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Live Wire

Wednesday, September 05, 2007


Courtesy: Aaron Short, The Pennsylvania Gazette

In early 2001, John Doman C'66 walked into the New York offices of the casting director for a new HBO show called The Wire. He knew little about it beyond what he had gleaned from the script of the pilot. The casting director asked him to read for the role of Major Rawls, a grizzled, trash-talking police detective who runs the city's homicide unit and serves as a foil for one of the stars of the show, Detective Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West).

Doman's videotaped reading impressed the producers enough that they offered him a contract for a regular role. Soon after, Doman went to Baltimore to film the pilot and awaited word from HBO about The Wire's future.

Five years later, after garnering several awards, including a Peabody, and abundant critical acclaim, Doman still can't believe it.

"I was hoping we'd get three seasons in the beginning," he says. "Everybody kind of looked at me like, 'Yeah, well, good luck.' And we got five. Fortunately, HBO has the luxury of letting a show breathe for a while."

Despite existing in the shadows of The Sopranos and Entourage and receiving single-year extensions after each season, The Wire has not only survived but thrived. Created by David Simon, the show takes place in Baltimore and involves the daily lives of police officers, drug dealers, city councilmen, dock workers, middle-school students, and hundreds of others who inhabit some of the bleakest neighborhoods in America. What makes the show stand out is its hyper-realistic portrayal of hardscrabble urban life and its indictment of local government: the police, the courts, City Council, even the public-school system.

The role of Major/Deputy Commissioner Rawls is Doman's proudest acting achievement, and rightly so. It has also been a long time coming. Originally from Northeast Philadelphia, Doman was recruited to Penn as a football player; he played alongside Jim Riepe W'65 WG'67, chairman of Penn's board of trustees, and Bill Novelli C'63 ASC'64, executive director of the AARP ["Gray is Good," Sept|Oct 2005]. After serving in the Marine Corps in Vietnam and earning his MBA from Penn State, Doman moved to New York in 1971 to work in advertising. Watching movies like The Graduate and Midnight Cowboy made an indelible impression on him, and he resolved to get into acting, eventually.

To read the rest of Aaron Short's story on former Penn football player John Doman, as seen in The Pennsylvania Gazette, please click here.