Ten years ago this month, The Wire
premiered on HBO and… almost nobody cared. The Baltimore saga of cops and dealers, junkies and politicians, poverty and hope, polarized critics, was ignored by the Emmys, constantly struggled for ratings and faced cancellation more than once. But it also inspired a future President, created a bona fide American folk hero, and helped launch the current “Golden Age” of television. Now for the first time ever, the creators, writers, cast and crew recall the making of an American classic.
In the mid-1980s David Simon, a police reporter for the Baltimore Sun, met Ed Burns, a homicide detective in the midst of a major case involving local drug kingpin and folk hero Melvin Williams. Key evidence in the case was gathered using wiretap surveillance.
David Simon (creator, executive producer, writer):
Ed was the lead investigator. It was Melvin’s third and hopefully last arrest, and I was assigned to do a story on who he was and why he kept coming back.
Ed Burns (co–executive producer, writer)
: It was supposed to be fully confidential, but David had a lot of friends in the police department, especially in Homicide. So he went to the Police Commissioner and asked if he could follow the case. David has a lot of luck with police commissioners.
It was the first time I had ever been allowed in there. Ed was forthright and honest in answering my questions, but the case had not yet gone to trial so he had a lot he had to be cautious about.
He said “I’ve got permission to follow this, and I’d love to know what’s going on. I won’t write anything until the case is wrapped up, but I’d love to hear some of the wire taps.” And I said to him, “You know, quite frankly, I’d like you to hear them too so I can lock you away for 10 years.” Because that’s the punishment for listening to wire taps if you’re not authorized. He followed the case, and we became, I wouldn’t say friends, at that time, but I trusted him. He knew how to keep his mouth shut.