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Trivia / The Wire

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"All the pieces matter."
Lester Freamon

  • Actor-Shared Background: Richard De Angelis really did have cancer and died due to complications from it after season 4. When it was confirmed that his cancer was terminal, his character Colonel Raymond Forester also developed cancer, died from it during the course of season 4, and was given a wake at Kavanaugh's Pub. When he appears in Season 4 for his final episodes, his obvious and drastic weight loss from treatment between seasons can be quite shocking.
    • Felicia Pearson was a street-level drug dealer who had done a few years in prison for a murder (she has always insisted it was self-defense) she committed at 15, before she was cast as Snoop.
  • Big Name Fan:
    • Barack Obama was famously a fan, and even half-jokingly asked David Simon to bring the show back after he became president. In typical fashion, Simon replied that if Obama would fix all the institutional problems the show explored, he had a deal.
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    • This is one of the few series that Charlie Brooker genuinely loves. Not only did he dedicate a section of a Screenwipe episode on American television on it, but he dedicated a whole programme to it.
  • California Doubling: Averted. The series was actually filmed in Baltimore, but used different sections of East Baltimore exclusively (obvious non-inclusions would be when they needed to film the ports or other locales not found in the inner city).
    • Most of the high-rise housing projects in which the Barksdale crew operates in the early seasons were actually torn down before the start of the series (this is eventually shown in Season 3). During the first season digital fakery is used to put some high rises up in the background of scenes set in The Pit.
  • Cast the Runner-Up:
    • Lance Reddick auditioned for the roles of Bunk Moreland and Bubbles before being cast as Cedric Daniels. He was told that they were looking for "a name" to fill the Daniels role.
    • Tray Chaney originally auditioned to play Wee-Bey Brice but the producers felt he was too short. They were so impressed with his audition that they created the character of Poot for him to play.
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    • Jay Landsman auditioned for the character based on himself before being cast as Dennis Mello.
    • Seth Gilliam auditioned for the role of Stringer Bell before being cast as Ellis Carver.
    • Tristan Mack Wilds auditioned for the role of Randy Wagstaff before being cast as Michael Lee.
    • Gbenga Akinnagbe auditioned for the role of Marlo Stanfield before being cast as Chris Partlow.
    • Jamie Hector auditioned for the role of Cutty Wise before being cast as Marlo Stanfield.
    • Isiah Whitlock Jr. auditioned for the role of Lester Freamon before being cast as Clay Davis.
    • Michael B. Jordan auditioned before casting director Alexa L. Fogel in New York City for the role of Bodie. He was called back twice and the auditions went well, but he was turned down for the part because Fogel thought he was too young. The part went to Jordan's friend J.D. Williams, who grew up in the same hometown with Jordan in Newark, New Jersey.
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    • Anwan Glover auditioned for the roles of Marlo Stanfield, Fruit and Drac before being cast as Slim Charles.
    • Donnell Rawlings was considered for the role of Omar before being cast as recurring character Damien Price.
    • Jermaine Crawford auditioned for the role of Michael Lee before being cast as Dukie Weems.
    • Michael Kostroff originally auditioned for the part of Frank Barlow before being cast as Maurice Levy.
    • Reg E. Cathey auditioned for the roles of Cedric Daniels and Lester Freamon. He was later cast in the show's fourth season as Norman Wilson.
  • The Character Died with Him: Producer Robert F. Colesberry died from surgery complications and his character, Detective Ray Cole, passes away while working out in the gym in Season 3. Richard DeAngelis who played relatively unimportant Major Raymond Foerster, died of cancer during Season 4. Both receive an In Memoriam wake at Kavanaugh's Pub. Cole's one is the first of the series.
  • Creator Breakdown:
    • Michael K. Williams secretly struggled with a cocaine addiction during the third season. He never missed a day of work nor was he ever late. He also suffered with an identity crisis due to his popularity as Omar.
    • During the first season, Sonja Sohn had much trouble remembering her lines causing numerous delays. She says it was due to childhood trauma of growing up in a ghetto and witnessing police brutality. Because of this she was uncomfortable in the neighborhood while filming took place and had issues with portraying a police officer.
    • Andre Royo, who played Bubbles, had a difficult time with his role at certain points, just because everything Bubbles went through was so heartbreaking, depressing, and repetitive that it left him with depression as well, which he dealt with by drinking heavily. In the end he needed substance abuse help to deal with the drinking problem he developed.
      By the third season I was drinking. I was depressed. I’d look at scripts like: what am I doing today? Getting high or pushing that f*cking cart?
