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Why The Wire's Ratings Were So Low (Despite Being So Popular)
2024/04/10

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Despite its immense critical acclaim, The Wire struggled to gain high ratings during its broadcast run. This crime drama, created by David Simon, delved into themes of drug wars, societal inequality, political corruption, and a police department plagued by bureaucracy. While The Wire eventually became a sensation when people started binge-watching it through boxed sets, its viewership on broadcast rarely surpassed 4 million viewers per episode. The second season of the show garnered the highest ratings overall, with an average viewership of 3.71 million, but viewership continued to decline with subsequent seasons.

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Despite the lack of widespread popularity, The Wire's impact as a cultural touchstone cannot be denied.

The Wire's true rise to popularity occurred after it ended in 2008. Although the series finale only attracted just over 1 million viewers, word of mouth helped it gain a dedicated following. While Netflix's streaming service had not yet launched, fans would purchase boxed sets based on recommendations from friends. David Simon's intricate exploration of corruption and urban decay resonated with viewers who craved a more immersive and thoughtful viewing experience.

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The Wire was truly ahead of its time in terms of television shows. The Sopranos is often credited with ushering in the golden age of prestige TV, but The Wire pushed boundaries even further. Each season of The Sopranos had a central narrative resolved by the end of each episode, but The Wire didn't offer easy resolutions. Instead, it presented a complex and interconnected narrative with no quick fixes. The show's mantra was that "all the pieces matter," and it forever changed the television landscape, foreshadowing the long-form storytelling seen in many streaming originals today. However, it's important to note that the success of The Wire wasn't solely because it was a long story. Rather, its success can be attributed to the scale and magnitude of the real-world issues it confronted, necessitating a thorough examination over five seasons.

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