Tuesday, June 19 , 2018, 6:02 am | Fair 53º


Tell Me Mo’: Countdown to ‘The Wire’

Michael Kostroff deals just enough of a scoop to have our columnist counting the hours to her favorite show's final season.

HBO has, in my opinion, always delivered good series to get involved in and The Wire, which opens its fifth and final season Sunday, is no exception. This is a thinking man/woman’s TV show. Dense plot, character driven, and with lessons to be learned in every episode. Now that’s what I call good TV.

Mo McFadden
So, if you have HBO, I highly recommend you tune in Sunday (6 p.m. on Cox Channel 310 for the East Coast feed or 9 p.m. on Channels 300 and 740 hi-def) and watch the series. This season, the focus is on the media and its responsibility to those it serves, as well as looking at the hard transitions the print media face in the virtual world.

I happened to catch an interstitial promotion on The Wire a couple of days ago and it gave me more information on the season than my friend, Michael Kostroff, could tell me, and he’s in the cast. I’d been bugging him to divulge something of the script to me, but he was keeping his cards close to his vest.

"I can’t say much, Mo," he said. "But I can tell you I think people will be really surprised at all of the characters they’ve brought back for this final wrap-up season.

"The Wire always surprises and, boy, is it good," he added. "A real shocker!"

How’s that for a cliff-hanger? I’ve already noted on my DVR to record this season so I don’t miss a thing.

Kostroff originally was only supposed to be in the first two seasons, but his character — the smarmy gang lawyer, Maury Levy — has had an appearance nearly every season. Kostroff and I met when he was doing the Santa Barbara Civic Light Opera show, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, playing the very funny lead role of Pseudolus back in the mid-1990s.

When I caught up with Kostroff on New Year’s Day, we talked at length about The Wire and I’d like to share it with you. To me, The Wire is about what’s broken in Baltimore — the location for the series, although the effect extends far beyond Maryland. Series creator and executive producer David Simon writes from his own experiences in that city, which he covered as the homicide reporter for the Baltimore Sun for 13 years. This season is ripped from the newspaper’s pages, and you’ll also see a truly amazing replica of its newsroom.

“The art directors for the show took copious photographs of the newsroom to get it just right,"  Kostroff noted. "Look for the tiny toy hearse on the obit writer’s desk; that’s a nod to what was actually on that writer’s desk."

The deal with the Sun, Kostroff said, was "we could not use any of the current staff of the Sun, but there are a lot of former Sun staff in this season."  And The Wire has used real people from Balitmore throughout the run of the show — from those in the halls of power to street gang members who had no aspirations of acting but were introduced to the art and now want to pursue the dream. You understand now why I love this show for so many reasons!

Kostroff also gave me the skinny on actor Clark Johnson, who plays Sun editor Guy Hanes.  Clark directed much of the first season of The Wire and he’s back playing a lead role this season and he also directed the final episode of the series.  You may want to go back and review the seasons of The Wire, as the themes are big, sweeping ones and each season has focused on another aspect of the city.

As Kostroff said, "It’s about what’s broken."  The first season was about wire tapping, with murderers, drug dealers and the projects the focus; the second season dealt with the docks and stevedores; season three focused on the politics and politicians; season four was about the school system; and now the final season looks at the media. Kostroff told me this season will wrap up a lot of story lines from previous ones.

Wanting to get a little something no one else has about The Wire, I asked about any funny anecdotes from the set. He delivered the story of a prank that could only be done by those creative writer types.

"The last season of the show we were getting lots of re-writes every day and it was because the writers wanted to make everything just right for the fifth and final season," he explained. "So, in the middle of the of the last episode they were shooting came a newly added scene for the two characters, Detective William ‘Bunk’ Moreland (played by Wendell Pierce) and Officer James ‘Jimmy’ McNulty (played by Britisher Dominic West).

"The faux scene began as the actors did the read-through.  The actors took it in stride but, as they read, smiles emerged on their faces.  It became clear the writers were joking with the actors and actually thanking them for their great work on the final season.  So there’s Bunk and McNulty saying lines like, ‘Haven’t we said all this stuff before, but in other ways?’ ‘Why are we still talking about this same old case?’ ‘I don’t know, man. Seems kinda repetitious.’

“You could see the actors realizing what they were reading was a gag and continued, ‘Another scene, this late in the game? What’s wrong with these producers?’ ‘I guess it’s the writers’ way of saying thanks to everyone, and that there will be no new scenes.’"

So, even though Kostroff paraphrased, it gave me the sense of fun and respect on the set.  Kostroff is flying back East this week for the premieres in New York City on Friday and Baltimore on Saturday.

By the way, Kostroff is an actor both on stage and on TV. His book, Letters from Backstage: The Adventures of a Touring Stage Actor, recounts his adventures on two different Broadway tours. The book is available at bookstores everywhere and online at www.amazon.com.

Mo McFadden’s Tell Me Mo’ column is published every other week on Noozhawk.

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