You can watch a pre-debate interview with Jimmy Smits and Alan Alda on Los Angeles' NBC 4 here. This requires Windows Media and may require Internet Explorer.
First Article from the Wisconsin State Journal:
"Earlier this month, just before a national Election Day, they met in a primetime televised debate, where they scrapped the rules and argued their points and spoke eloquently about the issues facing America and their plans to fix what's wrong with the country.
They spoke like politicians and sounded like real people, invoking many topics that we might be hearing about in the real news - drilling for oil in Alaska, shaky energy policies, immigration laws, fixing public schools - sparring with each other, talking over one another and interrupting to make a point.
It was a lively and relevant debate by two people who were very convincing as real candidates.
Only ... they aren't real.
This fictional presidential race is regenerating interest in the once-hotter-than-a-desperate-housewife show. After a slow year and an ill-advised move to Sunday nights, the drama is regaining some of its glossy sheen. And though viewers, according to Nielsen, seem to prefer Madame President Allen on ABC's "Commander in Chief," the faithful are following this campaign.
One national online poll predicts a landslide victory for Santos. (And why not? Madison native Bradley Whitford is his campaign manager.)
Could it be that TV writers have finally created a Democrat that Americans can support? Or is it just that most of "The West Wing's" viewers are all lefties who adore the benevolent President Jed Bartlet, known offscreen as Martin Sheen?
Doesn't matter. The great thing about TV politicians is that those Hollywood writers can make them as sanctimonious, as superficial, as sarcastic or as sympathetic as they want. And in blurring the lines between what makes a Republican and what makes a Democrat, "West Wing" writers have made politics palatable for the masses."
Second Article from Wisconsin State Journal:
"Television viewers may have enjoyed the "debate" on NBC's "The West Wing" because it presented an idealized version of politics, a UW-Madison professor suggests.
"I think this reflects a longing for idealized, high-level, principled politics that may never have existed in fact," said Stephen Lucas, a professor of communication arts.
He didn't see the program, but notes that shows and movies about the presidency often present strong leaders.
"They always seem to reflect a longing for a president who has real character and gumption," Lucas said.
Ratings climbed for "The West Wing" as people tuned in for the live "debate" between actors portraying Republican and Democratic candidates for president.
The show was scripted, but performed live, and early in the joint appearance the make-believe Republican proposed dropping the rules. The make-believe Democrat readily agreed.
We can only wish for the same in real life, said Kathy Cramer Walsh, an assistant professor of political science at UW-Madison.
"I can't imagine a candidate ever agreeing to that because it is so risky," she said.
Walsh, who watched the program, has a theory about why the Republican might have gained momentum.
"West Wing" viewers are likely to be liberals and Democrats, since it's a story about the administration of Democratic President Josiah Bartlet, she said, and they would naturally favor the Democratic character.
But then they hear a Republican position being articulated by the popular Alda, listen more carefully and find some merit in it, she suggested.
"So often, we tune out the message because of the people saying it," she said. "It's a commentary on the lack of energy we put into listening in our politics these days."
One young Democrat, Brian Shactman, a junior political science major at UW-Madison, liked the Democrat in the first place and thought he was "the clear winner" of the debate.
A young Republican, perhaps surprisingly, agreed that the Democrat "won" the debate. But that's because the script was written that way, said Robert Thelen, a senior in business management at UW-Madison.
"It's very liberal and it's definitely slanted toward the liberals," he said. "They portray the Republicans as heartless and the Democrats as having the good ideas."
Anyway, "it is just a show. To take it as more than that is to take it out of context," Thelen said."
From the Sun Sentinel:
"If Alan Alda has ever given a less than stellar performance, it has gone unnoticed. But his turn as Republican presidential candidate Arnold Vinick in The West Wing's live debate show ranks among his finest. He articulated GOP positions, especially on tax cuts, with more clarity than any politician ever has. The amazing thing is Alda, a liberal, could be so convincing espousing positions with which he passionately disagrees. Unfortunately for West Wing fans, the live debate didn't do much in the ratings, sealing the show's demise at the end of this season. ">
From the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle:
"Sometimes I wish life would imitate art — or at least TV. I'd be a lot more interested in politics if real candidate debates went like the West Wing live debate episode two weeks ago on NBC.
The debate looked like a real presidential debate; it was acted live, with the candidates in dark suits against a blue backdrop, questioned by a real reporter, Forrest Sawyer.
The Democrat, Matt Santos, a Texas congressman (played by Jimmy Smits), and the Republican, Arnold Vinick, a senator from California (played by Alan Alda), immediately scrapped the formalities and rules. They took questions from Sawyer but went after each other, pressing and prodding and challenging without the tyranny of a stopwatch.
