The video essay “Setting the Scene: The Opening 164 Seconds of The Wire” is an in-depth analysis of the very first scene, the so-called teaser, of HBO’s groundbreaking TV drama. It consists of three parts: First, it compares and contrasts the scene as it appears in an earlier draft of the script (dated July 26, 2001) and the end result (the scene as it appears in the pilot that premiered in June 2002). Second, it offers a close reading of the visual realization of the scene, examining how it has been interpreted through cinematography, acting, and editing. Finally, the video essay explores the teaser’s thematic function, considering how key concerns are set up subtly and metaphorically so that the scene comes to reverberate throughout the series as a whole. Series creator David Simon has frequently noted that each season teaser is designed to serve as a symbolic entryway to what is to come. 
The essay may be seen to offer a formalist analysis in the sense that it seeks to expand our understanding and appreciation of the scene’s constructional principles. The first two parts, especially, are overtly craft-centred. The breakdown of the changes that were made to the script would possibly work reasonably well in a conventional print article too, while the study of the scene’s visual realization requires the video essay format for analytic depth, detail, nuance, and clarity. On the other hand, the decision to look at adjustments to the script and the “execution” of the script separately has been made for purely heuristic purposes. Ultimately, the aim is to put forward a fundamentally holistic view, to highlight how complexly collaborative and intertwined the various aspects of the creative process really are. While the argument is not made explicitly in the video essay, I hope to get across that such things as the performances of the actors and the camera-work too can be usefully seen as forms of “writing,” as they do not merely carry out the instructions of the written material, but interact with, and act upon, it. If the early version of the script appears slightly “over-written,” and the end result can be seen to have less text and more subtext, it seems likely that the reason is precisely that the creative team collectively found ways to convey the “content” of the screenplay by a broader range of formal and expressive means than words alone.
Indeed, this video essay has itself undergone a similar transformation, as an earlier version spelled out the analytic aims in excessive detail. I am grateful that the peer review counselled me that there was not really any need to signpost the arguments and ideas. Frontloading the piece with exposition merely made the piece overly didactic, and the feedback has no doubt made the final version more organic and engaging.
 See for example http://www.borderline-productions.com/TheWireHBO/David_Simon_Exclusive_QA.pdf
Biography: Erlend Lavik is Professor of media studies at the Department of Information Science and Media Studies, University of Bergen, where he is Head of the BA program in TV Production.