Which TV shows have had more memorable characters than "The Wire"?

A while back, Bob Ducca and I had a series of threads/polls about the characters on HBO’s The Wire. If one were to do a similar listing and analysis of the characters on some other show(s), which ones would be the best bet to have the most identifiable and memorable characters?

Candidates among shows I have watched enough to be familiar with:

Breaking Bad
The Sopranos
Sons of Anarchy

So many long-running and popular shows have a limited number of main characters and an almost endless list of guest stars and cameo type appearances of people who rarely make it back more than one or two other episodes.

The shows I would like to focus on are those with large casts of memorable and recurring characters who have helped establish or enhance the careers of the actors portraying them.

Which shows qualify for that in your thinking?

The Simpsons?

Oh. Never mind.

Arrested Development.


It might be good to put a number on “large.” The Wire had over 20 significant characters; each “group” could have supported their own dramatic series. We could imagine a complete stand-alone show just using Landsman’s homicide squad, starring Landsman, Cole, Norris, Holley, Santangelo, McNulty, Bunk, Kima, also starring John Doman as Major Bill Rawls. Tonight’s episode: The Floater. And then there’s City Hall, The Docks, The Kids, The Barksdales, etc.

That’s tough to match.

But Community has nine or ten ensemble cast members and maybe ten other regularly recurring characters.

On a more rarified note, Downton Abbey has at least twenty different, regular ensemble cast members.

True Blood has a zillion or so.

So does Game of Thrones.

Heroes and Lost also come to mind.

The I am sad to say The Wire does not qualify. I can’t think of any Wire actors that can really been said to have “broken out,” because of their roles.

Star Trek.

Maybe “broken out” is inaccurate, but I continue to see The Wire actors in roles here and there. Example shows recently:

True Detective
The Good Wife
Boardwalk Empire

And even though I didn’t watch the show, I believe Treme had quite a few veterans in their cast.

As for numbers, I suspect IMDb might have an episode count of the key players in the shows worth considering. Offhand I’d suggest at least 10 episodes as a measure of how “regular” a character might be.

The Shield gave boosts to the careers of Walton Goggins and Michael Chiklis. Lemansky went on to another show that I can’t remember right now, but sadly hasn’t done much for Dutch or Acevedo or Catherine Dent, which kinda surprised me.

Homicide: Life on the Street.

Andre Braugher (worked regular in TV ever since)
Melissa Leo (Oscar Winner)
Jon Polito (active character actor)
Yaphet Kotto (though he was a Bond villain previously, he’s better known for this)
Richard Belzer (his first appearance as Munch)
Zeljko Ivanek (lots of roles since then)
Ned Beatty (had already established himself)
Clark Johnson (primarily a director these days)
Reed Diamond
Giancarlo Esposito
Callie Thorne
Edie Falco (recurring)
Michelle Forbes (though she had broken through early on ST:TNG).

Nearly all the other recurring actors have had no trouble finding work over the years. Erik Dellums even had a recurring role in The Wire.

Pretty Little Liars is an example probably no one else will bring up. The Wikipedia list of characters has 12 people listed as Main (at various times) and 20 more listed as Recurring (at least 9 episodes).

And every episode it seems like they introduce three more characters, who will often be mentioned seasons later with no explanation. Often this is because these actors will go on to bigger and better things and the show will have to give other characters’ their motivations.

Glee is another example. It has 60 characters listed as either Main or Recurring. It seems like it is about 1,000 though.

Cheers, possibly

Ted Danson
Woody Harrelson
Shelly Long
Rhea Perlman
Kirstie Alley
George Wendt
John Ratzenberger
Kelsey Grammer

Deadwood. So many classic characters …

You don’t think Idris Elba has “broken out”?

I have seen a few Wire alums on other shows. I remember seeing Seth Gilliam (Sgt Carver) guesting on The Good Wife. But he worked before The Wire – guest spots on several TV shows and a recurring character on “Oz.” So I don’t agree that the show upped his star power. as measured by the exposure of roles he’s gotten since.

Sonja Sohn (Kima Greggs) guested on The Good Wife as well, and she fits the bill – no real TV exposure before The Wire, but has worked since in a variety of TV spots. And Michael K. Williams (Omar) probably fits too.

I guess I’d like to know who I’ve been missing – I always like to see cast from The Wire do well. It’s my impression that most have not gotten any obvious boost, but I would love to be enlightened to the contrary.

No – he was in several BBC series before The Wire, and I don’t think he’s getting dramatically (no pun intended) different work now.

Michael B. Jordan has gone on to bigger things (Friday Night Lights, Parenthood, Fruitvale Station) since a somewhat small (but very memorable) role as Wallace. The Wire was pretty much his acting debut, from what I can tell.

And Carcetti has a pretty juicy role on Game Of Thrones (and has been in a few movies) since The Wire.

Well you’re plain wrong.

I’m not sure he had anything half as big as Luther. Maybe he had a bit part in Casualty like every other British actor. checks IMDB No, but he was in The Bill.

But in general, I agree with you. Most actors from The Wire haven’t made it big when they should have. About 20 of them have been on The Good Wife, but I suspect that the writers of that show are doing this deliberately

I think an interesting way to think about it is to ask who the 10th most memorable character is in the show? The 15th? The 20th?

Then if you rank shows by how memorable and interesting their 15th or 20th most memorable character is, I’d say that one of the few shows that really competes with The Wire is Game of Thrones.
IMDB lists actors in TV shows ranked by number of episodes appeared in, which gives at least somewhat similar information.

For Game of Thrones we have:
#10 Theon Greyjoy
#15 Jaime Lannister
#20 Bronn

For The Wire:
#10 Bubbles
#15 Jay Landsman
#20 Marlo Stanfield

Man, how awesome would a show be which involved all 6 of those characters? :slight_smile:
By comparison, Breaking Bad, which I absolutely adore, has a much smaller main cast, giving us:

#10 Gus Fring
#15 Badger
#20 Brock

No offense to Brock, but he’s sure as heck no Bronn or Marlo Stanfield.

Don’t forget OZ.

Edie Falco, Dean Winters, Chris Meloni, and J. K. Simmons are probably the main ones who broke out, but I’ve also seen these other actors in lots of things: Lee Tergeson (had his own series for a season), Harold Perrineau (Lost), Kirk Acevedo, Terry Kinney, Lauren Velez, BD Wong, Robert Clohessy, and Zeljko Ivanek. But those guys are the ones we see and go “Where did I see that guy before?” :slight_smile:

And it had Rita Moreno.