I'm the author of eighteen novels, the most recent of which is WHAT IT WAS, and am a writer/producer of The Wire and Treme.

Thanks, everyone. I tried to answer as many questions as I could, and they were good ones. But I've gotta go...my barber awaits. GP

Comments: 1116 • Responses: 22  • Date: 

redditisforsheep224 karma

What is your favorite memory from your time working on The Wire?

georgepelecanos677 karma

Probably the night we shot the scene between Stringer Bell and Avon Barksdale (Episode 311, Middle Ground), on the roof, when they talk about their friendship and childhoods. They have betrayed one another but there's real love there. It was a beautiful night in Baltimore and the actors and the director, Joe Chappelle, really brought their game. It's my favorite scene of the series.

xxx711234 karma

This is my favorite scene in the history of television. amazing, powerful, and such a great commentary

georgepelecanos200 karma

Thank you.

Nafteh139 karma

George, first and foremost, your work on The Wire was some of the most powerful and impressive I have ever seen, particularly in "That's Got His Own", the season 4 finale.


How much input did you have to the story arc for the characters, were you told by Simon and Burns exactly what they wanted to have happen and you were left to execute, or could you fight for the characters? It seemed like every episode you wrote had a major character transition or shift.

For example, in the Bodie scene, were you told exactly which way it was supposed to happen, or could you work and change the scene? Was the chess simile, with the "pawn" attacking diagonally and eventually being taken down by the L shape of a "knight" your idea, or was it brought about by someone else.

How difficult was it to write the scene between Stringer and Avon on the roof? It flowed perfectly, there was so much emotion, both public and private, but you captured it perfectly.


georgepelecanos281 karma

We worked it out together in the writers room. A lot of discussion and sometimes arguments. When it got heated, it came from a place of passion, and I think it was reflected in the final product. Yes, often times I had to fight for what I thought was right in a script. And sometimes David stood firm and saved me from my own worst instincts. I was given the penultimate episodes--the ones where bad, violent shit happens--because David thought I did a good job of similar scenes in my books. I did not write the celebrated chess scene; that was David, I believe. I wrote the deaths of Wallace, Frank Sobotka, Stringer Bell, and Snoop. Also, I wrote the scene in the park between Bunk and Omar. That, and the rooftop scene between Stringer and Avon, are my personal favorites of what I actually wrote. There are others, like the paper bag speech written by Richard Price in Season 3, that I'm still in awe of.

zxlkho123 karma

No question. Just wanted to say that The Wire is my favorite show ever. Way better than anything else I've seen. (though Game of Thrones might be able to give it a run for its money!)

georgepelecanos259 karma

I like Game of Thrones. too. David Benioff, who writes the show, is a friend of mine. And he's married to Amanda Peet. Some guys just get the golden horseshoe.

tludsy97 karma

I read on IMDB that The Wire was considering doing a 6th season, primarily about the Latino culture in Baltimore, but it was decided that not enough was known about it for a season to be written. Is that true, and if so, why didn't you all write a 6th season about a different topic?

georgepelecanos225 karma

We had five stories to tell, and to their credit HBO kept us on the air to do it. In truth, the ratings did not justify keeping us further, but the aftermarket sales in video, domestic and international, made the show hugely profitable for HBO. We would have liked to look at the Latino culture in Baltimore, and tackle immigration, but we ran out of time. It's funny, Ed Burns wanted to do a season about horse racing, the track, and organized crime. It's all connected in Maryland, but again, no time. Now, David Milch has done it with Luck on HBO. I watched the first ep, and I think it's fantastic.

gza_swords69 karma

Did you get to meet Felicia "Snoop" Pearson? And if so, what is she like?

georgepelecanos133 karma

One day Ed Burns and I were having a meeting in the basement of a church in Canton, and one of our security guys brought Felicia by to meet us. We went outside and talked to her in the middle of the street for about five minutes. After she left, we looked at each other and said, "We've got to put her in the show." Her first scene, we gave her a couple of lines, and we knew. She was all in.

magicpie2361 karma

And not to be a downer, but do you feel the show slipped a bit in season 5?

