Thursday night, Stephen Colbert of the "The Colbert Report" had his own suggestion to President Bartlet on what to do before leaving office. You can watch the clip here. (You must disable your pop-up blocker)
The Media Research Center,a conservative group,has posted transcripts and clips 10 scenes it believes are indicative "of the program's most notorious liberal moments and crusades. Actually, you'll find nine scenes pushing liberal ideas followed by one unusual scene which mocked liberal opposition to tax cuts."
From Blue Oregon:
"We now return you to our regular programming. Sorry.
Politics is about two things: Power and dreams. The two may seem interchangeable; to achieve goals in politics requires various kinds of power. Power is gained and used to make those things happen that matter greatly to people. But they are neither interchangeable nor inextricably connected. They represent two very different kinds of humanity. Power politics – real politik, LBJ and Kissinger and Rove – is a politics that becomes, in the very practice, divorced from meaning or belief beyond itself. It's what Machiavelli taught, its essence summed up famously in Vietnam: "We had to destroy the village to save the village." Bush's abuse of liberty to save liberty is our current version, and it's a terminal disease.
"The West Wing," a mere tv show, represented politics based in dreams. Yes, it was written by Hollywood liberal Aaron Sorkin and featured a classic liberal president working towards a classic liberal agenda. But throughout the series' run, no matter the issue or the players – and this includes the stronger Republican voices like Sen Arnie Vinick (Alan Alda) and White House Aide Ainsley Hayes (Emily Proctor) – the reason for political activity and involvement was dreams. The people believed in something special, something good, and whatever flaws they saw in the public sector, they believed government to be an effective instrument of reaching for those dreams.
The show also had brilliant dialog. Even in the seasons where the plot lines dragged – the awful sequence with Zoey Bartlett kidnapped and the Speaker of the House (John freaking Goodman) taking over as president – the rat-a-tat dialog remained fresh and funny. (Well, my brother never thought so, but then again, he loves "24" which I hate; and just because he's the tv writer for the Kansas City Star should not sway anyone as to which of us might be more correcter than the other.) The plots were rarely important to the show anyway. Two things mattered on "The West Wing": process and involvement.
Politics is messy and frequently ugly. Most people stay away for that reason. Hell, I write rather than finish my graduate degree in Public Affairs because I have very little desire to be part of the nitty-gritty. I would also be very bad at it; my skin is too thin and my opinions too dear. But I loved watching people who are good at it – Josh, Toby, Sam, CJ, Leo – dig into the mechanics and the personalities and try to be clever and try to stay true to what they believe is right. They lost a lot, they won a lot. That's politics. You get involved and you work things through. You stick to your guns as best you can, and then you decide when to fish and when to cut bait. I loved watching the process fictionalized in this series; some of it was realistic and some of it great entertainment. But the idea of what politics is about – getting involved and working your ass off for what you believe – well, for one hour a week, it made great tv.
What I'll miss the most, along with the dialog, are the characters. Charlie Young (Dule Hill) was wonderful, the son of a slain DC cop, herself a single mom. He became the son the president never had. CJ and all the merry press corps; Carol and crazy Margaret (NiCole Robinson); getting to enjoy Lily Tomlin doing any damn thing is always a treat. Marilee Matlin, Kathleen Bird York (who wrote the music for "Crash"), and the amazing Mary-Louise Parker. There were so many, and they were written so well. So many wonderful characters, small in terms of tv but huge in their aspect on life. The Federal government is huge, and most of the people who make up that hugeness are clerks and secretaries and assistants to assistants and people who will never sway a single piece of legislation but without whose efforts the whole thing would grind to a halt. I've been one of those people, and it was great to see the president say goodbye to some of them at the end.
Most of all, of course, "The West Wing" was about the president: Josiah Bartlett (Martin Sheen). As they packed up his office – the Oval Office – at the end (in a typical WW touch, as the new president was sworn in the background), we saw what made this president so different from the people we must endure in the real world: On his bookshelf, a copy of a book by Michel Foucault. Imagine such a world, where the president is a serious scholar, an effective politician, and he reads Foucault. This is the beauty of the dream world of "The West Wing."
I have seasons 2 and 3 on dvd, thanks to that brother with the journalist gig; I'll have the others at some point, no doubt. My involvement in politics has nothing to do with power. I'll never acquire much of it, and I wouldn't know how to use it. I hope to acquire influence, but if I do, it will be because of my words and that people know me and trust me. I am involved in politics because I love my sons, I am outraged at the daily and needless slaughter of children in this country and around the world, and I am horrified that we are on the brink of pissing this world away forever. Yes, I would love the power to fix everything as I see best, but that ain't gonna happen. So I have to do what I can, and that's dream a big dream and work to get it done. The "West Wing" was my weekly fix of inspiration. For an hour each week, I saw what is possible with a dream and a lot of hard work.
When television was being invented and the concept of the television show was being developed, people honestly thought it would lead to a better educated, more cultured populace. TV could promote a civilized society. This rarely happens, and if we are inspired by tv, too often it's to get rich quick or pick up the phone for this week's "American Idol." But inspiration can be more than something selfish or superficial; it can be to dream of and work for a better society. We can become better people watching tv. That's the best part of "The West Wing": it does inspire us to better things. It inspires me to keep going, to keep dreaming and working. And come January 2009, I intend to be full of happiness when the Bush horrorshow is cancelled and replaced by a progressive Democrat. Someone of whom I can be proud. Someone who deserves that office in "The West Wing.""
From the Marshall Democrat News:
"On Sept. 22, 1999, a new show appeared on the NBC-TV network -- a driven, fast-paced drama that took the same reverent-irreverent look at politics that "Sports Night" provided for televison sports journalism.
(Does anyone remember ill-fated "Sports Night," the apparent parody of the ESPN sports empire? I didn't think so. Unfortunately, it didn't last long on the airwaves.)
That show on politics though, "The West Wing," had a grand run.
Now it's coming to an end.
On Sunday, May 15, "The West Wing" will air its final episode following a re-broadcast of the 1999 pilot show.
I'll admit I was a latecomer to "The West Wing" family of viewers. Working many evenings at daily newspapers, I didn't always get a chance to see the show on its Wednesday night showings.
However, through several marathons of "The West Wing" that Bravo would broadcast in recent years, I was able to pick up on the story lines and most particularly, the characters who made the show click.
By the way, Bravo marathons of "The West Wing" are aired from about midnight until the sun comes up. Each episode is proceeded by the striking musical introduction of ruffles and flourishes as an American flag waves on the screen. Since each show builds upon the next using the prime-time soap opera format, watching them can become addictive.
I recently became re-addicted by watching on Bravo some of this season's shows that lead up to the Sunday evening finale.
About a year ago I devoured a book written about the early years of the show, furthering my education and cementing my addiction.
"The West Wing" has always allowed me the opportunity to decompress -- escaping into the high-stakes world of U.S. presidential politics. Since some of the episodes explored very plausible political scenarios, my natural curiosity about all things political was continually fed.
That it wasn't real didn't bother me. I decompress with science fiction, too, and politics and science fiction many times hold the same believability quotient. (As in, that would never happen, would it?)
I even had a brush with the real thing.
Working as a political reporter for a daily newspaper in northeastern Ohio, I covered Washington, D.C., briefly in 2002 when U.S. Rep. Jim Traficant (D-Ohio) presented his case before the House Ethics Committee in the Sam Rayburn House Offices Building.
Traficant found himself before his colleagues following a 10-count conviction on bribery and corruption charges after a two-month trial in U.S. District Court in Cleveland.
As with all things, the fictional Washington, D.C., was far different than the reality. Quite frankly, I found the nation's capital to be far less stellar than those grand night camera shots showing the Capitol, The White House and the Washington Monument that I had seen for years on television.
