A city ready for its close-up

Those with the luxury of premium cable came face to face in 2002 with a side of Baltimore that city leaders would have shuddered to display even on public access channels.

Taking advantage of HBO's patience with complex plots and permissiveness with coarse language, "The Wire" shined a most unflattering light on Baltimore's blemishes: the crime, the drug infestation, the poverty, the corruption.

Categorized as fiction, the show played liked something from National Geographic. And creator David Simon made clear that he aimed to show his audience the all-too-real urban dysfunction he learned of as a Baltimore Sun police reporter.

Baltimoreans had a blast spotting their streets, bars and landmarks in each episode, to say nothing of the characters clearly based on real players in town. TV critics were effusive. And out-of-towners were just as impressed and obsessed, but maybe less likely to book a trip to the Inner Harbor.

An image consultant the city hired in 2006 said Baltimore's "very bad" national reputation was largely the fault of "The Wire."

When the series ended in 2008, Baltimoreans reluctantly let go of McNulty, Bubbles and the national spotlight. City tourism leaders resumed their HBO subscription.

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