“The Wire”: David Simon reflects on his modern Greek tragedy

Wiredavidsimon_2David Simon always seems to have a lot on his mind. For the past six years, he’s given voice to his thoughts, commentaries and general reportage on life in urban American through his imposing HBO drama series The Wire.”

That sweeping saga of hustle and bustle on Baltimore’s drug corners, in its police department and school system, in the corridors of City Hall and its court system comes to an end Sunday with episode No. 60, “30.”

As you might expect, Simon had plenty to say about the process of wrapping up a show that is near and dear to him, the issues it has tackled over its five seasons and what he hoped “Wire’s” legacy would — and would not — be in the long run.

Simon was generous with his time in a telephone interview late last month, in between looping sessions on “Generation Kill,” his upcoming HBO miniseries about Marines in Iraq. (Beyond “Kill,” Simon’s also working with “Wire” and “Homicide” alum Eric Overmyer on an HBO pilot script set among musicians in post-Katrina New Orleans, and he’s got a deal with his “Wire” collaborator William Zorzi to write a non-fiction book about the rise of the drug culture in 1950s and ’60s Baltimore.)

According to Simon, the best way to understand “The Wire” is to think Greek — not the nefarious Greek characters who dominate the illicit trade in Baltimore’s ports, but the storytelling tradition of the ancient Greek tragedies, where the heroes and anti-heroes always face a dramatic downfall, usually as a result of their own hubris.

Leaning on that structure gave them a road map to plot the fates of the show’s primary characters, particularly the savvy police detectives Jimmy McNulty, Lester Freamon, Bunk Moreland and Kima Greggs; dealers, dopers and street soldiers Omar Little, Bubbles, Proposition Joe, Marlo Stanfield and Avon Barksdale.

“We knew what was going to happen over the course of the five-year run,” Simon sez (though it was not always clear it would be a five-year run, he’s quick to add. It took some work to secure seasons four and five).

“We were always adjusting where characters were going to end up, what parts of Baltimore we were going to depict when, what we wanted to say with the overall  theme of the show. It was a Greek tragedy done in a modernist urban way, with the city as the main character,” Simon says.

More TV

  • GOTHAM: L-R: Guest star Cameron Monaghan

    TV News Roundup: Fox Drops 'Gotham' Final Season Trailer (Watch)

    In today’s TV news roundup, Fox released a new trailer for an upcoming episode of “Gotham” and Disney has announced the cast for its upcoming “High School Musical” series.  FIRST LOOKS Showtime released a new trailer and the official poster for the upcoming fourth season of “Billions,” premiering March 17 at 9 p.m. ET/PT. In [...]

  • Chris Rock

    Chris Rock to Direct Kenan Thompson Comedy Pilot at NBC

    Chris Rock has come onboard to direct the NBC single-cam comedy pilot “Saving Kenan,” Variety has learned. Rock will also executive produce the pilot, which stars “SNL” mainstay Kenan Thompson. Thompson will play a newly widowed dad determined to be everything for his kids while begrudgingly letting his persistent father-in-law become more involved in their lives [...]

  • Peak TV Saturation TV Placeholder

    Apollo Global Management Buys Majority Stake in Cox TV Stations

    Private equity giant Apollo Global Management has cut a deal with Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises to buy a majority stake in Cox’s 13 TV stations as well as three newspapers and a handful of radio stations in Ohio. Apollo has been in the hunt for broadcast TV stations for some time. Cox’s station group, which includes [...]

  • Ken Jeong TV Take Podcast

    Listen: Ken Jeong on His Return to Stand-Up and New Netflix Special

    Welcome to “TV Take,” Variety’s television podcast. In this week’s episode, Variety’s executive editor of TV, Daniel Holloway, talks with Ken Jeong about his Netflix comedy special, “Ken Jeong: You Complete Me, Ho,” and being a judge on Fox’s “The Masked Singer.“ Jeong started working on his new standup act after ABC canceled his show “Dr. [...]

  • "Brother" -- Episode 201-- Pictured (l-r):

    CBS Interactive's Marc DeBevoise on Streaming Boom, Content Strategy, and Apple

    Not everyone wants or needs to be Netflix to succeed in the streaming space. And not everyone sees Apple’s enigmatic new service as a threat. Even as rival streaming services offer gobs of content, CBS Interactive’s president and COO Marc DeBevoise sees the company’s targeted original programming strategy continuing to attract viewers to its All [...]

  • Ken Jeong to Star in CBS

    Ken Jeong to Star in CBS Comedy Pilot From 'Crazy Rich Asians' Author Kevin Kwan

    A “Crazy Rich Asians” reunion is happening at CBS. Ken Jeong has been cast in a lead role in the multi-camera comedy pilot “The Emperor of Malibu,” which is being co-written and executive produced by “Crazy Rich Asians” author Kevin Kwan. In the series, Auggie, the son of a Chinese tech billionaire, announces his engagement [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content