It was dirty, full of rude and pompous people and generally a turn-off. I like my doses of reality to contain reality. But I digress.
"The West Wing" has tackled many interesting story lines, such as the time President Josiah Bartlet invoked the 25th Amendment when his daughter had been kidnapped and the House Speaker, played by John Goodman, took over the reigns as the leader of free world.
Life then imitated art and art imitated life in this last season of "The West Wing."
Actor Jimmy Smits, who has played President-elect Matt Santos, saw long-time West Wing actor John Spencer die in December of last year in real life.
Spencer, who played Bartlet's chief of staff Leo McGarry -- and who served as Santos' vice presidential running mate in the show -- was killed months later by the writers just two hours prior to the closing of the presidential polls in the Pacific Coast Time Zone.
As the story line went, the people had elected a president and a dead vice president, creating a series of U.S. constitutional questions never broached in real life or fiction.
Yep, it was that kind of show.
And now it's gone.
With the canceling of "Commander in Chief" by ABC and the demise of "The West Wing," there's no political show left on the airwaves in prime time.
All I can gather from that circumstance is the real national political climate that exists is scary enough for us. "
From the Miami Herald:
"Early in the TV series The West Wing, a young man watches the staff scramble around the Oval Office as the president prepares to deliver an important speech to the American people. The double jolt of snagging a White House job and this new and thrilling proximity to power has left him reeling. ''I've never felt like this before,'' he breathes. ''It doesn't go away,'' replies the not-so hardened staffer next to him.
That sensation -- the one that makes your heart rise and your back stiffen, causes you to stand just a bit taller and vow to do good -- is an emotion The West Wing has inspired through most of its seven-year run. But tonight NBC will air the final episode, titled Tomorrow, even though declining ratings have made sure that day will never come for the series.
President Josiah ''Jed'' Bartlet (Martin Sheen) will step down; President-elect Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits) will step up. And millions of dreamers will lose that one hour of the week when they can pretend that the most famous inhabitants of Washington, D.C., are intelligent, thoughtful, industrious, honest, honorable -- and liberal.
The West Wing is labeled a drama, but cynicism would suggest it's more fantasy than reality, reflective more of what we wish we were rather than what we truly are. But that seductive message -- we can and must strive to be better -- has always been an element of what makes the show so addictive. We know a president isn't going to allow a political enemy to take his place temporarily or put a member of the opposing party on the Supreme Court. But it was always pleasant, and maybe even necessary, to believe those things could happen, at least under the entertaining auspices of this fictional administration.
The West Wing first aired in 1999, at a time when politics didn't play a big part on TV shows. It won nine Emmys in its first season, the most ever for a drama series. Won Best Drama Series its first four years, too. Creator Aaron Sorkin, who wrote the screenplay for the film The American President, perfected the rapid-fire walk-and-talk style he toyed with on his short-lived Sports Night, propelling his characters all over the White House with lively wit and noble purpose.
But despite its roots in romantic comedy tradition, the show never shied from serious issues: abortion, religion, education, health care, Middle East relations (often with the oppressive fictional country of Qumar, which bears more than a passing resemblance to Saudi Arabia). The writers took up political -- almost exclusively Democratic -- positions.
The show was the first scripted TV series to indirectly address 9/11. In a matter of weeks, Sorkin wrote and shot Isaac and Ishmael, which aired Oct. 3, 2001, in which he put the White House under lockdown because of a terrorist threat. Unlike the hawkish Jack Bauer on the brawny (and considerably more brainless) 24, the characters don't fight their way out, guns blazing. They sit and discuss -- sometimes emotionally, sometimes logically -- the subject likely to define the rest of our lifetimes. Just like we do.
Sorkin left after Season 4, taking most of the light-hearted dialogue with him. We lost Rob Lowe that year in a salary dispute, too. The good news is that Lowe's (sort-of) replacement was longtime Sorkin collaborator Joshua Malina as congressman-to-be Will Bailey. But Season 5 was, to be kind, not The West Wing to which we were accustomed. And yet the show bounced back in its final two years, resurrecting exciting storylines and the missing humor and introducing terrific cast members as Santos and Republican Arnold Vinick (Emmy nominee Alan Alda) battled it out to be Bartlet's successor.
Still, the regulars -- well-defined, realistically flawed, absolutely irresistible -- are what kept us interested. We rooted for Bartlet, his brains, his hopes, his leadership, his courage in fighting MS. We wished he were real but were happy we had him at all: Sorkin's original idea was to never show the president, a plan that would have consistently flummoxed the writers and prevented us from enjoying the fantasy as much as we did. (We would have also missed Sheen's unforgettable entrance in the pilot episode, as he bursts into a fractious meeting quoting the First Commandment: ''I am the Lord thy God,'' he intones, and you believe it.)
We were fascinated with the dynamics of Bartlet's decades-long friendship with chief of staff Leo McGarry (John Spencer, whose death late last year added almost unbearable poignancy to the tense election episodes). We admired C.J. Cregg (the fantastic Allison Janney, in what will unfortunately probably be the role of a lifetime) for her almost seamless transition from press secretary to replacement chief of staff, and we grieved over the firing of communications director Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff), whose banishment was painful testament to the peril of following your heart in politics.
We laughed at the antics of Bartlet deputy chief of staff/Santos campaign manager Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford) even as we marveled at his relentless dedication and groaned at his seven years -- seven freaking years! -- of blindness in regard to his feelings for his assistant Donna Moss (Janel Moloney, who blossomed as her role expanded from secretary to political operative). Just hand Whitford another Emmy right now: He has continued to ground the series after it split into two separate shows, one on the campaign trail, the other at the White House. Josh's inevitable comeuppances have always been essential to the show's comedy, and Whitford has always been funny. But this year his performance has taken on renewed depth as Josh faced his mentor's death on the biggest day of his political career and is forced, finally, to sort out those complicated feelings that landed him in bed with the woman he loves but is too pig-headed to admit.
It's the unerring ability of its characters to rise above challenges or personal blindness that in the end defines The West Wing. As Bartlet, at his second inauguration, told Will Bailey: ''Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful and committed citizens can change the world. You know why?'' ''It's the only thing that ever has,'' replied Will. That exchange echoes the truth about everyone who had anything to do with the smart, mesmerizing, thoroughly wonderful TV world about that ''glorious prison on Pennsylvania Avenue'' that always felt more like a glorious escape."
Miami Herald's Highlights:
" Best call to action: Leo gives his boss a figurative kick in the pants and demands an end to political timidity in the rousing Let Bartlet Be Bartlet, Season 1.
Best presidential debate: The live bout between Vinick and Santos was an intriguing idea, but love for Bartlet dictates we choose his relentless attack on clueless Florida Gov. Ritchie (James Brolin) in Game On, Season 3.
Best press conference/worst time for a root canal: When C.J. undergoes emergency surgery, a cocky Josh inadvertently announces a nonexistent secret plan to fight inflation, Celestial Navigation, Season 1.
Most stirring message on a napkin: ''Bartlet for America,'' Season 3.
Tastiest historical snack, unless you're a busy White House staffer: Andrew Jackson's big block of cheese, The Crackpots and These Women, Season 1 and Somebody's Going to Emergency, Somebody's Going to Jail, Season 2.
Website you better avoid lest you incur the wrath of C.J. Cregg: lemonlyman.com, The U.S. Poet Laureate, Season 3.
Best gift: After torturing his personal assistant Charlie (Dulé Hill) with shopping duty for a knife to slice the Thanksgiving turkey, Bartlet presents him with a family heirloom -- made by a silversmith named Paul Revere in Shibboleth, Season 2.
Best Republican: Sharp, principled Arnold Vinick damn near won the election, but our vote goes to White House counsel Ainsley Hayes (Emily Procter) for her skillful verbal dismemberment of Democratic rhetoric and her spirited defense of the South.
