Season Five will focus on the media.
By JAKE COYLE
AP ENTERTAINMENT WRITER
NEW YORK — A fervent following is eagerly awaiting the final season of an HBO drama.
No, this story isn’t a year old.
While the final hurrah of “The Sopranos” had the weight of a genuine cultural event, the last season of “The Wire” is a more cultish affair.
The longest-running dramatic series on HBO, “The Wire” will enter its fifth and final season Jan. 6. In certain circles, this is already cause for nail-biting anticipation.
“Get on with it, mother- ...” wrote one fan on the HBO “Wire” message boards, quoting the abbreviated last words of one of the show’s main characters.
“The Wire” has never been an easy sell. In its first four seasons, it has in gritty detail painted a novelistic picture of urban decay. Set in Baltimore, the show follows police and drug dealers, portraying the tiered bureaucracy to each side of the law.
“It’s all in the game,” is the show’s oft-repeated mantra.
“The Wire” excels in realism and in creating societywide scope. Within a few episodes, the viewer is intimately connected with dozens of characters, from the mayor’s office to homeless shelters.
Each season has centered on an institution. Last season looked into the education system, Season Three focused on politics, and the second season portrayed the decline of the city’s shipping port. Season Five will concentrate on the media, which is especially familiar ground for creator and executive producer David Simon, a former reporter for The (Baltimore) Sun.
For season five, Simon secured the rights to use the Sun’s name. The main journalist is played by Tom McCarthy, who had small parts in “Syriana” and “Flags of Our Fathers,” but is perhaps best known as the writer-director of 2003’s “The Station Agent.”
“What this season is about is just how far you can go on a lie,” Simon says in a promo that has been airing on HBO. The lie Simon is referring to is what deteriorating cities tell themselves: Everything is going to be all right.
“Wire” enthusiasm will be stoked with a DVD set of Season Four, out Dec. 4. It was the fourth season that garnered the show’s best reviews, hailed by many as the best program on television. The Los Angeles Times even published an editorial praising the show.
At Slate.com, one of the bastions of “Wire” fandom and analysis, Jacob Weinberg wrote: “No other program has ever done anything remotely like what this one does, namely to portray the social, political and economic life an American city with scope, observational precision and moral vision of great literature.”
Yet the ratings for “The Wire” are small. The average episode last year drew a little more than a million viewers, far less than the 13 million per episode that the last season of “The Sopranos” pulled in.
Awards attention has also eluded “The Wire.” Its only Emmy nomination came in 2005 for outstanding writing for a drama series. The American Film Institute at least honored it as one of the best television programs of the year in 2006.
BET has hoped to find a larger audience for “The Wire” on basic cable, airing the show with some of its harsher material edited out.
Production for the final 10-episode season of “The Wire” wrapped Sept. 1. Details have been scarce on the season’s plot lines, but to be expected is a good amount of criticism for the management of newspapers, which nationwide are gutting their newsrooms to slash budgets.
From the start in 2002, Simon laid out “The Wire” as five seasons — so this is undoubtedly the last go-around. And given its ratings, “The Wire” is fortunate to have made it this far.
HBO has kept firm ties with Simon, who previously created the miniseries “The Corner” for the premium cable channel. He and writing partner Ed Burns (a former Baltimore police detective and school teacher) are now producing a miniseries for HBO titled “Generation Kill,” based on Evan Wright’s 2004 book about Marines in Iraq. Simon hopes then to do a series about musicians in New Orleans.
For now, though, “The Wire” has one more chapter to tell.