It was pretty good. The kind of interaction you never see in real life, where the purpose of a debate is to avoid debate and pretend to answer questions by reciting bromides that have been audience-tested in focus groups.
"I'll stipulate to the fact that the live debate of "The West Wing" was an excellent political exercise that should be shown in all high school history classes. Both Jimmy Smits and Alan Alda were on top of their game and were so smooth I often forgot I was watching a live episode. But was it enough to keep me enthralled for an entire hour? Not so much. This Sunday, instead of President Bartlet and the gang, NBC is airing "Shrek" at 7 p.m."
From New York Magazine:
"Smits on the November 6 episode of The West Wing was not that the fictitious presidential candidates differed in gritty detail about tax cuts, medical care, gun control, school vouchers, energy policy, illegal immigration, capital punishment, and Africa. (Actually, I take that back. The fact that Africa, and debt relief and drug companies’ profiteering on AIDS, would get ten minutes of prime-time network television for anything other than genocide photo ops is, frankly, astounding.) But you know that when I say “startled,” I’m not talking about substance. The West Wing has talked about substance for years. That’s how we’ve always known it’s fiction. Oddly enough, its ratings and its creative juices both perked up last season for the first time in the post-Sorkin era, when the action moved out of Jed Bartlet’s lame-duck policy-wonk White House onto the presidential primary campaign. Motormouth operatives like Janeane Garofalo and Ron Silver turned away from substance-mongering and into horse-race mode. Even so, in the October run-up to their November 6 mano a mano, as if hoping all the theocons would be bunkered down in a plot to smart-bomb Tehran, Alda and Smits allowed themselves to express nuanced opinions about abortion and intelligent design. But that wasn’t startling; it was merely honorable.
No, what startled most was the absence of spin. How was I supposed to know who “won” when 9 p.m. arrived without an anchorface, a focus group, a party hack, and/or the usual pollsters, liars, and ideologues blowing the usual smoke in my face? Not even in the Monday-morning papers did a single high-dudgeon editorialist or low-concept pundit tell me I hadn’t seen what I thought I saw. Must I then trust my own gut feeling that Aaron Sorkin would have written a more stinging defense of the word liberal than O’Donnell did, and that Smits got the hour’s best line when he proposed to universalize health insurance by removing “over 65” from the list of requirements for Medicare? Surely they can’t be suggesting that I watch television and think for myself?"
TV Squad blogged the debate live.
TV Guide comment.
Discuss the episode at Television Without Pity.
Lengthy commentary by LTG at Television Without Pity.
You can watch Ellen Degeneres's commentaries at NBC.com and choose which candidate did better.
CBS and Lost Remote debate the appropriateness of the NBC News logo.
"What we may be seeing here is a new evolution of the Reality TV genre at work, one which, rather than relying on hyperbolizations of pseudo-reality, aspires to some seamless fusion of the real and the really-well-written instead. Every topic addressed in last Sunday’s debate between candidates Vinick (Alan Alda) and Santos (Jimmy Smits) seemed unnervingly contemporary in its relevance, from war and oil to health care.
NBC’s entirely dedicated to this phony election. Boasting fully interactive campaign sites for each candidate, the network is also conducting some primitive polling to determine which candidate viewers prefer, with some internet sites even breaking the numbers down by demographics too.
It’s all a bit over-the-top, and it’s unclear what purpose all this attention to detail serves, other than to confuse poor viewers like me. But I’ll tell you one thing, Santos would make a swell President, which is why I’ve decided to vote for him come Election Day.
Wait, did Election Day already happen? Dammit, NBC!"
From Ventura County Star:
"The real winner, however, just might be "West Wing's" rabid-to-the-max fans. Faithful since 1999, these viewers prove that you don't have to be a policy wonk, a C-SPAN junkie or even a high school civics instructor to relish a television character waxing poetic about congressional committee reports or tracking polls. For the hard-core aficionados, the Nov. 6 episode proved orgiastic -- at least political fantasy-wise.
"Let's make this a real debate," insisted Executive Producer Laurence O'Donnell Jr. -- "real" being the operative word. So instead of what Dan Rather used to call "joint appearances by presidential candidates," the fictional debaters were freed from handlers and truth-suppressing format restrictions. The result showed the American public that not only could Oval Office aspirants think for themselves but could also clash without resorting to cant.
Instead of condensed versions of stump speeches, "West Wing" viewers were treated to a lively exchange of ideas, frequently punctuated by fiery confrontation, as the contenders responded to Forrest Sawyer's probes (illegal immigration, tax cuts, education reform, prescription drugs and oil drilling) -- and each other.
