What do you say to people who believe The Wire harmed Baltimore’s reputation?
I say that The Wire is about only a part of Baltimore, but an important part. And, I say that until we are willing to face a problem or issue(s), no progress will be made on solving them. The Wire shines a light on major issues affecting all urban areas, attention which is necessary in order to address these problems.
Did you watch The Wire when it was on HBO? Is so, what did you think of it at the time?
I did not watch the show when it aired for two reasons: a) we didn't get HBO and b) Mayor O'Malley so derided it in cabinet meetings that I was prejudiced about it. When I did watch it, I watched the boxed set of all five seasons in a three week period, watching several episodes a night to the point that my wife Chris would beg me at 3am to shut it off! I found it excellent television and it was clear to me that it could be used to teach lessons about the issues it raised.
As someone who has worked to alert the public to various urban issues, how effective has The Wire been in that regard?
I think The Wire has been fairly effective at opening people's eyes to urban problems and public and private institutions' failings--which was part of David Simon's motivation to do the series (in addition to good entertainment). I say fairly effective, because some viewers only see it as great tv; those that think about it, get more out of it.
Were you surprised by academia’s embrace of the The Wire? Are colleges ordering your book as a text?
I'm not surprised by academia's embrace of the series for the reasons outlined in answer 2; yes, professors in different parts of t he country have expressed interest (or assigned) the book for their public policy/public health/undergrad courses.
Who’s your favorite character? Why?
My favorite character: Omar, because he is a bad guy with a moral compass who is a little bit like a combination of Robin Hood and a heartless killer. I had the very interesting experience of driving Michael K. Williams (who plays Omar) around Baltimore last year when he was here to lecture in my “Baltimore and The Wire” course at Hopkins, and hearing all the stories about his five year stay here—fascinating guy!