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04th Apr 2023

The iconic scene from The Wire that HBO executives wanted to cut

Patrick McCarry

The Wire

‘The cheese stands alone.’

Back in 2002, The Wire arrived on TV screens and brought an array of fascinating, complicated characters to us, such as Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West), Stringer Bell (Idris Elba) and Omar Little (Michael K Williams).

The Wire ran on HBO for five seasons, between 2002 and 2008. It was reasonably successful at the time but blossomed into a cult hit first through DVD box-sets and then through streamers. Entertainment Weekly and The Guardian stated, during its’ broadcast run, that it was the ‘best show on television’.

The character of Omar Little – a homosexual stick-up that ran his life, and operation, by a deeply grey honour code – is one of the best known, and most loved, in The Wire.

There was one iconic scene in the first season of the show, set in Baltimore, that sets up the legend of ‘Omar’s Coming’. He appears from off-camera, ominously whistling and coming into the scene wearing a bullet-proof vest and with a shotgun partially hidden under his jacket.

David Simon, who created The Wire and was one of the main writers, spoke about receiving production notes from HBO executives and how one was about that memorable scene. Simon commented:

‘In the first season, HBO wanted us to pull out a sequence in which Omar’s crew robs a drug corner unrelated to the Barksdale organisation… They thought it confusing to have this moment where Omar – as yet a barely known quantity who had only been seen monitoring and then robbing a Barksdale stash – is now robbing someone else who has no relation to our story.

‘We urged that the sequence remain intact, if only to hold a place in the narrative for Omar until [detectives] McNulty and Greggs sought him out in episode five. Again, the HBO concern was legitimate only if you don’t yet know who Omar is going to become in the context of the entire story. So it was hard for the HBO guys to weigh in, I think.’

David Simon on The Wire receiving notes

According to David Simon, as the show went on, less and less notes arrived from the production executives. He also praised long-time HBO producer Carolyn Strauss as being ‘usually right’ with whatever feedback she had.

‘As the show has aged, they learned to trust us more,’ he added. ‘In season [four], all but two of the episodes were produced without a single note from HBO.  The two notes they sought were both good ones, however, and we honoured them.’

On the sexuality of the character he portrayed in the show, Michael K Williams once said, “Omar definitely helped soften the blow of homophobia in my community [in Brooklyn]. And it opened up a dialogue, definitely.” Williams passed away at the age of just 54, in 2021.

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