Best battle with a giant chicken: Chicken Bob of the Santos campaign ruffles Donna's feathers in Freedonia, Season 6.
Most frightening piece of trivia: According to imdb.com, Eugene Levy was considered for the part of Toby. Now that idea should have remained a state secret."
From the St. Louis Dispatch:
"Seven springs ago, in a pile of preview cassettes for series now mostly forgotten, one stood out so remarkably that trumpets should have played a fanfare when the box was opened.
"The West Wing," which had just earned a spot on NBC's 1999 fall schedule, was funny - and deeply serious. It was cynical - and inspirational. Its characters were like none on TV - and yet, they immediately felt like good friends.
In short, the drama about the president of the United States and his brilliant, oddball staff was perfect. Perfectly involving. Perfectly entertaining. Perfect television.
Now, after seven seasons, 154 episodes and some bumps in the road toward TV immortality, "The West Wing" prepares to end its run, maybe not as the greatest TV series ever but certainly in the upper echelon.
Aaron Sorkin, then just 38, had already written "A Few Good Men" (both the play and its film adaptation) and the movie "The American President." He was writing the ABC comedy "Sports Night" when he and John Wells arm-twisted NBC into giving "The West Wing" a try.
Conventional wisdom was that a show about politics would never play in prime time. But Sorkin envisioned "The West Wing" as "a valentine to public service." While some predictably knocked the liberal Democratic spin, he pointed out that the show had "no gratuitous violence, no gratuitous sex. It celebrates our institutions (and) has featured the president of the United States kneeling in the Oval Office and praying."
Television doesn't get better than the first season of "The West Wing," beginning with the unseen president's bicycling accident (his "sudden arboreal stop," after hitting a tree, introduced viewers to Sorkin's affinity for word play) and continuing until shots were fired in the cliffhanger season finale.
"The West Wing" was built on words, lots and lots of words, brilliantly strung together. Sorkin and director Tommy Schlamme introduced the walk-and-talk for characters too busy to stop and chat. Together, the intelligent dialogue and elegant imagery made much of the rest of prime time look and sound shabby by comparison.
But "The West Wing" has always offered substance as well as style. Sorkin had a knack for taking the dullest issues - in one memorable episode, the franking privilege - and presenting them in intriguing, even riveting ways.
Early highlights included the first-season episode "Celestial Navigation," in which assistant chief of staff Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford) tells a group of visitors about a typical day at the White House; and "In Excelsis Deo," the first Christmas episode, in which communications director Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff) fought to bury a homeless veteran found with Toby's business card in his pocket.
A bit of a backlash struck "The West Wing" as early as that first-season finale, when an assassination attempt on President Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen) seemed melodramatic to some. Then Sorkin suffered personal problems, including a drug arrest. But the series didn't really begin to falter until Season 3, when the outside world intruded on the drama's parallel universe.
The September 2001 terrorist attacks shook America to its roots. When the show's season finally started, after an awkward "special episode" scripted by Sorkin and dealing with ancient Mideast conflicts, "The West Wing" struggled to find the right tone. Viewers, it seemed, weren't much in the mood to follow fictional world conflicts when actual threats loomed so alarmingly.
In two seasons of ups and downs, "The West Wing" remained one of the best shows on network TV. But after Sorkin's departure in the spring of 2003, the drama was never its old self; even die-hard fans drifted away. A move from Wednesday to Sunday for the seventh season last fall was a blow from which the series never recovered. NBC announced in January, a month after original cast member John Spencer (chief of staff Leo McGarry) died of a heart attack, that the series finale would air in May.
Ironically, once the end was near, "The West Wing" rebounded to become must-see TV again. The campaign to replace Bartlet, pitting Texas Rep. Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits), a Democrat, against California Sen. Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda), a Republican, made riveting, exhilarating television.
On Sunday, Santos will be sworn in as president, with Vinick serving as his secretary of state. It's a thrilling scenario, one that has many one-time fans, now back on board, contemplating what a terrific series "The West Wing" could be with this new team in place.
That won't happen, of course. NBC has so completely lost interest in a show that was once its point of greatest pride that a retrospective scheduled for Sunday was summarily canceled when the actors insisted on reasonable paychecks. Instead, the original pilot will be repeated, allowing viewers to contemplate just how much we've all aged.
But for fans who stayed loyal or rediscovered "The West Wing" this year, its departure seems both sad and somehow premature.
All together: "Four more years! Four more years!
A 'West Wing' timeline
*Sept. 22, 1999: "The West Wing" makes its debut on NBC, created by Aaron Sorkin and starring Martin Sheen, Rob Lowe, John Spencer, Allison Janney, Bradley Whitford, Richard Schiff and Janel Moloney. Also in the original cast was Moira Kelly, who vanished after the first season.
*May 17, 2000: In the first-season cliffhanger, shots are fired at the president's party after a college speech.
*Sept. 10, 2000: "The West Wing" wins the first of four consecutive Emmys as outstanding drama series.
*April 15, 2001: Sorkin is arrested at the Burbank, Calif., airport with cocaine and a crack pipe. He later is pleads guilty to two misdemeanors and a felony and is allowed to enter a drug treatment program.
*May 9, 2001: Mrs. Landingham (Kathryn Joosten), the president's beloved secretary, is killed in a car accident.
*Oct. 3, 2001: Sorkin writes a special episode, "Isaac and Ishmael," responding to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
*Feb. 19, 2003: As Sam Seaborn campaigns for Congress in California, Lowe leaves the show.
*May 1, 2003: Under pressure to cut costs and meet deadlines, Sorkin announces he is leaving. John Wells replaces him.
*Oct. 27, 2004: Chief of staff Leo McGarry (Spencer) suffers a massive heart attack, foreshadowing Spencer's own heart-attack death Dec. 16, 2005.
*Nov. 10, 2004: Josh (Whitford) recruits Rep. Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits) to seek the Democratic nomination for president.
*Jan. 8, 2006: Sheen, out of character, pays tribute to Spencer, who died while the night's episode was being shot.
*March 12: On the campaign trail, Josh and Donna (Whitford and Moloney) finally get romantic.
*April 9: Santos is elected president over Sen. Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda). He later asks Vinick to be his secretary of state.
*May 14: "The West Wing" ends its run."
From the Detroit News:
"I do not think I am overstating this when I say I expect to feel like I'm attending the funeral of a family member when I watch the last episode of "The West Wing" Sunday night.
In the seven years that the show has been on, I have never missed one episode, thanks to equally devoted family members who have taped shows for me when I couldn't be home.
Yes, I know the bell has been tolling for weeks now: C.J. reconciling with Toby's leak, Josh and Donna finally in the sack together and President Bartlet getting less and less air time as the baton was being passed to President-Elect Santos.
And while I will concede that the plot line and dialogue were weakened by the departure of writer Aaron Sorkin, even at its worst, "The West Wing" was still the most intelligent and thoughtful hour of television each week.
I will also acknowledge that the Bartlet White House was, sadly, all about fantasy, and I couldn't help but get sucked into all of its liberal idealism and the notion that a bunch of brilliant Harvard grads would seriously want to solve problems like Social Security, gas prices, the Middle East crisis, urban crime, health care and education, just to name a few. Silly me! And to think it was just a TV show.
It was a fantasy made all the more illusive against the backdrop of our nation's conservative reality. But, judging from the real president's plunging popularity ratings, I don't think I'm alone.
Let me take a trip down memory lane for the last time. Picture a president of the United States, a Nobel laureate of economics, who explained his vote against a popular bill by saying, "Today for the first time in history, the largest group of Americans living in poverty are children," as President Josiah Bartlet said in one episode. "One in five children lives in the most abject, dangerous, hopeless, back-breaking, gut-wrenching poverty any of us could imagine. One in five, and they're children.
