Passing resemblance

The creator of `The Wire' says those who see real-life figures on the show are mistaken. Except in one case.

September 26, 2004|By David Simon | David Simon,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A FEW STRAY rounds have found their way across the great divide that separates actual Baltimore from its premium-cable facsimile, and those of us with responsibility for maintenance of the make-believe version feel compelled to reinforce the barrier between our world and yours.

It seems that there are some HBO viewers who, upon encountering a youthful, energetic and ambitious city councilman concerned about the city's crime rate, have paired this fictional being with one of flesh and blood. They see parallels, similarities, perhaps even a physical resemblance of some sort.

And therefor I hasten to assure those viewers that it is decidedly untrue. Thomas Carcetti, the hard-nosed, pugnacious 1st District councilman appearing on HBO is in no way, shape or form a dramatized rendering of Nick D'Adamo. To say so is a foul canard.

OK, OK. Just kidding.

He's not supposed to be Martin O'Malley either.

In fact, none of the recurring characters on The Wire represents any Baltimorean in particular. Certainly, this might sound to some readers as a standard boilerplate denial of what they think they already know. But, honestly, to suggest that the show is a roman a clef for our city on the bay is unfair to both sides. It denies human beings the privacy and subtlety of their own lives; it denies that the writers and actors are engaged in anything creative.

Yes, there are inside jokes. Yes, there are occasional cameos by notable locals. Yes, there is a perverse sense of hometown chauvinism in certain scenes. And yes, the writers - most of us being local - are referencing our sense of the city's history, crime, culture, political strata and social framework.

We are writing what we know. Or trying to.

Avon Barksdale? He is not Melvin Williams, or Warren Boardley, or Linwood Williams, or Peanut King. He is in a sense, all of those kingpins from Baltimore's criminal past - and therefore none of them. We are writers. We steal big and small, from everywhere and everyone, gathering this anecdote about this player, and this scene from the story of that one.

Mayor Clarence Royce? He isn't Clarence Du Burns. Nor should he be mistaken with Kurt Schmoke. Nor for that matter is he the mayor that Lawrence Bell or Carl Stokes might have been had they taken the cake.

McNulty is not Ed Burns or Harry Edgerton or Kevin Davis or Gary Childs, but a composite of all those fine investigators and more. Bunk Moreland? True, he bares some modest resemblance to Oscar "The Bunk" Requer, but that's just a little bit of homage to a notable city homicide veteran. Within Wendell Pierce's portrayal, we have found room for pieces of Terry McLarney, Donald Dorden, Eddie Brown and others.

And even when we offer a name that seems to directly reference the real - Jay Landsman or Barlow or Crutchfield; or the street names of notable Baltimore players such as Bodie or Stringer or Marlo - these, too, are almost certain to bear only a vague, disorganized connection to the actual people. They are shout-outs, acknowledgements of individuals that the writers have known, or policed, or reported on; a string of quick chin nods between our world and yours.

So take no offense and forgive us the trespass. And, above all, make no assumptions.

When it comes to the characters on The Wire, there is no schematic by which real Baltimore can be paired to its HBO equivalent. None that works anyway. Only with regard to the larger themes of the story - a drug war gone awry, institutions devouring individuals, a postindustrial city struggling against the political and socioeconomic forces arrayed against it - are we trying to be careful, exacting and in earnest.

A sole exception would be the piercing, fully intellectualized character known as Newspaperman No. 2 and seen briefly in the media scrum outside a union hall in Episode 211: He was, I will admit, the complete David Simon experience.

And brilliantly portrayed, I should add.

David Simon, an author and former crime reporter with The Sun, is a writer and executive producer of "The Wire."

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