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Writing for TV: The Wire Pilot

Not all writers possess the patience or expertise to accomplish the task of writing for TV. Even with a strong script, finding interested parties and securing a suitable budget, studio, network, and other necessities can be daunting. Fortunately, aspiring writers can study and learn from many successful shows, like The Wire.


Created and primarily written by David Simon, a former police reporter and author, The Wire is a crime drama TV series set and produced in Baltimore, Maryland. Each season of the show focuses on a different city institution and its connection to law enforcement while continuing the storylines and characters from previous seasons. The five subjects explored chronologically are the illegal drug trade, the port system, the city government and bureaucracy, education and schools, and the print news medium.


There’s much to learn from The Wire and how to write a show with such a sprawling plot and cast. We’ll discuss what you can learn from the show writing-wise, including its portrayal of realism, the impotence of conflict, sustaining a franchise, characterization, understanding drama, and more.

Still from 'The Wire'. Photo credit: The Verge


Understanding Drama


Our lives are composed of the small events that occur daily, rather than the significant events that only occur occasionally. While it's tempting to focus on exciting set pieces when writing, it's important to remember that a significant portion of life consists of these smaller, quieter moments. Try not to get too far ahead of yourself.


The Wire is excellent at highlighting and breathing new life into these moments. You can create a more authentic and impactful story by capturing these seemingly mundane moments and imbuing them with meaning. Basically, it revolves around understanding drama and knowing how to utilize your story to the best of your ability.


Human Dignity


It's essential to handle protagonists and antagonists carefully and avoid making their roles too simple or one-noted. Instead of clearly defined lines, strive to blur them and create flaws that make them more realistic. Develop both sides with their own desires and motivations, making their journeys accessible to the audience.


By creating this ambiguity, you can demonstrate the allure of both sides, leading to deeper thinking and discussion. Treating characters with nuance and complexity can make for a more engaging and thought-provoking story. The Wire understands this necessity, with every character having a mix-bag in this way.


Portraying Realism


The central theme of The Wire is the battle waged against the lower class, and an exploration of the root causes behind the dire situation. To achieve this, David Simon and his team conducted extensive research and immersed themselves in the world they were depicting, acquiring a high level of expertise.


This commitment to authenticity imbued the show with a genuine sense of knowledge. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “Write what you know,” which couldn’t be more true for The Wire. Though you don’t have to write what you know, you should study the subject you’re familiar with as much as possible.


The Importance of Conflict


David Simon approached each season of The Wire by asking what’s going wrong and how they can fix it. Simon believed in building his stories from the lowest point and following the characters as they attempted to make things better.


This method was pivotal to the show's themes, which explored complex issues without offering simplistic solutions. Similarly, when crafting your own work, it's essential to challenge your characters and let them struggle, succeed, and fail rather than provide easy answers. It’ll keep your audience engaged and further boost your show.


Don’t Worry About Sustaining a Franchise


As challenging as it may seem from a modern perspective, don’t worry about sustaining a franchise. Practically every writer worries about how they can expand on their show if the question comes from the studio or agent they’re discussing the show with.


In today's society, it’s sometimes difficult to tell stories that truly resonate. It's essential to tell meaningful stories and allow your voice to be heard. The focus on syndication and longevity can often overshadow the importance of weekly emotional engagement and entertainment. To create impactful stories, it's crucial to return to the tale's roots and allow it to take you where it will.


Characters are Built from Themselves


You must delve deep into the character's psyche to craft a compelling character arc. The individuals inhabiting your story must symbolize the struggles you seek to convey. What’s the overarching message, and which characters can communicate the importance of the lesson to viewers at home?


Creating a world that reflects the story's themes and allows the characters to grow and develop is essential. How much a character can make or break a show can't be said enough. Do your best to create and sustain characters to the best of your ability. If you can do that, it should work out well for you.

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