"If fidelity to freedom of democracy is the code of our civic religion, then surely the code of our humanity is faithful service to that unwritten commandment that says we shall give our children better than we ourselves received.
"Let me put it this way: I voted against the bill because I didn't want to make it hard for people to buy milk. I stopped some money from flowing into your pocket. If that angers you, if you resent me, I completely respect that. But if you expect anything different from the president of the United States, you should vote for someone else."
Picture Tony Snow veering off the party line and saying what the West Wing's press secretary said after several snipers fired on the presidential staff as they walked to the motorcade. "I just wanted to mention to you," a weary C.J. Cregg (Alison Janney) said. "This is our fifth press briefing since midnight. And obviously there's one story that's going to be dominating the news around the world for the next few days. And it would be easy to think that President Bartlet, Joshua Lyman and Stephanie Abbott were the only people who were victims of a gun crime last night. They weren't.
"Mark Davis and Sheila Evans of Philadelphia were killed by a gun last night. He was a biology teacher, and she was a nursing student. Tina Bishop and Belinda Larkin were killed with a gun last night. They were 12 years old.
"There were 36 homicides last night. 480 sexual assaults. 3,411 robberies. 3,685 aggravated assaults. All at gunpoint. And if anyone thinks those crimes could have been prevented if the victims themselves had been carrying guns, I'd only remind you that the President of the United States was shot last night while surrounded by the best trained armed guards in the history of the world."
How about a speechwriter defending a chief of staff: "You're a cheap hack," Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe) hissed. "And if you come after Leo McGarry, I'm going to bust you like a piñata."
Or a black presidential aide dating the president's daughter and having this conversation:
President: "Say, listen. My hesitation about you going out with Zoey before, you know, it's not 'cause you're black."
Charlie: "I didn't think it was."
President: "It's not."
Charlie: "I thought it was 'cause I'm a guy."
President: "It is."
President: "My daughter asked you out?"
Charlie: "Yes, sir."
President: "I should have locked her in the dungeon."
Charlie: "I don't think you've got one, sir."
President: "I could have built one."
What would you think of the leader of the free world if he had enough self confidence imbued with humility to complain as President Bartlet did: "No one in government takes responsibility for anything any more. We foster. We obfuscate. We rationalize. 'Everybody does it,' that's what we say. So we come to occupy a moral safe house where everyone's to blame, so no one's guilty. ... Well, I'm to blame. I was wrong."
Silly me. That's just a TV show. Make that wasa TV show."
From the Washington Post:
"If there is one place where the end of the Bartlet administration will be mourned more than in Washington, it is in Whitehall, the home of the British government. "The West Wing," which will end its seven-year run tonight, enjoys cult status among the British political class. Such was the show's allure that former Bartlet chief of staff Leo McGarry -- played by the recently deceased John Spencer -- was invited to 10 Downing Street in June 2002 for some face time with Jonathan Powell, Prime Minister Tony Blair's real-life chief of staff. Later Spencer told a reporter, "I had British politicians coming up to me saying, 'I don't want to gush too much but I think meeting you could be one of the greatest moments of my life.' "
Their reaction underscored the show's importance: the fictional President Jed Bartlet was to Blair's young turks what President Ronald Reagan had been to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's Tory boys. Admiration for President Bill Clinton's campaign techniques morphed into a desire to be like the good-looking, fast-talking Bartlet aides Josh Lyman or Sam Seaborn. For the first time since the Vietnam War, the British Left wanted to be American.
The yuppies of British politics fell for "The West Wing" because the show depicted politicians as they imagined themselves: young, smart idealists committed to making the world a better place. British shows, by contrast, cater to a cynical public and depict politicos as either sinister (see "House of Cards") or bumbling (see "Yes, Prime Minister").
Peter Mandelson, the architect of Blair's "New Labor" movement, lamented in 2002 that "any British TV program about politics has to show almost everyone driven solely by cynicism, self-interest and ambition." And the director of "The Project," a caustic drama about New Labor, observed to the Daily Telegraph that year: "It would be difficult to make a British 'West Wing.' The Americans are optimistic. They wish that their president could be like the Martin Sheen character -- a fundamentally decent guy, every now and then forced up blind alleys by the political process. A British 'West Wing' with a prime minister doing well just wouldn't work."
The show portrayed the U.S. government operating much as Blair's young followers wished Whitehall could work. Instead of ideas having to fight their way up through the bureaucracy, they could be thrashed out by two bright young things and taken straight to the boss. During the fourth season of the show, Bartlet staffers Josh and Toby took inspiration from a chat with a stranger in an Indiana bar to devise a quick plan making college tuition tax-deductible. Fast-forward a few episodes, and it became the centerpiece of the president's second-term tax plan -- just like that.
The old joke goes that the British government has the engine of a lawn mower and the brakes of a Rolls-Royce. As the Blairites chafed against that system, "The West Wing" offered them a tantalizing vision of how life could be.
This longing was heightened by the similarities between Bartlet and Blair. They are both self-defined moral men with the ability to inspire devotional loyalty. They both think in world-changing terms and are married to dynamic, feisty, professional women. One of Blair's confidants even told the Daily Telegraph in 2003 that the psychology of the two leaders was strikingly similar. And both had as sidekicks hardened bruisers who had struggled with the demon drink (although Blair's partner was communications guru Alastair Campbell, not his chief of staff).
Other similarities were manufactured: In 2002, British media reported that the chairs in the briefing room at 10 Downing Street had been moved to re-create C.J. Cregg's White House press room. Former Blair spokesman Godric Smith even reportedly kept a snapshot of the Amazonian Bartlet press secretary on his office desk.
In 2002, "West Wing" consultant and former Clinton economic adviser Gene Sperling briefed Blair, much to the amusement of the British media. Sperling recalls young New Laborites "lobbying hard" for him to send them the latest episodes. "It would be huge for them to be able to do special showings of 'West Wings' that hadn't been seen yet in the UK," he said. (In Britain, the show runs several episodes behind the U.S. schedule, putting a premium on any news from 1600 Pennsylvania.)
The infatuation with "The West Wing" had a serious side, too. It meant that Blair's camp was used to seeing things from the American point of view -- a perspective that can make actual U.S. proposals feel more reasonable. In effect, the show acted as a distance-learning Fulbright: It helped Blairites reject the old left's anti-Americanism while providing them with a liberal pro-American narrative.
Of course, Blair would have stood with the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and joined the invasion of Iraq with or without "The West Wing." But the show can only have bolstered his team's eagerness to understand the U.S. position and its appreciation of America's potential for good. Its perceived influence led conservative British commentator Peter Oborne to denounce Blair and his team's deployment of the "techniques, and empty morality, of 'West Wing' to rewrite the Iraq conflict."
A cynic might observe that the most realistic aspect of the relationship between New Labor and this fictional U.S. president was its one-sidedness. The two most prominent British characters on "The West Wing" were the antithesis of New Labor. One was a diplomat, Lord John Marbury, called in by Bartlet to help avert nuclear war between India and Pakistan. He is drunk, eccentric, aristocratic and off-message -- all traits that New Labor despises. The other character was a female prime minister who bore more than a passing resemblance to Thatcher. And two rare parliamentary defeats for Blair can be blamed in part on the show; Blair's opponents mimicked the parliamentary tactics that Democratic Rep. Matt Santos -- played by Jimmy Smits -- deployed to win a vote on stem cell research. "It was directly inspired by 'The West Wing,' " one plotter boasted to British newspapers.
The British political class's love affair with "The West Wing" won't end after tonight's series finale, or even when New Labor leaves office. Under new leader David Cameron, the opposition Conservatives are big fans, too. Cameron has told interviewers he likes the way Bartlet "cuts through all the bull and does the right thing." The very American language he uses attests to how far up the Thames the Potomac now flows -- and helps explain why, at a time when the British public is increasingly skeptical of U.S. ambitions, the leaders of Britain's two main parties have never been more pro-American.