Did I actually hear one politico admit, "To tell you the truth, I'm not crazy about my healthcare plan, either"?
In a bon mot "home run" reminiscent of Ronald Reagan's "I will not, for political purposes, exploit my opponent's (Walter Mondale) youth and inexperience," Vinick delivered the line, "Clap if you've ever been to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge" to rip-roaring guffaws.
If ratings-winner "Commander in Chief" allows audiences to imagine women in the Oval Office, then the "West Wing" debate likewise allows audiences to imagine a campaign moment without mudslinging, media spinning or megamoney spending."
" The fact that they used veteran newsman Forrest Sawyer, playing himself, as moderator, added to the real feel of the show, but it also concerned me.
I don't believe in news people crossing this line into fiction. I think it hurts their credibility and blurs the line between reality and entertainment. I'm sure that was the point here -- making it seem as real as possible. At one juncture, an NBC News live logo even went up in the right-hand corner of the screen.
I don't think that added to the show's value at all, and in fact, made me feel less comfortable watching it."
Wayland Town Crier:
"Anytime I become frustrated with politics and current events, all I have to do to forget about it for awhile is watch "The West Wing." I've been hooked for a few years now. I guess what got me into it is my fascination with the issues presented, but also the simplicity. It is people who decide what will happen, not some abstract concept of government.
I was pleased last year with the new plot line of the election for the next president. The real U.S. election had just ended, and it left me hungry for more. The candidates in "The West Wing" show weren't anything like ours. They were idealistic versions of candidates, the politicians you wish you could have.
The democratic candidate, Matt Santos, is a barely known congressman from Texas who speaks so perfectly in crucial situations, gathering support and passion. The republican candidate, Arnold Vinick, is an equally passionate politician, but he is a famous senator from California. He is older and experienced. They both showed themselves well in the previous season.
Last week, the episode featured a debate between the two candidates that was not only live, but also partially unscripted. Aside from being a great acting moment, it was also a powerful statement made about debates and politics in general.
This debate was much more interesting than a regular political debate. You could see that the candidates really cared about the issues they supported and weren't just trying to win the support of everyone in the nation.
What made the debate interesting was the fact that the opponents talked to each other and tried to convince each other that they were right. There were times when they saw that their arguments may have been flawed and they had to subtly back down. At other times, a candidate might make such a significant point that there was no reason to continue on the topic. The candidates even raised their voices to each other and moved out from their podiums when they got the need.
This show is helping to answer a puzzling question. How can politicians represent an entire population when some of their views might be different? Can politicians become elected even if their opinions are not the popular ones?
"The West Wing" is trying to send us a message that politicians cannot represent the views of all people. They must be clear in what they believe. Only then can people vote for them. If they can't represent everyone, then maybe they can convince others through their own views.
"The West Wing"'s views are so idealistic that it might appear that nothing can be learned from it, but there is a message there. It is simply trying to show us the true potential of democracy in America. Its message is that the system is not at fault, only the candidates presented.
But the question is, could candidates as perfect as Santos and Vinick ever make it this far in an election? I would like to go with the television writers and say the answer is yes, but for now, we'll have to wait for awhile to see who the next president will be. On the show that is."
Pittsburgh Tribune Review:
"Vinick's character, smart dialogue and economically sound arguments spring from one source -- the brain of Lawrence O'Donnell, "West Wing's" executive producer. O'Donnell, a highly partisan MSNBC political analyst who used to work for Sen. Patrick Moynihan, wrote the script for the debate episode.
O'Donnell is a self-described "practical European socialist." Yet, as the Harvard economics major told me from deepest Hollywood last week, Sen. Vinick's "freedom to choose" speech at the end of the debate was no accident. It was an homage to Jude Winniski, the recently departed co-godfather of supply-side economics who O'Donnell says taught him many important lessons about the magical and beneficent social powers of free markets.
Crazy as it seems, O'Donnell is consciously trying to teach some of those same politically incorrect economic truths to the Hollywood community and the liberal-Democrat-skewed audience of "West Wing": The "creative destruction of capitalism" is a good thing, for instance. And underdeveloped countries are lucky to have a Nike factory arrive and "exploit" their cheap labor.
O'Donnell thinks it's "juvenile" for liberals to be knee-jerk opponents of Big Pharma or Big Oil. "Modern liberalism in American politics need not be fundamentally anti-corporate. We have a lot of great and responsible American corporations who are delivering great things to the world ... ."
O'Donnell admits it's not easy to get his economically challenged fellow travelers to understand that markets -- free people acting freely in peaceful ways -- really have the power to change things for the better. Or that they can do what no totalitarian regime has ever done -- change the way we think. Or that only they -- and not government -- have the power to make the Prius the hottest car in L.A."
