The problem with The Wire

The Wire is, arguably, the finest television series of the past few decades. But what’s been holding many people back from watching it? We have a theory…

The Wire: with McNulty behind the camera

With full credit to the BBC, for the first time right now in the UK, one of the finest television dramas of all time is being shown on one of the five big TV channels. Previously only viewable on FX here – and credit too should go to them for spotting the show and putting it on in the first place – the full five seasons of The Wire are being shown, an episode at a time, on a daily basis on BBC Two. And, understandably, this is opening up the show to a broader audience as a result.

The interesting thing is, though, that many of those who have suddenly caught The Wire bug have known about the show for ages. They’ve been perfectly aware that it’s regarded as one of the very best shows of its ilk, and its reputation has very much preceded it. Rightly so, too. Personally, I think it’s an exceptional piece of television, and I know I’m not alone.

But The Wire, for many years, has been hampered by a problem that the makers of the show had little control over. It’s a problem that’s held many people back from giving even a single episode a try, and as a result, has meant that the show’s fan base has expanded a little slower than you might expect.

Bluntly, the problem with The Wire has tended to be people who like The Wire.

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That’s not meant as any insult, as I’m guilty of much of what I’m about to describe myself. But what’s tended to hold people back from giving the show a whirl is the eulogising that they’ve had to suffer at the hands of those who had already discovered the programme. Because some Wire devotees – and again, I class myself in this – have found themselves almost delivering a sermon on the majesty of the programme, rather than simply recommending it. Granted, it’s an exceptional show, and once you discover that, you almost feel in despair that it’s not widely known. It’s perhaps thus unsurprising that many of us have taken a vow to spread the word. But have we, over time, done more damage than good?

Given that human nature invariably includes a dislike of being told what to do, it’s not much surprise that many recipients of what we could politely call ‘The Wire lecture’ decided not to act on it. And it’s created a segment of people who really suspect they’d like the show, who know that it’s something that’s supposed to be really good, but are disinclined to give it a try. Simply put: the sheer force of those who love the show is enough to put many people off it.

BJ Novak – aka Ryan from The Office, and shortly to be seen in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds – summed it up well on his MySpace blog. Back in December 2006, he posted the following open letter:

“I know you think The Wire is great. It probably is!

I know you think I would love The Wire. I probably will!

I know that you believe that The Wire is totally amazing and addictive. (I deduced it from your previous statements about The Wire.) And I don’t doubt it.

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You were right about The Sopranos. You were right about Lost. I bet you’re right about The Wire! I bet I’ll really like The Wire when I get around to watching it. It sounds great.

In the meantime, please SHUT UP ABOUT HOW MUCH I AM GOING TO LOVE THE WIRE. I have a lot to do, and I have a long Netflix queue.

I will watch The Wire when I watch The Wire!”

You can’t help but feel his point. Fortunately, the decision by the BBC to show the series at last has given a fresh legion of people the chance to watch The Wire without those who told them to watch The Wire knowing that they’re watching The Wire.

Given that the BBC is a public service broadcaster, it may just have done its finest public service work to date…