James Forsyth, an assistant editor of Foreign Policy magazine, is one more Brit who wishes he could be Josh Lyman."
From the Globe and Mail:
"So what do The West Wing fans do now on Sunday nights?
Their favourite show -- for some of us, our only television show -- ends tomorrow. It's been a terrific ride since September, 1999: exceptional dialogue, intelligently drawn characters, plausible plots (sometimes) and, dare we say it, an occasional sense of social purpose.
The West Wing was a soap opera, but then all television series are soaps in their way. This one, created by the brilliant Aaron Sorkin, had an educative mission behind the entertainment.
The West Wing had a political mission, too. It was a show for U.S. liberals in a conservative time, with characters who, although self-absorbed, actually thought of doing something for poor people.
Even the Republican presidential candidate, played by the wonderful Alan Alda during the program's final year, recalled an era when some Republicans were social moderates and genuine fiscal conservatives. U.S. politics hasn't seen many of this ilk since the economic supply-siders, neo-conservative ideologues and religious right captured the Republican Party.
No one in the real world of U.S. politics could imagine a president throwing pushy evangelical leaders from the Oval Office, as President Josiah Bartlet did in one episode. Nor does anybody in the Bush administration pay much attention to those on low incomes.
The president, played by Martin Sheen, was sometimes a little too precious and wise. Yes, the character was supposed to have won a Nobel Prize in economics before launching a political career, but he had too many answers and knew too much to be totally believable. Still, he represented a president a lot of Americans long for.
Liberal Democrats loved the character, of course, and Mr. Sheen. When he campaigned in the Democratic primary for former Vermont governor Howard Dean, the crowds responded to him like a pop star. Democrats from Ohio, Mr. Sheen's native state, even approached him about running for the U.S. Senate. He wisely said: Calm down, The West Wing was only fiction. I'm taking a year off in Ireland.
The West Wing was fiction, but those who had worked in the U.S. political system advised Mr. Sorkin and the script writers, and it showed. Some episodes had a cinéma verité quality, littered with civics lessons about how people in politics think and act. Episodes dealt intelligently with genuine public policy dilemmas, although the ones dealing with foreign policy were consistently weaker portrayals than those involving domestic issues.
This season's episodes about a presidential campaign beautifully captured the exhaustion born of frantic travel, information overload, bad food and endless tactical manoeuvring. The hour-long debate between the two candidates, filmed unscripted before a live audience, was a television classic. How fitting in such a politically polarized country that the presidency was decided in the early hours of the morning by a few tens of thousands of votes in Nevada.
President Bartlet's advisers always seemed out of breath and time, but that's the way government operates at the very top. They were consumed, as advisers are in the 24-hour news cycle, by spin. And they were always thinking, as U.S. administrations must, of the "Hill," where legislative ideas go to die without presidential massaging, wheeling, dealing and threats.
A good friend with extensive experience in the upper reaches of the Canadian government once remarked that The West Wing's only weakness was portraying the president's advisers getting along so well. They were too merry a band of brothers and sisters.
Maybe, but what superbly crafted characters some of them became: C. J. Cregg, the press secretary turned chief of staff played by the luminous Allison Janney; the socially inept but totally dedicated deputy chief of staff, Josh Lyman, played by Bradley Whitford, and the fiercely loyal, always demanding first chief of staff, Leo McGarry, played by John Spencer.
Mr. Spencer died of a heart attack with seven episodes remaining, but only three in the can. So the producers wrote in his death, as the Democrats' vice-presidential candidate, into the script. News reports suggested that had he not died, the producers had intended to make the Republicans win the election.
By then, even a switch of focus to a Republican president could not have saved The West Wing. The moguls at NBC, driven as always by ratings and profits, had moved the show from Wednesday to Sunday this year, and then gave it the axe. Each episode cost more than $1-million. Audiences were declining. A few critics said, wrongly, that the show had run out of steam. Maybe programs have a natural life cycle, just as U.S. presidents do.
Reality television now drives ratings -- witness to which was the recent announcement that even Canada's public broadcaster, the CBC, will be doing more of it. The niche for intelligent shows such as The West Wing in what was once aptly named the "wasteland" of U.S. television has shrunk even further.
So what now for that hour on Sunday night? Suggestions welcome. "
From the Dayton Daily News:
"Our claim to television trivia fame ends tonight.
For three seasons, the correct answer to "Which mid-size city has three stars in the cast of a major network program?" was "Dayton." For four more seasons, the question was, "OK, which mid-size city has two stars in the cast?"
But The West Wing's last episode runs tonight (8 p.m., channels 2 and 5) and Dayton's three contributions to the four-time Emmy Award-winner — Allison Janney, Rob Lowe and Martin Sheen — may only be seen in the White House together again in reruns.
The finale will be preceded at 7 p.m. by a repeat of the program's pilot in 1999. Originally, a retrospective on the series' history had been scheduled for that time slot, but it was canceled by the network. According to an Associated Press online story, a source close to the show reported the change in plans was because the cast and the network could not agree on what the actors should be paid to gather and talk about how much fun they had together.
For the final new episode, Lowe will reprise his roll of deputy communications director Sam Seaborn, reuniting the Dayton trio for the first time since he left the show after its third season.
The odds of them working together in the first place, Sheen declared in a 2000 Dayton Daily News interview, were "astronomical."
While their presence on the show may not have caused Dayton to suddenly be known as the cradle of stars, it did give it small amount of incidental publicity.
In the 2002 season, copies of the Dayton Daily News were scattered on the set as part of a story line involving Janney's character (C.J. Cregg) and her return to Dayton to speak at her high school's 20th reunion. The episode was shot in Oak Brook, Ill."
From the Newark Star Ledger:
" "The West Wing" (Tonight at 8 p.m. on Channel 4) On Inauguration Day, Bartlet says goodbye and Santos says hello to the Oval Office in the series finale.
It'll never work, they said. No one wants to watch a political drama, they said. And even if they do, they added, you'll have to make every issue so simplified and middle-of-the-road to avoid baffling half the audience and offending the other half. Seriously, why bother?
The "they" in question weren't just the NBC executives who sat on Aaron Sorkin's "West Wing" pilot script for two years, convinced it would never fly. No, they included every cynic in the TV business who had shot down political series ideas in the past, and who all thought NBC was making a colossal mistake when they finally scheduled "West Wing" in the fall of 1999.
While the series that's ending tonight at 8 is a shell of its former self, for a few glorious years there at the turn of the millennium, it suggested the start of a New Frontier in television, an age when the best and the brightest could not only get on the air, but find a huge, adoring audience.
Much of the credit for that goes to Sorkin, a veteran playwright who had already warmed up for the material with his script for the Michael Douglas movie "The American President."
The year before, Sorkin had broken into TV with "Sports Night," a dramedy set behind the scenes at an ESPN-style cable network. Directed by Sorkin's future "Wing" man Tommy Schlamme, "Sports Night" featured many of the elements that would become familiar staples on the NBC show: warp speed banter being delivered on the move, flowery monologues and a sense of boundless optimism about what humans can accomplish when they give their best effort.
But the 30-minute quasi-sitcom format felt restrictive for both Sorkin and Schlamme. Just as each episode seemed to be building a head of steam, it was time for the closing credits. And while Schlamme's camera glided through the "Sports Night" set, the confined setting (characters were rarely seen outside the office) didn't let him really show off his visual sense.
That all changed with "The West Wing," which was twice as long and 10 times as ambitious. Sorkin brought his theatrical flair and Schlamme a cinematic eye to create a grand entertainment.