"Imagine my surprise.
By the end of "The West Wing's" live debate episode last Sunday, I felt tempted to vote for Arnold Vinick for president.
If you're not a "West Wing" fan, here's what you need to know, though it's hard to imagine how NBC missed you. This fall the show's been featuring a fictional presidential campaign between a Democrat named Matt Santos, played by Jimmy Smits, and a Republican named Arnold Vinick, played by Alan Alda.
Nonetheless, some might say I have a soft spot in my heart for Republican men — and for Alan Alda. They could be right.
And here's where reality and fiction start to entangle. "The West Wing's" Republican candidate is played by a well-known liberal actor who looks a lot like my Republican dad. And Alda's been quoted as saying he finds this character particularly interesting to play because he's smart, experienced and a genuinely good guy. Vinick thinks he can make a positive contribution to the country, and that — not a desire for power or prestige — motives him to run.
During the debate, Alda's strengths quickly became evident. He displayed poise and assurance, intelligence and eloquence, couching these attributes in a 70-year-old's cranky impatience, which made him all the more fun.
Alda's character brings other assets, both political and artistic, to this show with lagging ratings. Many of us know what its writers will do with a liberal administration — we've been watching Martin Sheen's presidency for years. But imagine the freshness and energy, the sheer creative tension, of a group of stereotypically liberal Hollywood writers crafting the storyline for a smart, well-intended moderate Republican."
"Presidential candidates Arnold Vinick and Matthew Santos threw out rules manufactured by their campaign committees and verbally slugged it out Sunday night during the much-publicized “West Wing” debate in front of a live television audience.
Oh, if only this happened in real life.
The issues highlighted were current, such as tax cuts, war, public education and health care. Some apparently came from “West Wing” viewers who had been asked for input on the NBC website.
It was easy to forget that Democrat Santos is Jimmy Smits and Republican Vinick is Alan Alda — both actors who obviously know how to get into a role.
The beauty of the whole plot — to build ratings for a show that is lagging in popularity — is the interactivity with which it still is being carried out."
The Saginaw News:
"The debate had a real look to it but quickly revealed itself as fiction when the two candidates agreed to eliminate the rules and participate in a real debate -- another refreshing change if only it would happen in real life.
What then transpired was a fantasy for political wonks as the two squared off on almost all of today's hot real-world topics -- energy policy, tax cuts, immigration reform, health-care reform and even Abraham Lincoln.
The candidates traded some barbs, but they also admitted to some of their own shortcomings and secret thoughts -- something you'd never see in real life.
My 11-year-old, who I hope is getting an education in current events, watched every moment and never lost interest."
"Cleverly done was the “West Wing” live-presidential debate, which joined forces with NBC and turned the episode into something that a foreigner probably thought was real! Given the OK by Jeff Zucker, the Universal exec who runs NBC’s entertainment division, during the debate between Alda’s Arnold Vinick and Smits’ Matt Santos, an NBC News “bug” remained on the screen, making the actors appear to be real politicians.
Although the fun little stunt was opposed by some die-hard business folk who want to keep business all to themselves, if you think about it, this really was not that far fetched. Just look at who is the California governor? Need I say more….. "
"I was really inspired after watching Sunday night's live debate episode of "The West Wing."
It didn't last.
After watching the fictionalized account of a presidential debate, I looked at our own democratic process and saw that real life came up far short.
The two candidates in "The West Wing," Democratic U.S. Rep. Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits) and Republican Sen. Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda), started out within the standard debate rules but soon agreed to dispense with time limits. They agreed to have a free and open debate without either candidate being allowed to hide behind the rules.
Why is this idea so far-fetched that it could only happen in TV land? Is it such a dream that there could be an actual debate where voters can understand what the candidates think rather than the political games they play?"
Globe and Mail:
"The live episode admittedly was more interesting than most presidential debates. Both characters came out from behind their podiums and presented ideas that wouldn't fly in a real televised contest. But in the end, the debate, moderated by real-life journalist Forrest Sawyer, was essentially what you would expect from the show that lives out policies and strategies that are the antipode to the real-life White House.
And, aside from a couple of stumbles, the episode, pitting Democratic hopeful Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits) against conservative counterpart Vinick, went off seamlessly on both coasts.
But even with the series threatened by dismal ratings, The West Wing's producers deny the live episode was about driving audiences back to the show. "We chose to do this live episode back in June, before we even knew we were going to have a new timeslot and before we knew what the ratings for this season would be," O'Donnell says, adding that the success of Commander in Chief was not a factor in the decision.