Idris Elba’s main concern was that, as a Londoner, he wouldn’t come across as authentically American. That anxiety made some sense, since “The Wire” was explicitly designed to function as a portrait of America.
The show used its five seasons to document every aspect of the fall of the archetypal American city. It examined a loosely fictionalized Baltimore, Maryland, concocting a dramatic narrative that explored the actions of cops, drug dealers, port workers, politicians, and teachers. Its cast of characters went into the hundreds. And it was bleak, shot with documentarian immediacy. As co-creator Ed Burns says, it probably couldn’t have been made by HBO today.
Much of the show’s realism came from co-creators David Simon and Ed Burns’ respective experience with inner-city Baltimore. According to HBO, Burns spent 20 years working in the Baltimore P.D., befriending Simon, who was the police reporter for the Baltimore Sun in the mid-’80s.
The two co-wrote a 1997 nonfiction book “The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood,” which laid the foundation for much of “The Wire.” By emphasizing empathy and downplaying sensationalism, the book told hard truths about the cause and effects of the drug trade, and the War on Drugs, as experienced by a Baltimorean family. When that book became an HBO miniseries written by Simon (and future “Wire” writer David Mills), “The Wire” became a logical next step.