Created by Matt Zoller Seitz
Directed by Judith Carter
“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”
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Many television critics, legions of fans, even the
president of the United States, have cited The Wire as the best television series ever. In this sophisticated examination of the HBO serial drama that aired from 2002 until 2008, Linda Williams, a leading film scholar and authority on the interplay between film, melodrama, and issues of race, suggests what exactly it is that makes The Wire so good. She argues that while the series is a powerful exploration of urban dysfunction and institutional failure, its narrative power derives from its genre. The Wire is popular melodrama, not Greek tragedy, as critics and the series creator David Simon have claimed. Entertaining, addictive, funny, and despairing all at once, it is a serial melodrama grounded in observation of Baltimore's people and institutions: of cops and criminals, schools and blue-collar labor, local government and local journalism. The Wire transforms close observation into an unparalleled melodrama by juxtaposing the good and evil of individuals with the good and evil of institutions.
"On the Wire is a readable, rigorously argued account of HBO’s seminal series. . . . Williams is noted for being a top scholar in film and media studies, but On the Wire demonstrates that above all else she is a passionate fan of the series. In order to explain why she loves it so much, and why it has impacted American culture with such force, she’s written a must-read book for everyone who believes that The Wire is life-changing fiction of the highest order."―Jon Lisi, PopMatters
"Linda Williams’s book revolutionizes the ways we approach the series. Hers is a provocative, productive analysis that makes an essential contribution to the sociology of television: not only how to think of television as social force but its own ability to constitute sociological investigation."―Dana Polan, Film Quarterly
“By tying The Wire’s forcefulness to its televisual and melodramatic nature, On The Wire reveals that however exceptional, this show can also be a model. As such, this book modestly saves the series from monumentality.”―Nathan Holmes, Critical Inquiry
"Williams’ s study... provides a view of The Wire that is often illuminating and surprising…"―Stanley Corkin, Journal of American Studies
“As an avid fan of the series The Wire, Linda Williams’s book was a thoroughly interesting read. … In each section, the author skillfully weaves the storyline from episodes into her argument in a believable and defensible fashion. … Williams’s volume offers a unique perspective on a beloved series.”―Amy Muckleroy Carwile, Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly
“On The Wire is an ambitious study that makes an original, compelling argument about a series on which much has already been written. The questions Williams sets out in the early part of her monograph both pay tribute to The Wire and make clear that she is willing to probe the assumptions often made about it. ...Pushing back against the critical consensus, On The Wire is not just an original study of its chosen series but also a model for how we should think about contemporary television more generally.”―George Potts, Critical Quarterly
“Williams’s On The Wire is a fascinating text. Whether she is lauding the series for its capacity to ruffle certain cinematic conventions and assumptions about race and class or criticizing the show for its diminished gender politics (e.g., blaming the single black mother), her analysis is coherent, trenchant, and provocative. … For those interested in the series and those interested more generally in film and media studies, American culture, and the intersection of race and class, On The Wire will be an enjoyable and provocative read.” ―Joseph Winters, African American Review
Linda Williams is Professor of Film Studies and Rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley. Her books include Screening Sex and Porn Studies, both also published by Duke University Press; Playing the Race Card: Melodramas of Black and White from Uncle Tom to O. J. Simpson; Viewing Positions: Ways of Seeing Film; and Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the "Frenzy of the Visible." In 2013, Williams received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society for Cinema and Media Studies.
MZS.Press is the online arts bookstore founded by author, critic, and filmmaker Matt Zoller Seitz and directed by Judith Carter. It offers new, used, signed, collectible, and rare books on film, TV, music, photography, and the visual arts. The store was launched in 2019 on a different platform and has expanded to incorporate arts books published by MZSPress's private imprint: titles currently include Seitz's The Deadwood Bible: A Lie Agreed Upon and Dreams of Deadwood, about the HBO Western, and Walter Chaw's A Walter Hill Film.
Our deepest wish is to promote, encourage, and distribute work by small presses, academic presses, and individuals. Extraordinary work tends to get swallowed up on giant platforms like Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The store's inventory of nearly 1000 volumes is currently in the process of being reconstructed after its relocation from Cincinnati, Ohio, to Dallas, Texas. The titles featured here are personally selected by a group of curators and advisors, including Seitz, Carter, and an array of critics, artists, journalists, educators, publishers, and arts mavens who are known for their ability to suss out what Seitz's jazz musician dad liked to call "the good sh*t."
“Since MZS is the brains behind the brand and concept, I guess that makes me the brawn. Even though my 'gun show' looks more like a water pistol exhibit in a toy store window...”
Matt Zoller Seitz
Critic, Author, Filmmaker, MZS Press Creator
Matt Zoller Seitz is the Editor at Large and film critic of RogerEbert.com; a staff writer for New York Magazine and Vulture.com, and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in criticism. His writing on film and TV has appeared in Sight and Sound, The New York Times, Salon.com, The New Republic and Rolling Stone. Seitz is the founder and original editor of the influential film blog The House Next Door, now a part of Slant Magazine.
Seitz has written, narrated, edited or produced over a hundred hours’ worth of video essays about cinema history and style for The Museum of the Moving Image, Salon.com and Vulture, among other outlets such as Texas Highways and AARP. His five-part 2009 video essay Wes Anderson: The Substance of Style was spun off into the hardcover book The Wes Anderson Collection. This book and its follow-up, The Wes Anderson Collection: Grand Budapest Hotel were New York Times bestsellers.
Other Seitz books include the New York Times bestellers The Sopranos Sessions and Mad Men Carousel; TV (The Book), The Deadwood Bible: A Lie Agreed Upon, and The Wes Anderson Collection: The French Dispatch. He is also an interviewer, moderator, and film programmer who has curated and hosted film and TV presentations for the Museum of the Moving Image, IFC Center, San Francisco's Roxie Cinema, and other venues. He is currently launching a Dallas extension of his MZS Film Series at the historic Texas Theater.
Judith is quoted as saying "his hobbies include exotic dancing, moonwalking, and affixing masking tape labels to every food item in the refrigerator, including eggs. Oh and he has the attention span of a gnat." MZS agreed to it all except the moonwalking.