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HBO Restrings Wire

Home Box Office chairman and CEO Chris Albrecht has put his money where his heart is: The network has renewed gritty drama The Wire for a 12-episode fourth season to debut in 2006.

After focusing on drug wars, union strife, and political squabbles in fictional Baltimore, the new season will focus on city schools.

The critically acclaimed show, from creator/executive producer David Simon, resolved key plot issues in its third season last December, prompting months of speculation about whether it would return.

Although non-ad-supported HBO does not measure its shows’ success through Nielsen numbers, The Wire struggled in the ratings last season – premiering to an average 1.8 million viewers and losing viewers in subsequent episodes.

 The show’s second-season finale earned the series' best ever numbers with 4.5 million viewers,with an assist from its Sex and the City lead-in.

Addressing critics at January’s TCA tour, Albrecht acknowledged The Wire’s low viewership, saying he had received “a telegram from every viewer of The Wire, all 250 of them, before assuring his audience that the network had “tremendous support in our hearts” for the show, which he called “completely of [Simon]’s own volition and through his own vision.”

“The first three seasons of The Wire have been as good as anything that’s been on television in a long time,” Albrecht said. “It would be very important for however many seasons of The Wire that end up on the air…to fulfill the promise of the first three.”

Shooting for season four begins in late 2005.