(CNN) -- Benjamin Wallen, self-proclaimed biggest fan of HBO's "The Wire," thought it was well worth a $300 flight home to watch the highly anticipated series finale of the acclaimed crime drama with his best friends -- and fellow series diehards -- Sunday night.
The finale of "The Wire" has raised intense interest -- all the more so because it's not available on demand.
Though the season finale is not scheduled to air nationally until March 10, HBO has made episodes of the series available through certain cable providers' on-demand feature up to a week before their national air dates.
But when Wallen and his friends huddled around the television and switched on the cable box at 12:03 a.m. Monday, their hearts sank: The new episode wasn't listed. They tried an old trick, turning the cable box power switch on and off, hoping the episode would eventually appear. Finally, something did show up -- but not the finale.
In the place where the show should have been, Wallen, 24, and his friends found a one-minute preview of the finale that ended simply with a title screen bearing the date "March 10."
Like thousands of other "Wire" fanatics who had similarly flocked to the presumed early screener Sunday night, the group sat stunned.
"It completely killed the whole weekend," Wallen said. "We are diehard fans who have watched it every week -- a week early. We didn't think this week would be any different."
The finale of "The Wire" has earned intense interest from fans who have followed the Baltimore-set show zealously since its premiere in 2002. The critically lauded show has never matched the audience of other HBO programs, such as "The Sopranos," but its viewers are a particularly passionate lot, following the show's motley crew of cops, drug dealers, struggling children, politicians and journalists with deeply probing blogs and running commentary. Gallery: Get to know the characters of "The Wire" »
They want to delve deeper into the show's portrayal of what creator David Simon has described as "what it feels like to live in the American city."
Monday morning, the official HBO Web site confirmed that the series finale would not be made available early, but would premiere during its regularly scheduled 9 p.m. Sunday time slot.
While the decision to not release the show early was a surprise to fans, it was one made back at the beginning of the final season at the urging of Simon, executives at HBO said.
HBO vice president Dave Baldwin said that in seasons past, spoilers about season finales and the episodes themselves had leaked onto the Web, so Simon requested a change in the schedule.
Baldwin acknowledged that there were many angry fans -- some of whom are calling HBO liars -- but attributed their rancor to their passion for the show. But what could he say?
"Forgive us, we thought we were doing the right thing," Baldwin said. "And anything else that a husband would say to his wife [in] begging for forgiveness."
The curtain of secrecy around "The Wire" finale is one Simon intends to keep tightly drawn until the show begins Sunday night.
Aaron Barnhart, TV critic for The Kansas City Star, found out just how tightly guarded Simon intended to keep it when he posted an entry to his blog about the advance copy of the finale he received.
Barnhart told CNN he intended not to spoil the show for fans, only discussing small details of the finale. But what Barnhart thought was a small detail -- the finale's closing song -- turned out to be otherwise for Simon.
Less than three hours after the blog entry was posted, Barnhart received a voice mail from someone identifying himself as Simon, imploring him to take the post down, because there is a great deal of anticipation and betting on what the song will be.
Barnhart said he had no idea the closing segment was such a big deal, saying it hadn't made a big impact on him in the past, but he realized that doesn't mean it isn't a huge deal to other fans.
"I think it is a token of the strong bond that this show has to its small niche of fans," he said. "[Simon] wants to reward the devotion of those fans with a moment like that. He's decided it's important, and the fact that it's not important to me doesn't entitle me to spoil it."
While some "Wire" fans who were duped out of an early release ranted on HBO message boards, Facebook and MySpace, Wallen said he and his friends decided to find the positive in it all.
"I guess the consolation is that we have five extra days to be excited and talk about the show before it's over," he said.
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