Save "The Wire"!

In the era of Netflix, Tivo, and pay-per-view films, does anyone subscribe to HBO for its movies? Of course not. We pay HBO for its lineup of superior television, television that's not constrained by commercials or the FCC.

In the summer of 2002, HBO debuted "The Wire," a complex show with a simple premise — the chess game between drug dealers in Baltimore and the cops out to get them. The second season moved the action to the port docks, and the third season, which wrapped up Sunday night, focused on one police major who legalized drugs in a handful of blighted sections of his territory. The penultimate episode saw a main player killed off, and showed that "The Wire's" creator, David Simon, isn't afraid to sacrifice a character for the sake of the storyline.

"The main character in 'The Wire' is Baltimore," Simon told the Baltimore Sun, where he used to be a crime reporter. "And I believe 'The Wire' is the most elaborate depiction of a city ever done in American television."

Critics have agreed, and so have fans. Problem is, HBO ran the third season in the fall, putting it up against "Desperate Housewives" and NFL football on ESPN. The result? Viewership dropped almost by half, to 1.6 million households. The end result, Simon says, is that the chance of HBO picking up his show for another season is just 50-50. That would be a crying shame, because the show has transcended the increasingly banal "Sopranos," both in originality and daring, and the maudlin "Six Feet Under."

What's a "Wire" fan to do? Well, write HBO. Simon says the company won't decide until January, so fans are deluging the cable channel with letters and e-mails. Please, please — for the sake of good television — add your voice. Go to www.hbo.com/corpinfo/faq/thewirefaq.shtml for directions on how to submit an e-mail.

Power to the people.