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David Simon, George Pelecanos Back in Baltimore on ‘We Own This City’

HBO Max series 'We Own This City'
(Image credit: Warner Bros. Discovery)

We Own This City, about the Baltimore Police Department’s Gun Trace Task Force and the “moral collapse that befell an American city in which the policies of drug prohibition and mass arrest were championed at the expense of actual police work,” according to HBO, premieres on the network April 25.

The show comes from George Pelecanos and David Simon, who detailed crime in Baltimore in The Wire

Jon Bernthal, Wunmi Mosaku, Jamie Hector and Josh Charles are in the cast. 

Pelecanos and Simon said the show is about police who, for years, conducted unlawful search and seizures, and often sold the drugs they confiscated on the street.

While the scripted We Own This City is rooted in non-fiction, Simon said comparisons to The Wire are “inevitable.” He stressed that they are different stories, but did note some overlap. With The Wire, “American policing had lost its way and the drug war and mass arrests had not only destroyed neighborhoods and families and filled prisons and not accomplished very much in terms of interdicting drugs or addiction,” Simon said, “but it also damaged police work.”

He described the new show as “further along a stretch of bad road.”

Shooting in Baltimore, Simon said local residents would come out and speak with producers, and share their stories about encounters with police. “People came out of their houses and talked to us,” he said, “and we listened to them.”

Asked what keeps them coming back to Baltimore, Simon noted that other series he’s worked on, including New Orleans-based Treme and New York-based The Deuce, depicted life in other cities. “We didn’t come back for 14 years,” said Simon, who worked at the Baltimore Sun, on the police beat, before he began in television. 

We Own This City is based on a book by Justin Fenton. 

The producers know some people may not be up for seeing police brutality in their entertainment viewing. “I’m never writing stuff that people want to see,” said Simon. “If I ever thought for a minute about what might get an audience on television, I’d probably have a very different career.”

Pelecanos described the new show as more about “what do people need to see” than what they want to see. 

Jamie Hector, who played gang leader Marlo on The Wire, plays a detective on We Own This City. “We wanted someone who conveys a lot through his eyes, not so much through his words,” said Simon. “Jamie has got that quality–that soulful, spiritual quality.”

Asked what he hopes viewers will take away from We Own This City, Simon stressed that the drug war has failed, and set police down the wrong path. “Until we end the drug war, nothing good is going to happen in this country,” he said. ■

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.