Tuesday, January 13, 2009
A Real-Life Baltimorean's Take on "The Wire"
Anyone who’s watched a few episodes of HBO’s now-defunct crime drama The Wire knows how addictive the show can be. I personally spent much of my winter break devouring the third and fourth seasons on DVD, and I’m about to dive into the fifth. I also started digging into some of the behind-the-scenes material, much of which emphasizes how creator David Simon struggled to achieve a realistic and detailed depiction of Baltimore. I was curious about how that depiction might go over with someone who lives in the city, so I organized an interview with real-life Baltimore resident Cheryl Pearson.
MH: I just want to start off by saying that you’re very brave.
CP: Brave? Why?
MH: Well, for living in Baltimore your whole life. From what I’ve seen on The Wire, it can be a pretty rough place.
CP: (Laughs) Oh, I see. Yeah, I think the show gives a lot of people that idea about the city. Personally, though, I grew up in a pretty safe neighborhood.
MH: So you think the show gives an exaggerated picture of the city’s problems?
CP: Not exaggerated, just incomplete. Which isn’t really their fault.
MH: Why not?
CP: From what I’ve heard, David Simon planned to produce a lot of seasons after the fifth one so that he could really show every facet of the city’s culture. Like, there was going to be a season about hospitals, and one about the Orioles, and one about local bowling leagues, and a bunch of others. I think the last season was going to be about a TV crew producing a premium-cable crime show.
MH: How do you know all this?
CP: I spent a lot of time with David when he was researching the ninth season, which was going to be about the dark underbelly of a Stop & Shop deli section. Actually, one of the characters in that season was going to be a composite of me and my supervisor Ashleigh.
MH: Wow. That’s quite an honor.
CP: (Shrugs) Not really. In Baltimore, not having a Wire character based on you is considered kind of pathetic. Like, if you didn’t make it onto the show, your life must really be dull. I knew a guy who robbed three orphanages just to try and get David’s attention.
MH: Did it work?
CP: He didn’t get a character based on him, but he was cast in a cameo as a corrupt member of a zoning board.
MH: If Simon had all these things planned out, why did the show stop after the fifth season?
CP: Baltimore residents signed a petition demanding that the show end.
MH: Because they were offended by the portrayal?
CP: No, the portrayal was dead-on. We just got tired of having David around studying us all the time.
[Drum riff. Cut to black, cue ominous bass.]