Edit Second q: I don't think the word "cop" is used a single time on the Wire. Was this a conscious choice by you guys to stay away from using that word, and if so what motivated it?

georgepelecanos146 karma

My personal opinion is that we were at the top of our game in Seasons 3 and 4. I feel like there was good work done in all the seasons, but those two were where we most successfully accomplished what we had set out to do.
Most people don't use the expression "cop" in Baltimore. They say "police."

Clev56 karma

Spoiler alert!

At the end of season 5 of The Wire, it seems pretty obvious that Marlo isn't ready to quit the Game after his blood-licking scene. Earlier in the final episode, Rhonda tells Levy that they'll take the case back off the stet docket if they even catch a whiff of Marlo on the street, even if it means putting cops behind bars. To me it seems pretty likely that McNulty and Freamon will wind up locked up. How ambiguous was that supposed to be? Do you think there's any pieces of the story I'm missing there?

PS I can't thank you enough for your work on The Wire, even though you've killed everyone I ever loved. ;)

georgepelecanos89 karma

Pretty ambiguous, I admit, but then we always made viewers work to figure out the show. Lester Freamon is going to leave the force on his own terms. McNulty returns to Baltimore because he can't quit it, even with its flaws.

Optimash_Prime51 karma

How do you plow through your writer's block?

georgepelecanos210 karma

Treat writing as you would any job. Get dressed in the morning and go to work, whether you want to or not. When I'm writing a book I write seven days a week, day and night shifts. Even on bad days, I put something down on paper. If you do that, there is no such thing as writer's block.

hollaback_girl48 karma

How has your experience been working on Treme? What was filming in Louisiana like during the first season? How did it change in the second season?

I get the sense that there's a community that's formed around the location production of the show. How true is that? Are there friendships and networks that have persisted when the show goes out of production between seasons?

georgepelecanos39 karma

It has been fun and really interesting to work and live in New Orleans for this show. Our crew is fantastic and yes, you do make many friends and eventually it feels like a family. My oldest son Nick is a PA on the crew and we have a crib together in the Warehouse District. The whole thing has been a journey for me, but you can pretty much say that about any series you work on. It's a nice way to make a living.

skepticaljesus44 karma

How did you connect with David Simon, and what do you think it was about yourself or your work that prompted him to invite you to be a part of his writer's room?

georgepelecanos120 karma

David and I had met only once. One day we were at a funeral for mutual friend and he asked me for a lift to the wake. On the way there he told me about a pilot, called The Wire, that he had sold to HBO. He said he had read one of my books, The Sweet Forever, and he was wondering if I'd like to write a script for Season 1 of his show. I was familiar with his work on The Corner and Homicide, so I knew his talent and I knew where he stood. I said, Why not?

buttburgerlar37 karma

hows your morning going?

georgepelecanos60 karma

So far so good.

math120235 karma

the wire was so good. Nothing like a good show with mostly black people. Who do they write such garbage for black people these days. Thanks for writing such a good show about our people. You should have wrote and produced that Red Tails movie. Did anyone approach you about it?

georgepelecanos81 karma

No, but my friend Anthony Hemingway, who I worked with on The Wire and Treme for the past ten years, directed the film. It was good to see some of the actors from The Wire in Red Tails as well. Congratulations to all of them. Though I don't know if I'd let Bubs work on the engine of my plane.

rufusthelawyer35 karma

Thanks for including many ultra-specific references to DC businesses and places in your writing. Buying cigarettes at Neam's Market comes to mind.

georgepelecanos46 karma

Not anymore. I used to work at The Bootlegger, selling women's shoes, at Wisconsin and P across the street from the market. Bought my smokes at Neam's in the morning, back when I was a Marlboro Menthol man.

ah10288632 karma

Considering Treme, which stars both Wendell Pierce (Bunk) and Clarke Peters (Freamon), and the new movie "Red Tails", which has Michael, Wallace, Bubbles, and Cheese in it, can we expect to see more future collaboration between actors/writers/producers etc. of the Wire?

georgepelecanos60 karma

Speaking for me, I hope so. All of those people you mentioned are good actors, but more importantly, they're solid people.

