andre Royo—the actor who played Bubbles—brought up,” Abrams says. “People who aren’t black saw three or four black people on the screen and thought it wasn’t a show for them.”