Homicide: Life On The Street/Law And Order: Special Victims Unit and The Wire

Homicide: Life On The Street (1993 1999)
Law And Order: Special Victims Unit (1999 -     )
The Wire (2002 2008)
Type: Crossover
Group 2

   I swear I wrote this page and posted it a million years ago... twice. But, no, apparently not.

   Homicide and The Wire had a lot in common. They are both about cops and crime in Baltimore and both are based off the witings of David Simon. David Simon was a reporter who worked with the Baltimore Police Department, seeing life on the streets first hand. NBC first adapted his book Homicide: A Year On The Killing Streets into Homicide: Life On The Streets (The network felt having Killing Streets in the title might have put off potential viewers). Many events in the show came straight from the book. It was not your typical cop show. It had a unique look as if the action was real and captured on the fly. It had a more real world feel than a typical cop show. It never became a main stream hit but was a critical hit with a loyal fanbase. Unlike most cop shows it wasn't about setting up a crime and solving it in an hour with the cops as heroes. It was about the drudgery of being a cop. It was about cases going unsolved. One early case remained unsolved for the run of the show. One of the iconic elements of the show was The Board, a chalkboard with a list of all the open cases on it. The cops job wasn't about catching the bad guys so much as it was about knocking cases off that board by hook or by crook just to keep up their cases solved percentage.

   As edgy as Homicide wanted to be, it was a little at odds with the network who while backing the show wanted it to get bigger ratings. They wanted cases solved. They didn't want things left hanging. They wanted more heroic cops than flawed ones. In later seasons the network even switched the opening credits to new "cooler" ones they felt would draw in viewers. All the change accomplished was it annoyed the loyal fans and the producers. Not sure it brought in any new viewers. With producers pulling in one direction and the network pulling in the other the show ended up a little watered down. Not to say it wasn't good. It was groundbreaking television. Andre Braugher, Kyle Secor, Yaphet Kotto... the whole damn cast really... did amazing acting work.

   In 2002 HBO created a new show called The Wire that was also based on David Simon's book. It centered on Baltimore cops pushing their superiors to really let them go after local drug dealers. They are given permission to start a special unit assigned to the task. The title of the show comes from the cops being allowed to tap the phones of the drug dealers. The show also played with the fact that with surveillance cameras and such EVERYWHERE we are all being watched almost constantly.

   Like Homicide, The Wire was about the cops not being heroes but civil servants punching a clock, concentrating more on keeping their clearance percentage up (the board was back) than on actually catching the correct perp. You'd think lead cop Jimmy McNulty who pushes hard to get the unit started would at least be heroic. But the creators themselves say, no, he was not heroic. His actions didn't come out of selflessness but out of a self centered need to elevate himself. The show also had a different perspective on the drug dealers. They weren't shown as villains. They took a more real angle that the drug dealers were people trying to get by. Young black guys living in the bad areas of Baltimore are not going to have good job opportunities. Many of them fell into selling drugs because it was a good paying job that was attainable. Some of the shows best moments came out of the realities of the situation you might not expect. For instance, you have two beat cops whose job every day is to go down to the corner and roust the dealers. Then one day, the two cops are out at the movies with their girlfriends when they run into two of the dealers out on a date to the movies with their girlfriends. It becomes this wonderfully awkward moment. Like, it's the dealers' job to sell and the cops job to hassle them only... they are all off duty. So it's a moment of, "Hey guys. What ya doing? Yeah? Us too. Well... see you tomorrow."

   On the dvds the creators came up with the same analogy that came to my mind: those Warner Brothers cartoons where the sheep dog and the coyote come into work calmly saying, "Hi, Frank," and, "Hi, Charlie," and they're all fine with each other until they punch in on the clock and then, BOOM, they're on the job and at odds. End of day whistle blows and it's, "See ya tomorrow, Frank."