[deleted]29 karma

First of all thank you for what an amazingly written show in The Wire, I just finished the series in around a month and it showed me that television writing is what I want to do.

How was the decision made to kill Stringer Bell (as I know it lists you as the writer for that episode)? Was his downfall planned far in advance, or was the natural split between him and Avon natural in the writing process as well? The main thing I'm trying to get at was how did you deal with the intense complexities of The Wire's many plot lines?

georgepelecanos69 karma

We knew that Stringer was going to die at the end of Season 3. It was a natural end for the character and it fit our thematic concerns. We didn't know how he was going to get to his final destination, or how Avon would fit into the betrayal. All of that got pounded out in the writers room as the season progressed. David Simon, Ed Burns and I worked out the beats, and I wrote the script. It's the same way many novelists, myself included, figure out their books. if you try to pre-outline every facet of the work, it often comes out stillborn.

miriamparker28 karma

What inspired you to write WHAT IT WAS?

georgepelecanos36 karma

What It Was is based on a real-life guy, Cadillac Smith, who went on a crime spree in the summer of '72 in D.C., when Watergate broke. Police and the Mob were involved in trying to bring him down. I took the seeds of his story, called him Red "Fury" Jones, fictionalized the details, and threw Derek Strange and Frank Vaughn into the mix. Careful readers will notice that I planted the fable of Red into my book The Night Gardener several years ago. It's a cool story, set in my favorite time period, and I always intended to give Red his own novel.

apz121 karma

Thanks for doing this, George!

  • Are you aware of Stuff White People Like post about The Wire? What do you think of it?

  • Treme started to have more police procedural elements in its 2nd season. Will that trend continue in the 3rd?

  • What's your favorite bar in DC? (I've lived in The District since 2006).

  • What's your process for outlining a densely-plotted mystery?

  • Who would win in a boxing match between you and Dennis Lehane? You and Richard Price?

georgepelecanos40 karma

I think the White People book is funny. Season 3 of Treme will reflect what was happening in New Orleans in late 2007, early 2008. So, yeah, you'll see more about the climate of corruption in the police department down there. We're ramping up the conflict. As for your last question: it depends on the rules.

namesbond1316 karma


georgepelecanos40 karma

When you read it back, the dialogue should feel alive to you. But do keep in mind that actors, directors, and other craftsmen who work on the movie or show are going to elevate what you've done. Have faith in your work. You know when it's good, and also when it's not working.

beldo15 karma

I know you're a big fan of westerns (I've been making my way through the list of your favorite westerns). Do you have any plans to write a western novel (or screenplay) of your own?

georgepelecanos33 karma

I would love to do that. It's on my list. There's a Western revival going on right now on television, and hopefully that will help my case.

pr0saic9 karma

I'm new to the Derek Strange series and am reading WHAT IT WAS right now. What do I need to know about Strange or 1972 DC going into this?

georgepelecanos17 karma

It helps to read Hard Revolution, which covers Strange in the years 1959 to 1968. But it's not necessary. In What It Was, Strange is 26 years old, a young man living in D.C's most outrageous, fun era. The book is sexy and violent, and it's heavy with music, musclecars, and good looking women. If that's your thing, jump in.

JAYBEE287 karma

How far along is the filming of Shoedog? Can we expect any of your other books to be movies soon? Are you a fan of Don Winslow?

georgepelecanos11 karma

We haven't started yet. Still trying to get the last pieces of financing in place. In the meantime, I just keep working on other projects. But I hope to get it done. It's my Seven-Ups.