  • The Danza:
    • Felicia "Snoop" Pearson.
    • Real Life Baltimore drug kingpin "Little Melvin" Williams plays the Deacon, whose first name is apparently "Melvin".
    • Officer Bobby Brown is played by Bobby J. Brown.
  • Dawson Casting:
    • Marla Daniels is clearly supposed to be around the same age as Cedric, but Maria Broom has a solid 12 or so years on Lance Reddick, and is noticeably older.
    • D'Angelo Barksdale is another adult example. Prison records seen in season three indicate that he was approximately 23. He's played by Larry Gilliard Jr., who was 31 years old in season 1, making him two years younger than Wood Harris (Avon) and one year older than Idris Elba (Stringer).
    • J.D. Williams is older than the teenage Bodie by eight years.
    • Omar is supposed to be in his late twenties by the beginning of the series and is noted as being 34 on his death certificate in season 5. Michael K. Williams was 35 in 2001, when he began playing him.
  • Denied Parody: It is often assumed that Tommy Carcetti is based on former mayor of Baltimore Martin O'Malley. David Simon and the other writers claim that he's modeled after a number of obscure Baltimore politicians.
  • Directed by Cast Member: "Took" was directed by Dominic West (McNulty). Clark Johnson also directed several episodes (notably "The Target"), even before he joined the cast as Gus Haynes. He also directed the finale.
  • Disabled Character, Disabled Actor: Blind Butchie's actor S. Robert Morgan actually is blind (though as a result of macular degeneration rather than a gunshot wound).
  • Doing It for the Art: The entire point of the show was to make the most realistic, intelligent, and well-researched Police Procedural ever seen, knowing full well that the show's brutal honesty and steadfast refusal to talk down to viewers would turn many away. Even as HBO grew restless with the low viewership of the series, the showrunners remained committed to their vision, ratings be damned.
  • Executive Meddling: One of the rare examples that was good for the show. Simon and the writers originally planned for Kima to die of her gunshot wounds at the end of Season 1; an HBO executive persuaded them to let her live.
  • Fake American:
    • Jimmy McNulty and Stringer Bell are played by Brits Dominic West and Idris Elba.
    • Italian-American Tommy Carcetti is played by Irishman Aidan Gillen.
  • Fake Nationality:
    • "The Greek" (who is not actually from Greece but is clearly not American yet not even be of Greek ethnicity) is played by American actor Bill Raymond.
    • Spiros either is Greek or pretends to be one (he has many identities), but he is played by the American Paul Ben-Victor.
    • Subverted, after a fashion, with McNulty: although Landsman makes numerous jokes about McNulty's "negligible Irish ancestry," Dominic West, although born in Yorkshire and identifying as English, actually is of primarily Irish ancestry.
  • Fake Russian: Ukrainian Sergei Malatov is played by American Chris Ashworth. "Malatov" is also not a Ukrainian name—however, it might be a fake name, made to conform to American stereotypes. He works for The Greek (who isn't Greek).
  • I Am Not Spock: Defied by Wendell Pierce: "If you see me on the street, feel free for the rest of my life to call me Bunk."
  • Irony as She Is Cast:
    • The Deacon is played by Melvin Williams, a reformed criminal and basis for Avon Barksdale. The show alludes to the fact that the Deacon wasn't always a choir boy when he shows skill as a pool shark.
    • Drug Kingpin Avon Barksdale, shown as a one-time rising star in the boxing world, is played by Wood Harris. Fans of the iconic sports movie Remember the Titans will be shocked by how the well-mannered, All-American Julius Campbell managed to become the lord of the Baltimore underworld.
    • The proudly Irish-American Catholic Jimmy McNulty, who sneers at Bushmills as "Protestant whiskey" and makes other references to pro-Irish and anti-English sentiments, is played by English actor Dominic West (admittedly, West is of Irish ancestry, but the point remains he identifies as a Yorkshireman). There's also a scene where he gets to do a hilarious impression of an American doing a bad English accent.
  • Only Barely Renewed: Both the fourth and fifth seasons barely happened. The fifth possibly only because the creator wrapped up the series and delivered a shorter season.
  • Reality Subtext:
    • Co-creator Ed Burns left the Baltimore police force to teach in city schools, much as Prez does in Season 4.
    • The Deacon is played by Melvin Williams, the real-life inspiration for Avon Barksdale. In his prime, during the 1970s, Williams dominated the drug trade in West Baltimore in much the same way.
