Writer and co-creator of HBO’s ‘The Wire’ meets with students

April 25, 2011

Ed Burns, writer and co-creator of HBO’s “The Wire,” discussed global problems, educational challenges, democracy, writing and his favorite scene during his on-campus talk April 26 with undergraduates enrolled in a sophomore interdisciplinary studies course on the mini-series taught by professors Jonathan Slade and Jim Kunz.

His favorite scene is from season one: Bubbles (drug addict and longtime cop informant) is training drug cop (Detective Sydnor). In that episode Detective Sydnor shows up in the Detail Room dressed as a junkie, preparing to go to the projects with Bubbles to buy drugs. Bubbles advises him to take off his wedding ring, yellow his teeth, get some track marks on his hands and lose 20 pounds. Nevertheless, he manages to make a buy from D’Angelo’s gang.

Ed Burns (center) with McDaniel students who attended the discussion

Burns won a round of robust applause when he said, with pride, “I killed Stringer Bell (the fictional community-college drug lord).”

Burns co-wrote and -created with writing partner David Simon the HBO series “The Wire.” They originally set out to create a police drama loosely based on Burns’ experiences of working on protracted investigations of violent drug dealers using surveillance technology. During his law enforcement career, Burns often faced frustration with the bureaucracy of the police department, which Simon equated with his own ordeals as a police reporter for The Baltimore Sun.

“There are millions of solutions to our [global] problems. You only need to become aware… get off the sidelines and have the courage to do something,” said Burns, a television writer and producer with a background in police work and teaching.

Burns is a 20-year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department and worked in the Homicide Unit and on several wiretap investigations. After retiring from the police department, he worked as a teacher in inner-city schools in Baltimore.

“In 2000, white adult literacy has dropped…also minority literacy has dropped…despite spending billions in U.S.” he said.

Ed Burns and Social Work Professor Jim Kunz

Burns has called education the theme of the fourth season, and the writing drew extensively on his experience as a teacher. Rather than solely focusing on the school system, the fourth season looked at schools as a porous part of the community that are affected by problems outside of their boundaries. Burns has said that education comes from many sources other than schools and that children can be educated by other means, including contact with the drug dealers for whom they work.

The show’s theme of institutional dysfunction was expanded across different areas of Baltimore City as it progressed. The second season focused on the death of working-class America through examination of the city ports. The third season examined graft and inefficiencies in local politics.

Ed Burns up front with Communication & Cinema Professor Jon Slade

In 1993 Burns and Simon researched and co-wrote “The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood,” a true account of a West Baltimore community dominated by a heavy drug market. The book was published in 1997 and was later adapted into an Emmy Award-winning mini-series “The Corner” for HBO.