‘The Wire’: HBO is Remastering The Series in HD, But There’s A Catch

By September 2, 2014

As Omar would say, “Oh, indeed.”

A lot of outlets were reporting this morning that HBO was remastering their iconic TV series “The Wire” for HD and that they’d begin airing the newly remastered episodes in marathon form beginning on September 4th. Well, the first half of that claim is true: HBO is definitely remastering David Simon’s critically acclaimed series for an HD release, but the timetable for when we’ll actually be able to see those versions of the episodes is the part that’s being called into question. The following video made its way online this morning:

That ad was apparently released prematurely, and while HBO reps have confirmed the remastering is underway, some episodes are “still being reviewed” and the release date has been pushed back indefinitely. For those who haven’t seen it yet (catch up, people!), “The Wire” is widely recognized as one of (if not THE) greatest television shows of all time. David Simon’s series looked at various facets of life in Baltimore from the perspective of detectives, drug runners, gangbangers, teachers, politicians, and the news media. It’s an amazing series full of deep themes, metaphors, and literary allusions that show how the line between “good guys” and “bad guys” is blurred, and thought it didn’t have much impact in its initial run from 2002-2009, it’s since been praised for its authenticity and stellar writing and acting.

Fans were hoping for a marathon along the lines of what FXX has done with “The Simpsons,” and while that may still happen one day, we’re going to have to wait a little while for them to get everything straightened out first.

The Wire 2

One of the things that needs to be straightened out is what aspect ratio the show will be re-broadcast when the remastering is complete. The show originally aired in a standard 4×3 square ratio, and in order to air it in a 16×9 ratio for today’s widescreen televisions, many are saying that the network would have to chop off some of the top and bottom of the image in order to fit it into that new form. (FXX did this with some early episodes of “The Simpsons,” and it was not received well by cinephiles. Cutting the top and bottom of the image made many of the visual jokes in the series unintelligible, and occasionally the framing would be so bad that you couldn’t discern who was on screen.) But that’s apparently not the case here, since the show was initially filmed in widescreen. CreativeCow (via BAD) has more info about it:

And perhaps the final contrast to the rest of high-end episodic television, The Wire for each of its five seasons has been produced in good old fashioned 4 x 3 standard definition. DP Dave Insley recalled, “The reason the show has stayed 4×3 is because David Simon thinks that 4×3 feels more like real life and real television and not like a movie. The show’s never been HD, even 4×3 HD and that (SD) is how it is on the DVDs. There is no 16×9 version anywhere.” As a viewer with an HD set I will point out that like much of SD television that makes its way to HD channels, it appears that HBO utilizes state-of-the-art line doubling technology. It may still be standard definition, but line doubled it looks considerably better on a high definition set than it would on a standard definition set.

Insley explained, “When the show started 2001 / 2002 they framed it for 16 x 9 as a way of future-proofing. Then a couple of seasons ago, right before Season 4 began shooting, there was a big discussion about it and after much discussion — David, Nina, Joe Chappelle, the Producers, the DPs — and we discussed what should be the style of the show. David made the decision that we would stay with 4×3. The DPs pretty much defined the look to be what it is now. And it’s been consistent for the past two seasons.”

So David Simon wanted the series to be in 4×3 the whole time. What will a remastered version of the show look like? Will the network go against the creator’s wishes and make a 16×9 version, or will we simply see a higher quality 4×3 version when the show is ready to debut again in HD? Time will tell, but we’ll be keeping an eye on this.

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Ben is a writer living in Los Angeles, California. His work has been featured at ScreenRant.com, FirstShowing.net, MySpace.com, GeekTyrant.com, and many more sites across the web. Some of his favorite movies include The Rocketeer, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Tombstone, Lucky Number Slevin, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Collateral, Double Indemnity, Back to the Future and The Prestige. Follow him on Twitter: @BenPears.
  • Newman

    came across the show maybe 2-3 times, can’t lie I was intrigued. I’ll keep a heads up to check out the remastered series!