Consider the pilot episode, which NBC is rerunning tonight at 7 (and which will no doubt make the finale suffer badly in comparison). For the first three quarters of the hour, Sheen's President Bartlet is nowhere to be seen, referred to mostly in jokes about how he just crashed his bicycle into a tree. Then, as the hour is winding down, we see two top advisors, Richard Schiff's Toby and Bradley Whitford's Josh, in a shouting match with a group of fundamentalist Christians, including but not limited to a debate over the order of the Ten Commandments. When one of the fundamentalists asks what the First Commandment actually says, a door opens and in limps Bartlet, his voice booming, "I am the Lord your God. Thou shalt worship no other God before me." Then he flashes a grin and says, "Boy, those were the days, huh?"
Entrance lines don't get much better than that, do they?
The Bartlet-as-God theme popped up again in the series' tour de force episode, Season Two's finale "Two Cathedrals." Bartlet's beloved assistant Mrs. Landingham has died in a car crash after purchasing the first new car of her long life, and Bartlet -- already in a lather about a deadly storm and the public revelation that he had covered up his Multiple Sclerosis -- orders the National Cathedral cleared and locked so he can have a few choice words with the Almightly, including "feckless thug" and "son of a bitch." After some more angry ranting (much of it in Latin), he smokes a cigarette and grinds it into the floor of the cathedral out of spite. As the man vs. deity match ends with Bartlet's exit, Schlamme's camera soars up to the stained-glass window, which looks at that moment like the eye of God passing silent judgment on his most powerful subject.
The show didn't reach those Shakespearean heights on a weekly basis, but in the first couple of years, Sorkin, Schlamme and company elevated both the scope of what you could accomplish in a network drama and the level of political discourse on television.
In an early episode, "Mr. Willis of Ohio," speechwriter Sam (Rob Lowe) tutors press secretary C.J. (Janney) on the finer details of the census, while Josh and his assistant Donna (Janel Maloney) argue about what the government should do with a budget surplus; Josh wants to reinvest it in federal programs, while Donna wants a tax refund so she can buy a DVD player.
In discussing those issues, Sorkin found a way to lay them out in plain English without condescending to the audience, and did a more thorough job of explaining them than TV news had when the real White House dealt with each one. The episode's popularity emboldened Sorkin, who had his characters debate increasingly complex issues of the day while challenging the audience to keep up.
The Sorkin years had a clear left-wing slant, and there were times when he leaned too far. The fundamentalists from the pilot were cartoons, and as Bartlet's simple-minded re-election opponent, James Brolin was playing a straw man version of George W. Bush. But if conservatives couldn't stand the show, the fantasy of a Democratic leader with Bill Clinton's political savvy and Jimmy Carter's brains and ethics was so intoxicating to liberals that it didn't matter. The show's big early ratings proved that you could, in fact, alienate half the audience and still do well.
In those years, Sorkin was either writing or rewriting every episode, and the strain started to show. The MS storyline began as a throwaway excuse for a scene he wanted to write with Bartlet watching a daytime soap. When someone pointed out after the fact that a sitting president hiding a serious medical condition would be kind of a big deal, Sorkin turned it into a Monica-gate allegory that dragged the show down for most of its third season.
The positive press about the show as weekly civics lesson got to Sorkin's head when he wrote season four's "Isaac and Ishmael," a clumsy instant response to 9/11 that may as well have been called "Please, Why Do They Hate Us, Mr. Sorkin?"
Sorkin eventually got so far behind in delivering finished scripts that NBC and producer John Wells, trying to control the budget, pushed him out the door at the end of the fourth season (Schlamme quit in solidarity). So he left them a nasty parting gift: a season finale that ended with Bartlet's daughter kidnapped by terrorists, Bartlet recusing himself from office and the Republican Speaker of the House in charge of the country.
Sorkin had so thoroughly painted the show into a corner that it took Wells months to find his way out. Where Sorkin refused to listen to NBC execs' pleas for more political balance, Wells was all too eager to try, though this usually meant having the main characters snapping at each other (or, in one particularly low moment, a drunk Josh yelling "You want a piece of me?" at the Capitol building) and the Republican-controlled Congress defeating one administration initiative after another. The Sorkin years may have been too much of a fantasy, but this was too depressingly real.
But near the end of his first season at the helm, Wells hit upon a new fantasy -- a bipartisan one.
In "The Supremes," a Supreme Court justice dies suddenly, and team Bartlet realizes the only candidate who will get approved in this antagonistic climate will be a bland moderate with no convictions of any kind. While taking token meetings with a liberal judge (Glenn Close) with a long paper trail of pro-choice rulings and a conservative (William Fichtner) with well-articulated legal reasons for disagreeing with all of Close's positions, Josh decides he'd rather have two intelligent extremes than one inoffensive blank, so he hatches a crazy scheme. The administration talks the liberal-but-senile Chief Justice into retiring, then convinces the Republicans to accept a package deal: Close as the new Chief, but Fichtner, too.
It was even more implausible than almost anything in the Sorkin years, but the idea behind it was appealing: What would government be like if we could strip away all the cheap shots, all the ideological gamesmanship and angry rhetoric, and just debate the issues in a smart, respectful fashion?
With an eye on continuing the series past the end of the Bartlet administration, Wells introduced two presidential candidates: Jimmy Smits as Matt Santos, a hawkish congressman with a military background and devout Catholic (read: pro-life) beliefs; and Alan Alda as Arnold Vinick, a pro-choice, agnostic senior senator. The twist was that Santos was the Democrat, Vinick the Republican.
In the real world, neither would get within spitting distance of their party's nomination, but Wells and his writers made smart use of the role reversal, particularly using the fiscally conservative, socially moderate Vinick as a kind of anti-Bush. (Pundits joked he was a Republican only Democrats could love.) After Santos won the election, he even made Vinick his Secretary of State to keep Wells' bipartisan dream alive.
The rocky start to the Wells era chased away a good chunk of the audience, and this year's move to Sundays got rid of almost everyone else in the process. "K Street," HBO's cinema verite series about Washington lobbyists, came and went in an eyeblink. And ABC's own presidential fantasy, the Geena Davis drama "Commander in Chief," opened strongly this fall before Sorkin-esque backstage turmoil and ham-fisted writing sent the show into Nielsen free-fall.
But in keeping with the spirit of hope that buoyed the first few seasons, don't assume that their success was an aberration, that the public at large has no interest in fictional politicians. Instead, choose to think that any concept, if told with the artistry and brains of the Sorkin/Schlamme years, could find an audience. To paraphrase one of the show's inspirations, it's the writing, stupid.
Ten (give or take a few) classic "West Wing" episodes, in chronological order:
# "Pilot": While President Bartlet (Martin Sheen) gets the best introduction, the entire hour is a perfect warp-speed immersion into a world the audience barely understood but would grow to love.
# "The Crackpots and These Women": It's time for Big Block of Cheese Day, when Leo (John Spencer), aping Andrew Jackson's practice of opening the White House to the public once a month, orders the senior staff to take meetings with anyone who wants one, including a UFO nut and a group of conservationists who want to build an 1,800-mile-long roadway for wolves. One of the show's most populist (and amusing) running gags.
# "In Excelsis Deo," "Noel" and "Bartlet for America": Yes, I'm cheating. Sue me. These three are all of a piece as part of Sorkin's tradition of tailoring the Christmas episode to one of his supporting actors, winning the guy an Emmy in the process. In the first, Toby (Richard Schiff) tries to arrange a military funeral for a homeless veteran who died while wearing one of Toby's old coats. In the second, Josh (Bradley Whitford) has to see a shrink when the shooting from the Season One finale leaves him with a bad case of PTSD. In the third, Leo flashes back to how he recruited Bartlet to run for president, and to a fall off the wagon he suffered during the campaign. Three great actors with great showcases.
