The 68th Primetime Emmy Awards nominations will be announced Thursday, and HBO's "Game of Thrones" and "Veep" are sure locks for multiple nominations. The two cable hits are the reigning Outstanding Drama and Comedy series winners. And while they're recognition is well deserved, it does make one wonder about another HBO hit that was never given its due: "The Wire."
It seems like whenever a magazine or critics panel compiles a list of the greatest television shows of all-time, "The Wire" is in the top 10, if not at the very top for a drama series. You hear words like "masterpiece" and "groundbreaking" when people describe it. The show is beloved by critics, scholars and fans, yet it was never nominated for the Emmy's highest honor in television: Outstanding Drama Series. (The series did receive two Emmy nominations for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series, but it failed to win.) How can that be?
For the few who don't know, "The Wire" was a crime series that looked at the narcotics scene in Baltimore through the eyes of city cops as well as the drug dealers and users, and in the process, it explored local government and bureaucracy, schools, the news media and the port industry. It aired on HBO for five seasons from 2002 to 2008 and was created by former Baltimore Sun police reporter David Simon, who wrote many of the episodes.
The character Stringer Bell, played by Idris Elba, is one of the most compelling television antiheroes ever. Mr. Elba went on to become a prominent film star (he recently won a Screen Actors Guild Award for his performance on "Luther"), yet was never recognized with a mere nomination for his striking portrayal of the business-minded drug dealer in Baltimore. The same could be said for many of the show's other fine actors, including Michael B. Jordan, who played a teen-age drug dealer on "The Wire" and the main character in 2015's Rocky sequel "Creed," and Dominic West, who played Detective Jimmy McNulty on "The Wire" and currently stars in Showtime's "The Affair."
"The Wire" wasn't a popular show when it aired. It didn't get a big audience like HBO's flagship shows "The Sopranos" and "Six Feet Under," but the series steadily has been rediscovered since its finale, eight years ago, with new fans binge-watching episodes online. You don't have to know what happened in previous seasons to enjoy others; each season offers a fresh focus with familiar faces and Baltimore as a main character.
Shows that win or are nominated for Emmy awards are usually heavily episodic, like HBO's two Outstanding Best Drama Series winners, "The Sopranos" and "Game of Thrones." "The Wire" also fit that description; major characters would be absent from the show for numerous episodes, then the season narrative would come back around to them.
There were no cliffhanger endings on "The Wire" like there are on the Emmy-winning shows "The Walking Dead" or "Game of Thrones," however. Well, I take that back; there was the death of one major character at the end of the third season that was sort of like a cliffhanger. But that was as close as the series ever got to being like orthodox television.
The final season of the series was on many "Best of" lists at the end of 2008; however. I remember thinking at the end of that season that there was no way the Emmy voters could overlook it again, and yet they did. The series did win a Peabody Award for its second season. So, it's worthy of a Peabody, but not a single Emmy nomination for Drama Series?
Perhaps "The Wire" was too realistic and edgy for some Emmy voters. The series shined a spotlight on certain segments of gang culture and society that older, and to be honest, whiter, middle-aged viewers, often want to ignore. But watching an Italian mob boss murder and extort people in New Jersey — they were comfortable with that? Maybe HBO was smart enough to know that, so they aggressively submitted their hits "Six Feet Under" and "The Sopranos" for Emmy consideration and overlooked "The Wire."
HBO had no comment when asked about an Emmy nomination snub for Best Dramatic Series. But if that's what the cable giant did, it was a mistake. All the voters had to do was watch one episode of Mr. Simon's crime drama to see its greatness and originality.
I bet many of those same Emmy voters from 2002 to 2008 have gone back and binge-watched "The Wire." If not, they should. Just to be aware of what award worthy television looks like.