The TV landscape has been filled with cultural touchstones beloved by an entire generation, but when Entertainment Weekly revealed its list of the 100 Greatest TV Shows Ever (as part of our current The 100 All-Time Greatest issue) it was not The Simpsons, Seinfeld, The Sopranos, Sex & The City, Saturday Night Live nor any other show that begins with the letter S that topped the list. Instead it was a little-watched HBO drama that could not even crack 1 million viewers an episode for its final season.
Created by David Simon, The Wire started in 2002 as a tale of the Baltimore drug trade, but evolved over its five sensational seasons to tackle corruption in all departments of big city life — education, politics, and media included. And now it has been dubbed by EW the best TV show ever. I happened to be on the set of The Walking Dead right as the news broke and was able to get reactions from two former Wire — and current Walking Dead — cast members: Lawrence Gilliard, Jr., who played doomed dealer D’Angelo Barksdale, and Chad Coleman, who was reformed killer Cutty.
So does it amaze Gilliard that a show that had such a hard time finding viewers when it was on is now receiving such accolades? “It doesn’t amaze me,” says the man who will be joining The Walking Dead cast in season 4 as a new character named Bob Stookie. “I knew when we were shooting the show, just reading it, when I read the first episode, I knew this is big. It’s different, it’s huge, it’s never been done. I just felt like I had to be on it. When I read the pilot, I thought, ‘I need to book this part. I need to get on this show.’”
Not only that, but it seems Gilliard is something of a seer. “I remember the first season we actually did an interview and they asked me — I think it was for the DVDs or something like that — and they were asking me questions and I said, ‘In 20 years from now, The Wire is going to be the show that they will say was the best show on television that nobody watched.’ I was prophetic! I knew it was a big deal when we were doing it, and it was just a shame that people didn’t watch it when it was on. But everyone is catching up now, and it’s a big hit. I really loved being on that show. It was just a magical show — the cast, the crew, the writing, everything. That’s why it’s number one at EW.”
Although Gilliard and Coleman’s time did not overlap on the show due to D’Angelo’s tragic end in season 2 and Cutty not arriving until season 3, they both work together now on The Walking Dead, and it was Gilliard who informed Coleman of The Wire’s number one position as word spread around the set the day the issue came out. “I think that’s awesome,” says Coleman who now plays Tyreese on The Walking Dead. “[Lawrence] just told me. That’s kick-ass, man. You know, it was like a slow-rolling wave. Finally, it got to a height. It’s had strange legs, that wave. The impact came after the storm.”
Coleman’s character Cutty was particularly beloved because he was a man trying his best to right the wrongs from his past by opening up a boxing gym to help keep kids off the street. “That was a gift to play that role,” says Coleman. “To be able to represent African-American males, many who fight that battle and don’t make it to the other side, to be able to come on to the right side of the track and be able to help the community, that was huge. It was huge.”
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