    • Felicia Pearson had never acted before Michael Williams saw her in a nightclub and invited her to the set to test for Snoop. Before that, she had lived much the same life, getting involved in drug dealing in her teens (which she still did even after she was on the show, until she knew she'd like doing it) and serving a prison term for a murder she insists was self-defensenote  Since the show ended she has been arrested on drug dealing and conspiracy charges again.
    • Former Baltimore mayor Kurt Schmoke really did, when seeking re-election, use campaign graphics with "Schmoke Makes Us Proud!" on a black, red and green background (just coincidentally the same colors the African American flag uses), as a dogwhistle to black voters, much like Royce does as he gets more desperate to win the primary.
  • Real-Life Relative:
    • Wire Producer Nina Kostroff Noble is the real life sister of Michael Kostroff, who plays Maurice Levy.
    • Michelle Paress (Alma Gutierrez) is married in real life to Larry Gilliard Jr. (D'Angelo Barksdale).
  • Star-Making Role: For Idris Elba, Dominic West, Aidan Gillen, Lance Reddick (coupled with Fringe), Andre Royo and Chad L. Coleman (coupled with The Walking Dead).
  • Technology Marches On:
    • At the beginning of the series, pagers are still in common use and cellphones are still not. As a result, the working payphones Barksdale's gang depends on are everywhere.
    • Freamon and Prez do their research into Barksdale's shell corporations and laundered campaign contributions by physically going to the offices where those records are filed and asking for them. Today that can be done over the Internet.
    • In Season 2, Niko and Ziggy steal some cutting-edge digital cameras that retail for $500 and offer them to the Greek's organization to fence. Today you couldn't give those cameras away.
    • The FBI determines the container's origin was faked by calling up their counterparts in France to check out the purported address, something that by 2020 could be done with Google Street View or similar services.
    • Baltimoreans are shown voting on lever machines, which many states had already long abandoned (if they'd ever used them to begin with) by the mid-2000s. By 2020 they are all long gone from American polling places.
  • Throw It In!: Senator Clay Davis' catchprase "Sheeeeee-it" didn't appear in the script. Isaiah Whitlock Jr. added it in.
  • Unintentional Period Piece:
    • The technology used dates it pretty firmly to its 2002-08 run. In Season 1, the detail's investigation into the Barksdale Organization is driven by cracking their network of pager signals to justify wiretaps on payphones the gang uses to communicate. By Season 2, the street has transitioned to burner cell phones ("the latest in yo-tech" in Kima's words) — to the surprise of many cops (who don't realize how cheap phones have gotten), and the Greek is using text messages on a BlackBerry. As the series goes on, the crooks get more sophisticated in using mobile technology — and the cops get ever more sophisticated in using the technology to track them down. It's also dated to the 2000s by the absence of two key technologies: true smartphones and social media.
    • Starting in Season 3, there's increased reference to the Police Department's "ComStat" system for tracking police performance (a fictionalized version of the CitiStat system actually implemented in the early 2000s, based on New York's CompStat). While data-driven policing is still a thing (and CitiStat still exists in Baltimore), the arrests-driven approach is definitely an artifact of the 2000s, before more recent policy trends towards criminal justice reform.
    • Season 4 makes heavy reference to the "No Child Left Behind Act" and its effects upon the education system.
    • Throughout the series, street level dealers gave their product topical brand names like "Troop Surge", "WMDs", and "Pandemic" (i.e. bird flu).
    • Several figures are slightly time-shifted versions of late 1990s-early 2000s Baltimore pols:
      • The most prominent is Tommy Carcetti, a white councilman who becomes Mayor of Baltimore and then Governor of Maryland, who is a pretty obvious stand-in for Martin O'Malley. O'Malley did the same thing 1999-2007, although, to his credit, O'Malley served two full terms as Mayor before seeking the governorship rather than skipping out after two years like Carcetti.
      • Council President (and Carcetti's eventual successor) Nerese Campbell appears modeled on Sheila Dixon, who was Council President during O'Malley's term as Mayor and eventually succeeded him.
      • The unnamed antagonistic Republican governor is pretty transparently supposed to be basically the same as Bob Ehrlich, who was governor during O'Malley's second term as mayor.
  • What Could Have Been:
    • The writers discussed having a season dedicated to immigration and the large influx of Hispanic immigrants in Baltimore, but the amount of time that would have been needed to do the research required and HBO having enough with the show's low ratings scuttled it.
      David Simon: We were considering a season on the topic of immigration, it was debated in the writers’ room, but it’s like, by the time we do the research, learn the Spanish, the train’s already rolling along and you can’t stop it. We were just begging HBO to give us another season.
