Cast and crew from HBO's The Wire, augmented by a few hundred friends, fans and family members, took over the Senator Theatre yesterday afternoon to mark the opening of the show's fifth and final season. Which made yesterday both a celebration and a final goodbye.
"It's like when you read a great book and you get to the end," said Deirdre Lovejoy, who has played Assistant State's Attorney Rhonda Pearlman on the show since season one. "You're sad and angry that it's over, but you realize the story's been told."
Holding court in the center of the Senator's lobby, series co-executive producer Ed Burns agreed, saying that "they gave us the five years that we wanted, and we did what we wanted to do. Now it's time to find something else to do."
The series, set and shot in Baltimore since its debut in 2002, has spent five seasons exploring such complex urban issues as the lure of the drug trade, the breakdown of the urban family, the loss of blue-collar jobs and the plight of inner-city schools. For its final season, which begins tonight on HBO, series creator David Simon has set the action largely at a fictional version of The Sun, exploring issues of corporate newspaper ownership and the changing face of big-city newsrooms.
"It's been a good run. I hate to see it end," said Stanley Boyd, a Baltimore native and frequent cast member, who praised the series' willingness to show aspects of the city that don't normally make the tourist brochures. "Baltimore's more than just the Inner Harbor, you know. This just shows the other side, the side that nobody wants to talk about, but it does exist."
Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon and a sizable portion of Baltimore's cinematic set joined the invitation-only gathering. Among the invitees were John Waters; Hannah Byron and Jack Gerbes of the state's film office; Maryland Film Festival founder Jed Dietz; Towson University film instructor and documentary filmmaker Steve Yeager; and Emmy-winning casting director Pat Moran.
About 40 cast members showed up at the Senator, many coming down from New York, where the series' opening episode had its premiere Friday night. They were joined by about 100 crew members, many of them Baltimoreans who worked on the show its entire run.
Among the new faces for season five that should be familiar to fans of Baltimore-based TV was Clark Johnson, who spent seven seasons as Detective Meldrick Lewis on NBC's Homicide: Life on the Street. For this last season of The Wire, Johnson plays (fictional) Sun city editor Augustus "Gus" Haynes, the paper's moral bulwark. Johnson, who has continued to act and direct since Homicide went off the air in 1999, said it was nice to be back in what has practically become his adopted hometown.
"I can't get away from this place," said Johnson, who directed The Wire's premiere episode in 2002. "I just keep coming back. It's a great place to shoot."
Simon, a former Sun reporter, turned down interview requests in deference to the continuing Hollywood writers strike. But, doubtless aware of the many magazine and newspaper stories that have characterized the show's fifth season as a thinly veiled critique of the newspaper that once employed him, he stressed from the stage that "this season is no less fictional than anything else we've ever done."
To emphasize that point, he noted Dixon's presence and urged the former City Council president not to take offense at one of the new season's characters. "The City Council president is not you," he assured her, to much laughter.