# "Take This Sabbath Day": On the eve of the first execution of a federal prisoner in decades, Bartlet tries to balance his Catholic beliefs with his responsibility as president. Aside from "Two Cathedrals," it's arguably Sheen's best performance.
# "In the Shadow of Two Gunmen, Parts One and Two": The shooting of Josh and Bartlet at the end of Season One was the first of several jarringly sensational missteps (see also Mark Harmon's doomed Secret Service agent in season three), but the flashbacks to how Bartlet's inner circle came together on the campaign trail are wonderful. If Rob Lowe had added nothing else to the series, his presence would have been worth it for the inspired look on his face as Sam literally walks out on his corporate law partners to join the campaign.
# "And It's Surely to Their Credit": In one of Sorkin's few attempts to humanize the opposition, feisty Republican lawyer Ainsley Hayes (Emily Procter) suffers a day of hazing as she joins the White House counsel's office -- and finds that her own workspace is in something called "the steam pipe trunk distribution venue." A very funny episode and a good outsider's view of the world the audience knew so well.
# "The Stackhouse Filibuster": For mysterious reasons, an elderly senator stages a prolonged filibuster to block a seemingly innocuous administration bill. When the staff discovers the very personal reason the senator has for the stunt -- and realizes he's on the verge of collapse -- they call in chits from senators on both sides of the aisle to keep the filibuster going long enough to get the bill changed to everyone's liking. Sorkin never hid his love of Frank Capra, but this is the most obvious, best homage.
# "17 People": Toby figures out that the president is hiding something, and when Leo tells him about the MS cover-up, Toby guilts the president into coming up with a plan to reveal the secret. The opening scene, with Toby doing nothing but bouncing a rubber ball against the wall in his office, "Great Escape"-style, is a rare example of a TV show just stopping to watch someone think.
# "Two Cathedrals": The scene everyone remembers is Bartlet's verbal smackdown of God, but the entire episode is a masterpiece of writing, acting, directing, editing, even music (the final scene, with Bartlet traveling through a storm to publicly confess his sins, is scored beautifully to Dire Straits' "Brothers in Arms"). As epic an hour of drama as network television has ever seen.
# "2162 Votes": With three candidates splitting the votes too evenly for any of them to get the nomination -- and with a fourth candidate swooping in and trying to get nominated from the floor -- the Democratic National Convention descends into chaos. Asked to bow out for the good of the party, Santos (Jimmy Smits) delivers a concession speech so eloquent and moving that Bartlet goes to bat for him, getting Santos the nod -- with Leo a surprise choice to run for VP. Along with "The Supremes," the highlight of the Wells era."
From the Tallahassee Democrat:
"So now the greatest U.S. presidential administration in history comes to an end. President Jed Bartlet leaves office tonight in the final episode of "West Wing."
Too bad it's all been fiction.
It doesn't seem that way to those of us who are "West Wing" fans. We're still seriously discussing the future of the characters. Will Republican Arnold Vinick become secretary of state in a Democratic administration? Will C.J. Cregg go to Africa and build highways? Should Will Bailey run for Congress? Most important, will Josh Lyman and Donna Moss get married?
It's sad we'll never find out - much less see how fares the nation's first Hispanic president, Matt Santos.
But that's the point about great fiction: It seems real. In the case of "West Wing," which portrayed a wise, witty president and a brilliant, ethical White House staff, many of us simply wished it could be.
Tallahassee may miss the fiction more than some: We were a staple of "West Wing" scripts, and our frequent mention was cool.
In the pilot episode, which will be rebroadcast tonight, two young women approach Deputy Chief of Staff Lyman in a coffee shop: "We're juniors from Florida State. Can we have your autograph?"
Over the course of the show's seven seasons, there were references to a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier called the Tallahassee. President Bartlet reminisced with a reporter about their campaign-trail conversation in Tallahassee. An Air Force pilot who crashed was from Tallahassee. And in this final season we learned that defeated Republican presidential candidate Vinick - if he doesn't become secretary of state - intends to be a guest lecturer at FSU.
Such references also were frequent on "West Wing" creator Aaron Sorkin's first TV show, "Sports Night," which once made FSU Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward the punch line of a joke. Perhaps it was the work of Thomas Schlamme, a director/producer on "Sports Night" and "West Wing": Schlamme is married to actress Christine Lahti, an FSU theater graduate.
"West Wing" was compelling because it made political issues entertaining and understandable - which is no small feat.
Viewers were treated to lively civics lessons about political parties, the Electoral College, lawmaking, the federal deficit, appointment of Supreme Court justices and the 25th Amendment. (The president had to resign temporarily when he was unable to perform his duties because his daughter had been kidnapped.)
Viewers learned the nuances of foreign policy as "West Wing" repeatedly put us in the White House situation room with generals, admirals, Cabinet members and the president. Drawing from the real-life examples of North Korea, India, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq, we watched them wrestle with the choices of attack or negotiate, abandon or rescue.
"West Wing" taught us that determining foreign policy, making laws and running a government is complex - no matter which side of the philosophical fence you're on.
"West Wing" politics were often criticized as "too liberal." And clearly liberal sensibilities got a fine airing. Many of us cheered as the president blasted an anti-gay talk-show host, condemned the religious right or championed concern for global warming.
(“West Wing" was presumed to be a paean to President Bill Clinton. Actually, Sorkin spun it out of his 1995 movie, "The American President." That movie inaugurated Sorkin, shows' rapid-fire "walk and talk" cinematic style and included actors who graduated to "West Wing," notably Martin Sheen, who played the Leo McGarry/chief of staff character in the movie before moving up to president in the TV show.)
But Bartlet was faithful to the Constitution, supported the military, was a devout Catholic, husband and father. As one history scholar wrote: "Although his administration is reliably liberal, President Bartlet possesses virtues even a conservative could admire."
Indeed, the appeal of "West Wing" for many of us was our admiration of Bartlet. Sorkin originally intended him to be a bit character, shown only occasionally as his staff wrestled with the issues. In the first episode, Bartlet appears in only the final few minutes. But Sheen embodied so well the intelligence and wit Sorkin wanted to display in a president that he became the show's central character.
In this glorious fiction, Bartlet was a three-term congressman and two-term governor of New Hampshire - but more important he was a Nobel Prize-winning economist and former college professor. He could quote Plutarch, Shakespeare, Galbraith, Jefferson, Sinatra and the Bible. He was a voracious reader and prolific author. Another character noted that Bartlet had a "once-in-a-generation mind."
It was inspiring to imagine a president who was one of the smartest, most educated men in the world. It was heartwarming to imagine a president who had a genuine sense of humor and compassion. It was comforting to imagine a president wise enough and strong enough to make the world a better place.
In real life, we long for such a leader. In real life, we likely shall never have such a leader.
But that was the fiction "West Wing" brought us."
From the Philadelphia Inquirer:
"About 9 tonight, a bunch of Blue-Staters will be feeling mighty blue. Josiah Bartlet's presidency will be kaput. George W. Bush's will have 981 days to go.
The West Wing, the often superb television drama that for seven seasons provided a fictional alternative to a real-world Capitol mired in deficits, dysfunction and demonization, ends its run tonight.
No doubt, the show's brainy Democratic president, played by Martin Sheen, often served as a fantasy refuge for liberals driven mad by the Age of W.
No doubt, for that same reason, many conservatives dismissed the show as yet another mean-spirited emanation from a hopelessly partisan Hollywood.
At its best, The West Wing was far more subtle, interesting and useful than that.
The show's creator, Aaron Sorkin, wrote incandescent scripts for it until he sank into a cocaine quagmire. Sorkin has a rare gift for contrapuntal dialogue and for interweaving drama, wit and whimsy.
