When Less is More

by F.

The Wire is fantastic and if you haven’t seen it, do. Seasons 1-3 are available via Netflix. Why is it so good? It’s hard to say, and I haven’t heard anyone say anything very convincing about why it’s good—not even its writers and creators.

Its quality may result from what it’s not: it’s not regular TV or movie drama. It’s fast, multi-character, multi-plot, with great dramatic tension, well-timed set-ups and pay-offs, great pacing, and amazing acting that doesn’t look like acting. At all. You feel like the editor and director had 20 hours of great footage and then cut it down to 55 minutes. Each week. But the biggest thing? No cliches. And even when you think a subplot is going to go cliche on you, the writers spin and give you a punch in the gut. I love that.

But enough blathering by me. Check out the blathering of Jacob Weisberg on The Wire. In particular, two versions of his piece on the wire showed up recently, one on Slate and one at the Financial Times. A comparison shows what good editing can do (at the FT), which may help explain why the FT is the FT and Slate is…Slate. The Slate version is 1300 words (about); the FT version is 850—65% of the length and much better: most of the gristle has been cut by the FT editor. Weisberg should take a lesson from the The Wire.