Monday, September 22, 2008

Everything Is Connected

It may be a lack of research or column inches but most articles relating to the long overdue UK publication of David Simon’s Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets rather too simplistically put it down as the inspiration for The Wire. Obviously the publishers, Canongate, are happy to promote a clear correlation between the two, even going so far as to use the same typeface as the HBO drama and having a cover similar in style to the season one DVD.

Certainly Simon’s year spent with the Baltimore Homicide Division was a starting point for everything to come, but only Stephen Amidon’s review in The Sunday Times seems to acknowledge that the book was initially adapted into Homicide: Life on the Streets by Barry Levinson and Tom Fontana. After first writing episodes of the police drama, Simon eventually left The Baltimore Sun to become a producer on the show’s final couple of seasons. From there he co-wrote The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood with Ed Burns, which itself was turned into an HBO miniseries in 2000.

Having served twenty years in the Baltimore Police Department, including a spell in Homicide, Burns was first detailed to the FBI where he helped to arrest and convict a drug organization working in the city’s projects and then the DEA where he brought down a violent drugs trafficker. Retiring from the force, Burns took a job teaching in Baltimore’s public school system. Take all that into account – Simon’s background, Burns’ background, the Homicide Department, FBI and DEA operations, the school system, and The Baltimore Sun – and then you get The Wire.

As I said, maybe the lack of column inches meant there simply wasn’t the space to tie enough of it together. Of course the leap could have been made by the writers flicking through their review copies of Simon’s book and immediately happening upon the name Jay Landsman. Anyone who watches The Wire knows Jay Landsman as the usually jovial Detective Sergeant in the Homicide Department. Anyone who pays attention to The Wire will also have noticed the name Jay Landsman appear in the end credits.

The Squad Supervisor back in 1988 when Simon shadowed the Homicide Detectives, Jay Landsman, with his trademark deadpan humour, was the inspiration for Richard Belzer’s John Munch in Homicide: Life on the Street. Munch, who transferred over to Law & Order: Special Victims Unit when Homicide came to an end, has also cropped up in The X-Files and Arrested Development, and also made a cameo in the fifth season of The Wire.

Of course Belzer isn’t the only actor to show up in both Homicide and The Wire. Clark Johnson made the leap from Detective Detective Meldrick Lewis to Sun City Editor Gus Haynes and Erik Todd Dellums who plays the ME, Doctor Randall Frazier, previously appeared as the drug lord Luther Mahoney. Then there’s Gary D'Addario, cast as Grand Jury Prosecutor Gary DiPasquale, played Lieutenant Jasper, head of the QRT in Homicide. DiPasquale is a special case. Rather than a jobbing actor, he was previously the Shift Commander of the Baltimore Homicide Department when Simon was assigned as a “police intern”.

Using real police in dramas isn’t new. Michael Mann made a habit of casting police and criminals like Chuck Adamson and John Santucci in Thief and Crime Story. His most famous find was Chicago policeman Dennis Farina who has since carved out a pretty good career. As well as DiPasquale, The Wire also features Ed Norris, a veteran of the NYPD and one time Police Commissioner of Baltimore, as Detective Edward Norris. That leads to Jay Landsman, cast as Dennis Mello, the administrative lieutenant working in the Western District under “Bunny” Colvin during the whole “Hamsterdam” initiative.

If I go any further on this I’m probably going to need a dry board and markers to join everything up. But at least it shows how using people with the actual experience simply adds to the verisimilitude of the dramas. Even though Homicide and The Wire have finished their runs the connections still continue. In the first two seasons of Homicide: Life on the Street Jon Polito played Detective Steve Crosetti who obsessed over Lincoln’s murder, much to Meldrick’s annoyance. Now it looks like Simon and Tom Fontana are set to collaborate on an HBO miniseries about the search for John Wilkes Booth.

Based on Manhunt, James L. Swanson’s 2007 book about the hunt by Washington police and military officers for Booth in late April 1865, Variety reports that if the project goes ahead it will “focus on the perspectives of lesser-known historical figures that were connected to the assassination of Lincoln and the subsequent media frenzy and manhunt.” Although in the early stages of development, with the success of their historical drama John Adams, which garnered a record 13 Emmy Awards from 23 nominations, including Best Miniseries and wins for actors Paul Giamatti, Laura Linney and Tom Wilkinson and writer Kirk Ellis, hope fully HBO will go ahead with the project.

In the meantime, anyone suffering The Wire withdrawl should seriously check out Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets. Having first read it in the mid-1990s, I’m giving it another go around. It’s probably a saner option than re-watching The Wire again. (Although, after the weekend, I'm halfway through season two).


At 4:31 pm, Blogger Robin Kelly said...

Homicide is currently airing on late-night ITV4. It's a few seasons in but hopefully they'll just start them again from the beginning at the end of the final episode.

At 8:44 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...


Good for ITV4 doing this. After Channel 4 royally fucked the show over I think it was The Hallmark Channel that first ran with them.

If you haven't seen the show before I hope you catch some episodes and enjoy them.


Post a Comment

<< Home