from an excellent article in the New Yorker Stealing Life, The crusader behind “The Wire.” by Margaret Talbot October 22, 2007 some excerpts and does this sound familiar?:
Of course, in producing “The Wire,” Simon and his colleagues did make a lot of shit up. And yet nearly every scene is grounded in documentary truth. This became clear at the writers’ meetings, which were equal parts urban-studies seminar, reporters’ bull session, and Hollywood story conference. The writers’ office is in a former bank in an old out-of-the-way waterfront district of Baltimore called Canton. Simon, Ed Burns, Bill Zorzi, and a young writer named Chris Collins sat around a table. Simon had a laptop open in front of him. In the middle of the table was a basket full of dried cranberries, Fig Newtons, and jelly beans. On the wall was a long sheet of butcher paper, divided into a grid: the name of each member of the show’s ensemble was written in marker on the side; the episodes, identified by number, were notated along the top. Above the butcher paper were head shots of all the major actors on “The Wire.” As the writers decided what would happen to each character in a given episode, Collins would write a brief description of that plot point, or “beat,” on a colored index card and pushpin it to the appropriate box on the grid. But a lot of the discussion on the days I was at the writers’ office had to do with the larger political themes of the show.
One morning in February, Simon—his hands laced behind his head, elbows jutting out—talked about the character of Tommy Carcetti, a venal pol with an idealistic streak, who by Season Five has been elected mayor of Baltimore. Carcetti faces any number of challenges, from bad crime statistics and floundering schools to the fundamental fact that—as he put it during his run for mayor—“tomorrow morning, I still wake up white in a city that ain’t.” (Carcetti is deftly played by the Irish actor Aidan Gillen.) That morning, Simon and his colleagues were analyzing how Carcetti’s ambitions to become the governor of Maryland are molding his agenda in the mayor’s office. Simon noted that Carcetti had promoted education reform in Season Four. “He’s gotta show that test scores have gone up,” he said.
“For the first and second grade,” Burns said sarcastically.
“Right,” Simon said. “It’s always just the first and second grade.” Simon was wearing jeans and a T-shirt, his standard outfit. (His lone sartorial affectation is a black porkpie hat of the type favored by jazz musicians in the nineteen-fifties.) He looked as if he could easily play one of the cops or a longshoreman. Every once in a while, he got up, thrust his hands deep in his pockets, and paced in front of the window, with its distant view of downtown Baltimore. Burns is silver-haired and pink-cheeked, and, in his homey cardigan, might suggest Mr. Rogers, if Mr. Rogers were a brainy, cynical, and profane former homicide detective.
Burns said, “Carcetti is, like, ‘I don’t want to be the education mayor—the numbers aren’t good.’ His advisers go down the list: environmental mayor, this, that, and the other thing. He tries on a few roles, and they just don’t have the juice.
If Simon’s characters were to deliver the kind of doomy social criticism that Simon does, “The Wire” would, as he likes to say, “lay there like a bagel.” Fortunately, his characters bristle with humor, quirks, private sorrows; his drug dealers express intricate opinions about Baltimore radio stations, chicken nuggets, and chess. One reason for this is that the writers knew people like them. Burns knew plenty of drug dealers as a homicide detective and plenty of inner-city teen-agers when, like Detective Pryzbylewski, he left the force and became a teacher in the Baltimore city schools. Zorzi knew plenty of city and state politicians when he was a tough, cranky Sun reporter who would never eat so much as a carrot stick from a buffet paid for by a candidate. As a crime reporter for the Sun, Simon knew plenty of junkies, snitches, cops, and people just trying to keep their heads down and get by in violent neighborhoods. Simon can be scathing, even righteous, about other television shows that presume to depict urban America without the benefit of direct knowledge. As he told the audience at Loyola, “So much of what comes out of Hollywood is horseshit. Because these people live in West L.A., they don’t even go to East L.A. The only time they go downtown is to get their license renewed. And what they increasingly know about the world is what they see on other TV shows about cops or crime or poverty. The American entertainment industry gets poverty so relentlessly wrong. . . . Poor people are either the salt of the earth, and they’re there to exalt us with their homespun wisdom and their sheer grit and determination to rise up, or they are people to be beaten up in an interrogation room by Sipowicz. . . . How is it that there’s nobody actually on a human scale from the other America? The reason is they’ve never met anybody from the other America. I mean, they could ask their gardener what it’s like.”