The Wire by David Simon (Bible Overview)

Below I have broken down The Wire bible overview into an interview in order to see its structure.

As you will see below, there are 9 paragraphs which each cover a different subject as follows:


  1. Genre / Setting
  2. Theme
  3. Grand Theme / Philosophy
  4. Transcending the Genre
  5. Structure
  6. Story Arcs
  7. Style
  8. Influences
  9. Introduction of what follows in the series “Bible”.

NB. Questions in italics are mine.


What genre is The Wire?

The Wire is a drama that offers multiple meanings and arguments.

Can you be specific? What kind of drama and where is it set?

It will be, in the strictest sense, a police procedural set in the drug culture of an American rust-belt city.

Is it like other stuff on TV?

(It is) a cops and players story that exists within the same vernacular as other television fare.


What are its themes and does it break new ground?

As with the best HBO series, it will be far more than a cop show, and to the extent that it breaks new ground, it will do so because of larger, universal themes that have more to do with the human condition, the nature of the American city and, indeed, the national culture.

Would you say it is a descendant of Homicide or NYPD Blue?

The Sopranos becomes art when it stands as more than a mob story but as a treatise on the American family. Oz is at its best when it rises beyond the framework of a prison story and finds commonalities between that environment and our own external world. So, too, The Wire should be judged not merely as a descendant of Homicide of NYPD Blue, but as a vehicle for making statements about the American city and even the American experiment.


What is its grand theme?

The grand theme here is nothing less than a national existentialism. It is a police story set amid the dysfunction and indifference of an urban department — one that has failed to come to terms with the permanent nature of urban drug culture, one in which thinking cops and thinking street players must make their way independent of simple explanations.


How is it different from other cop dramas?

The Wire extends the cop drama beyond the us-against-them heroics, even past the flawed-but-still-viable family of the Homicide squad room. 

How will it be visually?

Visually, this drama will be the next generation in what has become classic American television fare, and as such, it will be hard for other police procedurals to ignore the implications.


How is the series structured?

Structurally, each season of The Wire – be it nine or thirteen episodes – exists as a stand alone journey. Some characters may progress to the following season for continuity; most others will have their stories resolved in a single season (a design that allows for greater latitude in casting). Each story arc must provide episodes that stand alone as dramatic television, but at the same time the whole must make a cogent argument about the national condition, using the streets and stones of one city as a microcosm.


Do the story arcs have a common feature?

Each story arc ultimately gravitates toward one common feature, a prolonged wiretap / surveillance effort, (hence the title) that reveals intricacies and connections in the urban landscape that would ordinarily pass as unseen to even the best street cops. And each wiretap proves as discomfiting to the authorities as it does to those targeted. This is a world in which knowledge is always a double-edged sword.


What is the style of the show? Would you describe it as realism? How would you shoot it?

The style of the show can be called hyper realism. It should be shot 16mm and hand-held, though the coming video technologies may argue for something more experimental. But more than just visually, The Wire — by using precise geography, a fully conceptualized city and police bureaucracy, and story developments culled from actual case work, should present itself as something so clearly real that the traditional conceits of police melodrama are seen as such. 

How will it be ‘clearly real’, as you say? 

Nothing should happen on screen that hasn’t in some fashion happened on the streets, and the show will utilize a series of veteran detectives and Baltimore street figures for storylines and technical assistance. 

Do you think the style of The Wire will be an important development in the cop procedural genre?

As The Corner is to every other inner city melodrama, so should The Wire be to any other presentation of police work.


So would you say it’s an exercise in realism?

But more than an exercise in realism for its own sake, the verisimilitude of The Wire exists to serve something larger. 

How so?

In the first story-arc, the episodes begin what would seem to be the straight-forward, albeit protracted pursuit of a violent drug crew that controls a high rise housing project. But within a brief span of time, the officers who undertake the pursuit are forced to acknowledge truths about their own department, their role, the drug war and their city as a whole. In the end, the cost to all sides begins to suggest not so much the dogged police pursuit of the bad guys, but rather a Greek tragedy. 

What’s the reward for the viewer?

At the end of the thirteen episodes, the reward for the viewer — who has been lured all this way by a well-constructed police show — is not the simple gratification of hearing handcuffs click. Instead, the conclusion is something Euripides or O’Neill might recognize: an America at every level at war with itself.


How is the bible structured? 

What follows is careful description of the setting, followed by a roll of major first season characters, some of which can continue into a second story arc. After that, the first season episodes are charted in some detail. 

Have you done much advanced work on the story beats?

Because this show relies on the singular spine of one wiretap case to link every episode and propel the story, more advanced work has been done on the beats than might otherwise be necessary with another drama.

What do you think?

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