The season has begun, but with it has begun a strange programming phenomenon. As you doubtless know, The Wire “premieres” each Sunday night on HBO, but episodes become available nearly a week earlier, if subscribers have access to the “On-Demand” system common to most digital cable providers. Add this to the fact that anyone with a shadow of credentials and a breath of promise about publicizing the show in print was speedily presented with the entire season on DVD in the past few weeks. HBO and the folks who manage The Wire seem single-minded in their hopes of getting anyone and everyone willing to devote an hour to get hooked on the show.
It makes sense, particularly given the broad, meandering and novelistic ways the series develops over each season, that the folks at HBO would be keen on grabbing viewers early, clutching them through a few episodes, and then relaxing their grip and watching to see whether viewers will remain seated for the remainder of the season. Even so, it’s a strange thing to see come to pass, television being what it is with the ratings and the ads and the “don’t touch that dial” and suchlike. Yet perhaps cable has finally realized how very free it is from the shackles of timeslots and Nielsens.
What this also says is “fuck you, water-cooler,” and that’s another strange side-effect. Even for this blog, the challenge of drawing in the disparate viewers of The Wire will depend in part on how we can manage the expecations of those who have religiously watched the show at its appointed hour, those who snapped it off On-Demand at the earliest possible time, and those who have already downloaded the whole season.
The New York Times has already written several pieces on the show to coincide with the start of the season. Yet immediately, the notion of a regular season’s schedule has been exploded, and HBO instead, in the interest, it would seem, of accomodating as many viewers’ desires as possible, has concentrated on snagging as many of those viewers as possible.
I hope that despite this programming chaos, conversation about the program will not be curtailed, compromised, or rendered meaningless. I know that some of the writers here are going to be watching on vastly differing schedules, and I think that it will ultimately allow for more lively, informed, and exciting discussions. After all, the best surprises to be found in The Wire are those that creep up on you when you’re not watching, when you’re watching again, or when you’re talking about episodes with someone else who cares.