Its 4th season just begun, `The Wire' gets OK for 5th

Latest rave reviews delight HBO brass

September 13, 2006|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,sun television critic

In a surprise move that will guarantee 125 jobs and pump at least $17.5 million into the local economy next year, HBO will announce today that it is renewing its Peabody Award-winning drama, The Wire, for a fifth season.

The Baltimore-based series about urban America began its fourth season Sunday night, greeted by a crush of critical acclaim, including an "appreciation" on The New York Times' editorial page calling the series "the closest that moving pictures have come so far to the depth and nuance of the novel."

"We are delighted - though not surprised - at the initial critical response to the new season of The Wire," Carolyn Strauss, president of HBO Entertainment, said in a statement. "David Simon and his remarkable creative team have a riveting and thought-provoking series that's unlike anything else on TV."

In a statement, HBO confirmed reports in Sunday's Sun that the fifth season would look at the role of mass media in contributing to cities' dysfunction.

"For four seasons, we have depicted that part of urban America which has been left behind by the economy and by the greater society, and chronicled entrenched problems that have gone without solution for generations now," Simon, the 46-year-old creator of the series, says in the statement.

According to Simon, the fifth season will focus on the economy in answering the questions: "Why? What is it that we see and sense about these problems? To what are we giving attention, and what is it that we consistently ignore? How do we actually see ourselves?"

At the end of Season 3, in December 2004, it seemed as if HBO was about to cancel the series. But, not ready to abandon his vision, Simon wrote story arcs and scripts for another season that were so compelling that HBO gave him another year.

The expectation by Simon himself was that HBO would see how ratings went this season before committing to a fifth season. In an interview in Sunday's Sun, Simon vowed to write a fifth and final season as a novel if HBO did not renew the series.

The ratings Sunday for the Season 4 premiere - 1.53 million - were only slightly better than those of Season 3, when cancellation seemed imminent - an average of 1.49 million. But looking at The Wire's critical acclaim and at technology that allows the series to be marketed in new ways, HBO sees a series worth renewing.

A final audience measurement for Sunday's screening won't be available for weeks - the time it will take for an independent ratings service to canvass cable systems across the country for the number of viewers who saw the episode On Demand. In addition, Nielsen Media Research this week will be measuring the number of viewers for nine additional replays of The Wire's premiere on various HBO channels.

"All of these - plus people recording the show on DVRs for later viewing - are ways that we hope more people will be accessing The Wire," said David Baldwin, executive vice president for program planning at HBO. "We've made a concerted effort to put it on in as many places as we possibly can."

By way of comparison, other Sunday-night viewing included 20.7 million people watching NFL football on NBC, while 13.0 million tuned in for Part 1 of ABC's controversial docudrama The Path to 9/11.

david.zurawik@baltsun.com

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