Winning an Emmy – TV History Speaks

“Stealing Life” and several other articles make much of the fact that The Wire never won an Emmy even while it received praise as ground-breaking television. And for all its narrative authenticity springing from journalism and homicide detective backgrounds, The Wire was nominated only once for a script (George Pelacanos) which didn’t win (5). In terms of audience, it contrasts sharply with the popularity of The Sopranos (5). It seems The Wire was popular only with “people who identify with inner-city characters, and critics” (5). Due to its serial format, The Wire did not translate or edit well to syndication on BET (much like Sex and the City on TBS). Andrew Salomon writes in Backstage.com (9-20-07) that out of a cast of 70, about 52 are African-American. He wonders “if there’s a direct connection between the show’s racial makeup and Hollywood’s screaming indifference toward it” (1). In a TimeOnline (3-16-09) article that discusses The Wire airing in the UK, Andre Billen explores whether there are “break-out great characters” in the series. Of course, he mentions McNulty as a possibility, but notes that “Soon … the black actors eclipse even him (3). Salomon’s concluding comments suggest a conspiracy and a “pattern to the way The Wire is passed over year after year … and reflects a consensus from every quarter of the television industry: actors, writers, directors and producers” (2). A lack of recognition and “industry affirmation and acclaim” makes The Wire a ‘one trick pony’ whose portrayals, subjects and perspectives will “remain a singular achievement” (2). This may be the issue that makes The Wire worth our time to study. It can be placed on a particular point on the postmodern timeline of both television and society as a representation of what Simon says he intends as “The faces and voices of the real city” (Stealing 3). Alex Haley’s Roots aired as a “miniseries” on ABC over eight nights in 1977; it also had a majority African-American cast working within a narrative of individual and historic moments in time. Roots garnered record audiences who had little qualms about the subject matter and were able to receive it without explanation or glossary. It received numerous Emmy awards in several categories: best and supporting actor and actress; art direction; scenic design; costume design; cinematography; best director; best editing; best music; best sound mixing; best sound editing; and best writing. It seems that television viewers and the industry prefer the less complex idealized past over Simon’s serialized social commentary that encompasses the legacy of the Roots narrative even as it updates its images and geography.

One response to “Winning an Emmy – TV History Speaks

  1. I do think that it is interesting that for all its praise The Wire never really won Emmys or large viewership. One thing I find interesting, however, is that despite the diverse cast, the show was written by all white males. I recently read a website with a bunch of confessions of minority and female writers and directors in Hollywood. They discussed the racism and sexism that the behind-the-scenes professionals faced. Even though it was away from Hollywood, I wonder if The Wire had the same issues. I think the diverse cast and the lack of recognition is an interesting issue when studying The Wire. I personally think that in the midst of all of the CSIs and Law and Orders, Emmy voters were resistant to award a crime show. But perhaps it could just be attributed to it being so far away and rejecting the traditional LA style of production.