    • During season 3 the idea was floated of spinning off the political subplots into a separate show called The Hall. Instead the political side was folded into subsequent seasons. Ostensibly because the heads of HBO were like "No, we only want one show that nobody is watching in Baltimore, not two!"
    • Kima was supposed to die in the first season. HBO executive Carolyn Strauss urged David Simon not to kill off Greggs, telling him it would be a mistake. This and other changed details, which include D'Angelo testifying at the end of season 1, can be read in an early draft of the show, The Wire Bible.
    • Jimmy McNulty's original last name was McArdle. This was alluded to in season 2 where one of the white drug dealers is a guy named "White Mike" McArdle.
    • John C. Reilly was Simon's first choice to play McNulty, implying his original idea for the character was very different from what we ended up with. Ray Winstone was offered the role, but turned it down. Winstone liked the show but did not want to be away from his family for seven months of the year, which was the filming schedule.
    • Simon originally wrote the crime family featured in season two as Italian-based. However, to avoid comparison with The Sopranos, also on HBO, Simon changed it to a Greek mob.
    • The original character outline for Bubbles mentions that he is slowly dying of AIDS, a character aspect that was given to Bubbles' friend Johnny Weeks.
    • Judge Daniel Phelan was originally named Judge Clifford Watkins and was black.
  • The Wiki Rule: Has a wiki here.
  • Word of Gay: Rawls's sexual orientation is strongly hinted at in the show (especially with his appearance in a gay bar where Lamar is looking for Omar), but David Simon has confirmed it in interviews.
  • Word of God: David Simon has spoken on a number of points over the years, (including the sexual orientation of Bill Rawls, as mentioned above, or confirming that Chris Partlow was also molested as a child) but perhaps the most interesting case regards the newspaper storyline from Season 5. This plot arc is widely criticized for being simplistic and obvious compared to the depth and complexity of other stories, however Simon has claimed that the critics are missing the true point of the arc, and it isn't really about the evils of the newspaper business or holding Gus Haynes and a few other writers up as paragons of virtue, but about how the newspaper (even the good people who still work in it) has completely lost touch with the lives of the people in its city.
    Here’s what happened in season five of The Wire when almost no one — among the working press, at least — was looking: our newspaper missed every major story. The mayor, who came in promising reform, is instead forcing his police department to once again cook the stats to create the illusion that crime is going down. Uncovered. The school system has been teaching test questions to improve No Child Left Behind scores, and to protect the mayor politically and to validate a system that is failing to properly educate city children. No expose published. Key investigations and prosecutions are undercut or abandoned by the political machinations of police officials, prosecutors and political figures. Departmental priorities make high-level drug investigation prohibitive. Not the news that’s fit to print. Drug wars, territorial disputes, and the assassination of the city’s largest drug importer manage to produce a brief inside the metro section that refers only to the slaying of a second-hand appliance store owner. Par for the course.

    That was the critique. With the exception of the good journalism that bookended the story arc — which is, of course, representative of the fact that there are still newspaper folk in Baltimore and elsewhere struggling mightily to do the job — the season amounted to ten hours of a newspaper that is no longer intimately aware of its city. ... A good newspaper covers its city and acquires not just the quantitative account of a day’s events, but the qualitative truth and meaning behind those events. A great newspaper does this routinely on a multitude of issues, across its entire region. Such a newspaper was not chronicled on The Wire. There were still good journalists in our make-believe newsroom, and they did some good work — just as there are still such souls in Baltimore and every city laboring in similar fashion and to similar result. But there used to be more of them. And they covered more ground, and they knew the terrain in a way that they no longer do.
  • Write What You Know:
    • Prez's experiences as a teacher are based on those of Ed Burns, who became a Baltimore middle school teacher when he retired from the Police.
    • Word of God confirms Freamon is inspired by Harry Edgerton, Ed Burns' former partner in the Baltimore homicide unit; Edgerton was also the inspiration for Frank Pembleton.
  • Written-In Infirmity: The scars on both Michael K. Williams and Jamie Hector's faces are real.
  • You Look Familiar: Given the size of the cast, it's not uncommon to observe cases where casting unintentionally brought in an actor in an early season who returns playing a much different role later on in the show.
    • One of the cops in the courtroom in "Old Cases" is clearly played by Gbenga Akinnagbe, two seasons before he was cast as Marlo Stanfield's chief enforcer Chris Partlow.
    • The woman Bunk drunkenly sleeps with in "Lessons" is played by Denise Hart, who would later play Randy Wagstaff's stepmother in season 4.

...all the pieces matter.

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