Is The Wire Based on a True Story?

The Wire is an American crime drama series created and mostly written by former police reporter David Simon. The show aired for five seasons on HBO and became one of the most notable TV series ever, at least in recent years. The show explored the politics and the Baltimore citizens’ relationship with their law enforcement. The portrayal of Baltimore’s habitants, urban setting, and criminal atmosphere made fans wonder if the show was based on a true story. This article will discuss whether The Wire is based on a true story.

The story of The Wire is based on a true story. The writer for the show, David Simon, was a former police reporter who spent a year researching a Homicide Police Department for his book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, where he met Ed Burns, a then homicide detective. The show also aimed to depict The Wire’s characters realistically – Simon decided to create characters based on real people and criminals of that time. Moreover, The Wire distinguished itself from other shows since it used non-actors and residents of Baltimore, who lived through crime all the time.

We will further discuss this topic by mentioning real-life people who inspired the characters of The Wire and look through the ways David Simon wrote his characters for the show. If you are interested, stay with us until the end of the article.

Is The Wire based on a true story?

One of the best qualities of The Wire show is its realism and depiction of Baltimore, Maryland, which during the 1990s suffered a huge spike in crime and drug trafficking that almost destroyed the city’s youth. Another huge problem city of Baltimore and its population experienced is the head institutions’ function – they were corrupted to the core.

We already mentioned David Simon and his former job as a police reporter. For years, Simon followed and investigated how law enforcement acted toward its citizens and went deeper into the political nature of the Baltimore Police Department.

Is The Wire Based On a True Story?

The head institutions in the city were doing shady business at that time. The journalist of Baltimore Sun, David Simon, decided to go on a one-year-long investigation into the Baltimore PD for his book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, where he met Ed Burns, a homicide detective.

The duo later partnered in various projects that dealt with criminal activity in Baltimore, based mostly on Burns’ experiences as a detective and a school teacher – Burns taught children who experienced massive trauma living on the streets of Baltimore.

Burns stated multiple times that a public school teacher in Baltimore public school psychologically took a toll on him, and he compared the experience with the Vietnam War he was part of. Simon and Burns decided to develop and write a police drama that would be loosely based on the latter’s experiences, but The Wire became so much bigger.

Simon and Burns decided to use the real-life experiences, criminal cases, people, and ultimately lives of Baltimore’s citizens to retell the city’s true story to a wide audience. Who are those people and stories that the showrunners used for the story of The Wire? Let’s find out.

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Real-life people and stories that inspired The Wire

We all know fictional media cannot replicate the exact moments of real life – the way we experience and feel in that moment is not something we can truthfully relive.

The Wire falls into that category, and the viewers and critics were so fascinated by the show because it wasn’t afraid to reflect the worst parts of people and Baltimore, which was overwhelmed by crime.

The Wire did a great job of reliving the tragic and tense moments of the show by using real stories and real people. One is Omar Little, a notorious stick-up man who robs drug dealers and uses the money to help the less unfortunate.

The character was based on a Baltimore area robber and hitman Donnie Andrews, an armed robber in the 1970s and 1980s who was sentenced to life in prison for the two murders after killing two people.

Before he was sent to prison, Andrews helped Ed Burns to catch two notorious drug dealers, Boardley and Gross. In prison, he cleaned himself up and held a regular anti-gang workshop for inmates. He died in 2005 after complications during heart surgery.

Is The Wire Based On a True Story?

One notorious criminal and a powerful drug dealer from the show, Avon Barksdale, was based on a real gang leader who ran a dealing drug operation in West Baltimore. The character served as the main antagonist of the first season.

The fact that the real-life criminal from Baltimore inspired Avon Barksdale, was denied by Simon at first, however, Simon later confirmed that he split Nathan Bodie Barksdale’s character in two – Avon and Bodie. The former drug dealer Nathan Barksdale spent the later years of his life as a volunteer in the City Health Department, in the Street Crime program to help the younger generations to avoid his mistakes. Unfortunately, his heroin addiction started up once again – he died in prison in 2016.

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McNulty is loosely based on Ed Burns, a co-writer of the series, and is another real-life inspiration for the character. Finally, we will mention Tommy Carcetti, an ambitious Baltimore politician, who first appears in season 3 of The Wire. The character was inspired by Martin O’Malley, a politician who won the mayoral election in Baltimore in 1999. This was surprising since the city of Baltimore had a predominantly black population, and O’Malley was the only white candidate.

In the end, we can conclude that The Wire’s showrunners and writers used a lot of inspiration from real-life stories and happenings that occurred during 1980, and 1990s and translated them to the 21st century.

  • Dora is an avid sports fan who started taking interest in TV and movies while attending University of Osijek. Characters, storylines and cinematography is something she started analysing very intensely, which made her respect the art of TV and movies more.