   Another great moment is when McNulty follows one of the drug kingpins and finds he is going to college and taking business classes. Because the guy isn't trying to destroy people with drugs. He's trying to find a way to get up and out of poverty and drugs is something he can use and that he's hoping to leverage into having a real business. Not to say he's a good good guy, just that it's complicated.

   Like with Homicide, The Wire never became huge but it did attract critical acclaim and a loyal following. But being on HBO instead of network TV, that was good enough. And HBO allowed the producers to do more of their own thing with less interference leading to an even more groundbreaking show. Also, as with many HBO shows, it lives on via dvds and has continued to gain more and more fans.

   The show also covered wider areas than Homicide. Each season covered more and more facets of life in Baltimore. Season One was all cops and dealers. Season Two went down to the docks of Baltimore, getting into the lives of the dock workers. Season Three got more into examining drug addictions and how we as a society deal with it with one cop unofficially setting up a zone where addicts are allowed to do drugs without being hassled by the cops. David Simon also worked in the Baltimore school system so Season Four dealt with kids and the schools while still keeping the cops in play. At the start of the season we are introduced to a number of kids whose destinies we then follow. Some good kids lives go to hell, some bad kids find redemption. Some die. Maybe my favorite season. Season Five pulled from Simon's work as a newspaper reporter, bringing both a newspaper staff into the story as well as really focusing in on the politics of the city (a plot that was always somewhere in play on the show).

   Originally The Wire was not supposed to be part of the same world as Homicide. You can see that in the fact that the Baltimore Homicide Department is utterly different in each show. On Homicide the cops are stuck in ratty offices in decaying buildings. I mean, at one point they get shoved into temporary office space in another crap building while the asbestos is cleaned out of their normal building. By contrast the Homicide offices on The Wire are in a nice new office building. The producers even said they didn't mean them to be in the same continuity. But that changed because of Richard Belzer. He played Detective John Munch on Homicide. After Homicide ended his character moved over onto the Law And Order spin off Law And Order: Special Vicitims Unit this was possible since Law And Order had previously had several crossovers so that this made sense. Odd though for a new spin off of one show to feature the lead character of another show. Anyway, after that, for some reason, John Munch became the king of crossovers. He started appearing on every show under the sun. Belzer apparently was determined Munch should do a crossover back to Baltimore and the creative ground that spawned him. And the producers just couldn't say no. So in the final season there came a scene with the cops at a bar meeting up with John Munch. They didn't actually say his name but this is one of those rare cases where even without the name it was clear it was supposed to be Munch. As he sits at the bar he talks about having owned a bar himself. One of the plots on Homicide was Munch owning a bar with some of the other cops. Also, again, the folks behind the show cop to the fact it's supposed to be Munch. Notch up another crossover for Detective Munch.

Other Homicide: Life On The Street Crossover Links
Homicide: Life On The Street and Arrested Development
Homicide: Life On The Street and The Beat
Homicide and Chicago Hope
Homicide and Law And Order
Homicide and Law And Order: Special Victims Unit
Homicide and The Lone Gunmen
Homicide and Oz
Homicide and St. Elsewhere
Homicide and The X-Files

Other Law And Order: Special Victims Unit Crossover Links
Law And Order: Special Victims Unit and Arrested Development
Law And Order: Special Victims Unit and The Beat
Law And Order: Special Victims Unit and Conviction
Law And Order: Special Victims Unit and Deadline
Law And Order: Special Victims Unit and Homicide
Law And Order: Special Victims Unit and Law And Order
Law And Order: Special Victims Unit and Law And Order: Criminal Intent
Law And Order: Special Victims Unit and Law And Order: Trial By Jury
Law And Order: Special Victims Unit and The Lone Gunmen
Law And Order: Special Victims Unit and New York Undercover
Law And Order: Special Victims Unit and The X-Files

Other Law And Order: Special Victims Unit Non-Crossover Links
Law And Order: Special Victims Unit and The Practice

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