Omar was a traditional bad boy with a few modern twists.
6. Homosexuals Weren't Cliches
"You're the perfect bait, Lamar. They will see you as conflicted, your homophobia is so visceral."—Brother Mouzone
The Wire avoided stereotypes. Omar was a tough, openly gay stick-up man (you don't seen many of these on TV), and Kima a no-nonsense lesbian cop who did not evoke typical "bullish" tendencies in any way. On today's small screen, Ian Gallagher (Shameless), John Cooper (Southland), Lafayette Reynolds (True Blood) all play gay men who are "masculine" and transcend "weak" stereotypes (while Lafayette is kinda flamboyant at times, he's one bad mofo—much like Omar). Angela Darmody (in Boardwalk Empire)—like Kima—is a woman who may be gay, but that doesn't define her either.
7. Every Episode Didn't End With a Neat Conclusion
"If you got soft eyes, you can see the whole thing. If you got hard eyes—you staring at the same tree missing the forest."—William "Bunk" Moreland
More and more dramas have taken cues from The Wire where "conclusive" elements and traditional denouement didn't have to end every single episode. In the past, shows like Kojak relied on appeasing the audience's "whodunit" desire by eventually answering every question as to why something occurred, but The Wire proved that a little bit of restraint during a season pays off. We don't live in a black-and-white world; we don't know everything there is to know about crimes and criminals. While some shows like Homicide and NYPD Blue dabbled with that notion, it was The Wire (along with The Sopranos) that perfected the full-season arc—keeping viewers guessing far beyond one or two episodes.
8. Viewers Were Both Educated and Entertained
"It's like one of those nature shows. You mess with the environment, some species get fucked out of their habitat."—Thomas "Herc" Hauk
For many viewers, the trip through Baltimore was as educational as it was enthralling. It offered a nightly-news-esque commentary in digestible cross sections-ensuring that social discourse was every bit as interesting as bang-bang, shoot-'em-up scenarios. Fans learned regional drug slang ("burners," "points on the package"), witnessed the bureaucracy that goes into projecting successful police work ("juking" the stats), and the rapid pace at which young "hoppers" like Namond and Bodie could potentially become the next Stringers and Avons in West Baltimore.
9. Relatively Unknown Actors Added to the Sense of Realism
"Man fuck a charge, this here is gun powder activated, twenty seven caliber, full auto, no kick-back, nail throwing mayhem."—Felicia "Snoop" Pearson
Aside from the blistering subject matter, the use of relatively unknown actors allowed for a completely immersive, almost documentary-esque experience—no Telly Savalas, Peter Falk, or Chris Noth here. More contemporary shows like The Walking Dead and The Killing seem to have taken notice of this trend as well (can you name the lead actors offhand?). Without the presence of a prominent name with a distinct Hollywood pedigree, the viewer was allowed to observe a person rather than a portrayal.
10. Network Channels Were Put on Notice
"Come at the king, you best not miss."—Omar Little
While shows like The Sopranos may have put HBO on the television map, The Wire further cemented the notion that "must-see TV" was no longer reserved to networks. In the late nineties, the vast majority of television viewers believed that only the major networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox) offered consistent quality entertainment. That's changed dramatically: five of the six nominees in the "Best Drama" category at the 2011 Emmy's came from networks outside of the primetime network scope (AMC, Showtime, HBO (2), and DirectTV), with The Good Wife being the lone representative from CBS (technically, one of the other nominees was Friday Night Lights, which was produced in conjunction with NBC and DirectTV, and broadcast on both). It's safe to say that the "must-see" programs don't necessarily fall on the "most-watched" stations anymore.