Fact and fiction, down to 'The Wire'

The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore defense attorney Billy Murphy does an extended turn defending a state senator indicted on corruption charges.

Former state legislator Larry Young, who was expelled from the Senate in 1998, appears as a talk-show host interviewing Murphy's client on WOLB-AM - the Baltimore station where Young now works as a host.

And former city police commissioner Edward T. Norris, now one of Baltimore's most popular radio personalities, is back as a cynical homicide detective.

Such a strange brew of Baltimore fact and fiction could mean only one thing: a new season of the HBO drama The Wire. Season 5, consisting of the locally produced drama's final 10 episodes, is scheduled to premiere Jan. 6, and HBO made the first seven hours available this week to critics.

One of the best things about the season is that Dominic West, after a minimal presence last year, returns to a leading role as rogue detective Jimmy McNulty.

Even better, Clark Johnson, who did such stellar work as Detective Meldrick Lewis in NBC's Baltimore-based cop drama Homicide: Life on the Street, joins the cast in a starring role as Augustus "Gus" Haynes, hard-bitten city editor of a fictionalized version of The Sun newsroom. (Though some scenes were shot on Sun property, the paper did not review the scripts or have any other involvement in the production.) Haynes appears to be a moral center in a government and media landscape of lies, hypocrisy, back-scratching and back-stabbing.

Each season of The Wire has explored different territory. Season 1 examined the ways that the Baltimore Police Department and area drug operations resembled each other. Season 2 looked at organized labor through the prism of the port of Baltimore. Season 3 focused on City Hall. And last season, which ended last December, went inside the city school system to deliver some of the series' most memorable moments.

This year, creator David Simon - who spent 13 years reporting for The Sun before leaving to become a writer and producer on Homicide - turns his lens on media.

The season's theme is public and private lies. The epigram at the opening of the Jan. 6 episode says, "The bigger the lie, the more they believe."

The author is Detective William "Bunk" Moreland (Wendell Pierce), and the first scene features Moreland and Norris coercing a confession from a teen criminal by lying to the young man.

Two major lies drive the action this year - one cooked up by an out-of-control McNulty in reaction to Draconian cutbacks at police headquarters, the other born in the belly of the fictionalized Sun newsroom by an ambitious and amoral reporter with a history of making up quotes.

Nowhere is the line between real and imagined more blurred than in Simon's version of The Sun. He populates his TV newsroom with several former Sun reporters and editors.

Two of the first Sun staffers that viewers will see Jan. 6 are played by former Sun columnist Michael Olesker and former reporter Laura Lippman. The latter is Simon's wife.


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