Down to 'The Wire': It's a Wrap for Gritty TV Series

Dominic West, who plays Baltimore police officer Jimmy McNulty, addresses cast and crew after work was completed Saturday on the last episode of the show's fifth and final season.
Dominic West, who plays Baltimore police officer Jimmy McNulty, addresses cast and crew after work was completed Saturday on the last episode of the show's fifth and final season. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
By Teresa Wiltz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 3, 2007

It was early still -- about 10 p.m. on Friday -- and somewhere in Columbia, David Simon was giving a tour of the sights: There, he said, pointing, was the Baltimore mayor's office. Over there? The city's Western District police headquarters, and there, that little closet of a room, "that can be the visiting room at Jessup." Pause. "Or the jail. Depends. We just redecorate."

As he stood on a platform, taking in his world, it was hard to ignore the irony: For the past two years, a good chunk of "The Wire," the HBO show that critics have praised for the grittiness of its inner-city vérité, has been filmed in an anonymous soundstage in the burbs -- a soundstage that reportedly will be turned into a massive Wegmans Food Market.

After five seasons, and this final episode, they would be done.

"It's time," said Clarke Peters, who plays Detective Lester Freamon, "to pull the plug on 'The Wire.' "

It is the actor's lot to say goodbye again and again, to bond with cast and crew, only to be sent scattering after the wrap. But this, everyone insisted, would be a particularly sorrowful parting: This morning, they buried one of their own, the daughter of a crew member who died of breast cancer. Tonight, they were putting "The Wire" to rest.

"I was a wreck," said Deirdre Lovejoy, who plays Assistant State's Attorney Rhonda Pearlman on the show. "But there was a funeral and that put everything in perspective." She looked around the room at everyone guzzling champagne, slapping backs and engulfing each other in hearty bear hugs. " This is a happy death."

Simon, who once covered cops for the Baltimore Sun, always knew that "The Wire" would end at exactly this point. From the beginning when the show debuted in 2002, he saw it as a visual novel, with each season a distinct chapter exploring an aspect of inner-city life: The first season examined the drug trade; the second focused on Baltimore's longshoremen; the third grappled with politics and the notion of reform; the fourth dug into education and the lives of the city's children. This season, which begins airing Jan. 6, explores the media, featuring a morally challenged reporter played by Tom McCarthy, who wrote and directed the indie film "The Station Agent."

"The Wire" has always struggled in the ratings; last season it averaged 1.6 million viewers per episode. But it's always enjoyed the admiration of critics, who praised it as being the "most authentic epic ever on television." Notwithstanding the giant soundstage, a good 50 percent of the show was shot on location in Baltimore, with real-life characters frequently sprinkled in with the fictional ones. Like former drug kingpin Melvin Williams, whom co-producer and writer Ed Burns, an ex-Baltimore cop, once arrested in a big takedown. Felicia "Snoop" Pearson, who did time as a teenager for killing a 16-year-old girl, made her acting debut last season, playing an assassin. Even Robert Ehrlich, when he was Maryland governor, made a cameo -- as a state trooper in the governor's office last season.

Over the years, Simon has carved out a cottage industry from covering Baltimore's drug and crime issues, from "Homicide," to the HBO miniseries "The Corner," based on his book by the same name, to "The Wire." But despite the show's depiction of Baltimore as decaying and dysfunctional, the city has benefited greatly from its presence, from its showcasing of B-more music to the tens of millions in revenue it has brought to the city. In many ways, "The Wire" is a long, convoluted love letter to Baltimore-- from a conflicted but resolutely committed lover.

But even the greatest love affairs come to an end.

Said Wendell Pierce, who plays Detective William "Bunk" Moreland: "He told us from day one, 'It's a novel.' He had the novel in his head, and he wouldn't share with us."

It wasn't until last year that Simon told his cast that this season would be the last.

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