The Emmys said goodbye to “The Wire” with the same lack of respect that it showed the HBO drama during its acclaimed five-season run.
Call it the final nail in the row house.
The last season of “The Wire,” which was called “the best show on television” by more than a few critics, received only a single nomination on Thursday: The show’s creator, David Simon, and its most essential writer, Ed Burns, were nominated for outstanding writing in a drama series.
It was only the second nomination for “The Wire,” which was up for the same category in 2005.
“It’s like them never giving a Nobel Prize to Tolstoy,” said Jacob Weisberg, editor-in-chief of the Slate Group and a correspondent for Slate.com. “It doesn’t make Tolstoy look bad, it makes the Nobel Prize look bad.”
Weisberg, who has been an ardent supporter of “The Wire,” added, “It’s sort of proof if you needed any that the Emmys are not something that should be taken seriously.”
“The Wire” never drew great ratings — its later seasons drew about 3 to 4 million viewers — and broad critical consensus for the series came late, peaking during the fourth season. Eventually, its dense, artful portrait of Baltimore institutions won universal praise.
But while critics and fans rallied around “The Wire,” industry recognition has always been oddly elusive, especially considering that HBO dramas are frequently feted. (This year’s nominees for outstanding drama series were without an HBO candidate for the first time this decade: ABC’s “Boston Legal,” FX’s “Damages,” Showtime’s “Dexter,” Fox’s “House,” ABC’s “Lost” and AMC’s “Mad Men.”)
In an interview last year with The Associated Press, Burns lamented the lack of industry respect for the show’s largely black cast of actors.
“These guys clearly cut the mustard. They can act with anyone,” says Burns. “I don’t know why it has to be this ‘You can play a drug addict; you can play the good sidekick.’ These are the roles that these actors end up doing and it’s a shame.”
Shot on location in Baltimore, “The Wire” was far from the TV’s typical playgrounds of New York and Los Angeles. It didn’t feature any glamorous big names, either, although Idris Elba, Oscar nominee Amy Ryan and Dominic West have seen their profiles rise.
The fact that the cast was largely black fed perceptions of a subtle racist resistance by Emmy voters. Some have joked that the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences watch shows in alphabetical order (though that never hindered “The West Wing”). And not even the most passionate “Wire” fans thought the show’s final season, which turned its focus to the newsroom of the Baltimore Sun, was its best.
But rarely does a work of popular entertainment arrive on television with such serious ambitions. “The Wire” sought to portray the complexity behind urban decay in American cities — and a lot of folks just didn’t want to hear about that.
“I actually have lesser expectations for storytelling, even for journalism in modern times,” Simon told The AP just before the last episode aired. “The best journalism and the best storytelling used to outrage people. In these times, people are inured to outrage.”
So, too, are the Emmys.