Even as the show sagged into a gloomy, "second-term" miasma, it was better than most things on TV. The conventional wisdom now is that The West Wing never got its mojo back. To me, the show became reenergized when it hit the campaign trail the last two seasons with presidential candidates Matt Santos and Arnie Vinick, played by Jimmy Smits and Alan Alda respectively. In the audacious, well-wrought Santos-Vinick debate that aired live this year, The West Wing underscored its greatest virtue:
It offered viewers dramatic primers in real-world issues and practical politics that were as accurate and nuanced as anything on CNN - and far more fun to watch.
For example, a key point of contention in the Santos-Vinick campaign was immigration, a choice that seemed odd last fall, but seems prescient now. A Social Security compromise that Bartlet brokered a few seasons back was more realistic and sensible than anything you heard from Capitol Hill last year.
The West Wing often displayed two other two virtues that lifted it above any indictment as mere liberal agitprop from Tinseltown.
Those virtues were embodied in the secondary character of Ainsley Hayes, played by Emily Procter, who unfortunately left the show to stare glamorously into microscopes for CSI: Miami. In season two, Ainsley, a young conservative lawyer, goes on a TV talk show to debate Sam Seaborn, the White House aide played by Rob Lowe. She wipes up the floor with him.
Intrigued, Bartlet invites her to work at the White House. Though she disagrees with Bartlet on almost everything, Ainsley is too patriotic to resist a summons from her president. Her likable character hung around for a season, providing perfect-pitch conservative ripostes to the Bartlet staff's riffs.
As Ainsley demonstrates, the show, for all its rhapsodies on liberal values and occasional descents into caricature, regularly found ways to portray Republicans as honorable and reasonable. It let them win some arguments. Alda's Vinick was an admirable fellow. John Goodman did a turn as a speaker of the house who fills in as president; at first, his character seems crude, but ends up performing ably in an extreme crisis.
On the other side, while Bartlet and his workaholic staff (long led by the oh-so-wise Leo McGarry) are clearly the heroes of the piece, they're also flawed folks who mess up a lot. Bartlet gets censured by Congress for hiding his multiple sclerosis from voters. For an egghead liberal, he's pretty bellicose, approving all manner of military incursions and one assassination of a foreign leader. Josh is frequently a flaming jerk. And Richard Schiff's Toby Ziegler is one of the most quirkily brooding characters ever to occupy a sympathetic spot at the center of a TV drama. Another core virtue of The West Wing: Its denizens are depicted as admirable not because they're Democrats, but because they believe passionately in public service. They are patriots, even when behaving stupidly. Sure, they obsess about politics and winning - but they have the good grace to get into roaring arguments over whether expediency should trump ideals in a given round.
Sure, the real West Wing is not as spacious, bustling or filled with attractive people as the TV version. Sure, the show sometimes fumbles the mechanics of government. I find particularly grating its conceit that the White House briefing room is journalists' sole source of information on breaking news worldwide.
But the show gets right an important point that the usual cheap cynicism about politics misses: the intense dedication of people doing work that they believe matters. Not everyone in Washington is Jack Abramoff or Duke Cunningham. Some are Leo McGarry.
It's easy to forget now what a gamble The West Wing took as it premiered amid the sordid, exhausted end of the Clinton years. It bet that politics could seem interesting, policy dramatic and public service noble and sexy.
The West Wing won that bet. Viewers got the payoff."
The Philadelphia Inquirer also suggests an alternative final episode.
From the Guardian:
"Corridors that once echoed to the sound of White House staffers walking and talking very fast fell silent last night as the final episode of The West Wing was broadcast in the United States, bringing seven years of political escapism to a close.
The parallel presidency of Josiah Bartlet hooked Democrats - and many Europeans - with its bizarre fantasy world in which the head of state was hyper-literate, absorbed in the details of policy, and surrounded by idealists. At its height, 17 million people in the US turned on each week for the series' machine-gun dialogue and inspirational storylines. But America's changing political climate and the departure of star writer Aaron Sorkin both contributed to its eventual demise.
Last night's episode was due to show the inauguration of Bartlet's successor, whose identity has yet to be revealed to British audiences watching on More4, for whom the election is still a close-run contest between the moderate Republican Arnold Vinick, played by Alan Alda, and the Texas Democrat Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits).
Former stars of the show, including Rob Lowe, had returned for the closing series, joining Martin Sheen as Bartlet, and Alison Janney's immensely popular character, press secretary CJ Cregg, though last-minute plot changes were introduced after John Spencer, who played chief of staff Leo McGarry, died late last year.
Mr Sorkin wrote early episodes in cocaine-fuelled bursts locked in a hotel room - often leaving actors being paid to stand around waiting for his scripts - before entering rehab in 2001 and leaving the series in 2003. Describing his schedule at the time, he said: "Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, I freak out, 'cos I haven't thought of what next week's show is. Thursday, I start yelling at people because I haven't thought of what next week's show is. Friday, I go, 'Oh my God, there's going to be half an hour of dead air ... ' and then it finally gets done."
But the Vanity Fair writer Michael Wolff said Mr Sorkin's successors had forgotten that the show was about office life as much as the intricacies of politics. "It was a Democratic show, about Democrats, written literally by people who had come from the Clinton administration, and I think it fell victim to the small-bore interests of liberal people," Mr Wolff said.
The first three years of the show had been "nostalgia for the Clinton administration," he said, "and the last three years have been nostalgia for the nostalgic show about the Clinton administration."
The series first aired in the closing months of Mr Clinton's time in office and the president liked it so much he invited Mr Sorkin to the White House. But Janney has said she has "a feeling President Bush has never seen the West Wing", and Richard Schiff, who played communications director Toby Ziegler, said Mr Bush showed little interest when the cast met his staff.
"The president was walking with his wife and his dog on the lawn and didn't come over to say Hi," he told the Washington Post."
Chris Matthews in the Hollywood Reporter:
"Editor's Note: Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC's "Hardball With Chris Matthews" and the syndicated "The Chris Matthews Show," was a speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter and a top aide to former U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill. He segued into journalism as the Washington bureau chief for the San Francisco Examiner and also has written four best-sellers about politics. Last year, he appeared in "The West Wing" episode "Message of the Week" as himself, interviewing presidential aspirant Sen. Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda). Matthews recently shared with The Hollywood Reporter his thoughts about the ending of this unique program
Tip O'Neill, my old boss, used to say, "Loyalty is everything in this business." He also used to say, "Timing is everything is this business."
He was right in both cases, of course, and he was especially right on the shining success of (NBC's) "The West Wing."
The show displayed the wondrous thing about working in the White House: the deeply personal loyalty of the staff for the man in the Oval Office. Anyone who has been lucky enough to work there knows the intimate truth of that fact. We are there for the president of the U.S. and our country.
The timing of "The West Wing" was also a winner. It came right in the aftermath of the Monica Lewinsky mess. Even for liberal Democrats, this was a tough time. But for all Americans, it was a time when we realized -- through an otherwise estimable president's misconduct -- the reverence we attach to the White House.
I'm talking about the office but also the place itself. I remember walking over from the West Wing through the basement of the Executive Mansion itself. As you passed the portraits of past presidents and their first ladies, the scent of the foliage and the paint -- both of which were forever fresh -- you were reminded anew that we were working in a place hallowed by history.
There were so many episodes of "The West Wing" when I have been reminded of such times, of the dedication of the people working there.
It is not precisely as it appears on-air, I must admit.
Those selected by the president to serve in such close quarters with him do not constitute a thoroughfare. Unlike the television version, the actual West Wing is not home to some endless troupe of unnamed people walking to and fro. In real life, it is a small maze of compact offices on three floors filled by an extremely limited number of top presidential aides.
In real life, the hallways and staircases are tranquil and surprisingly empty. The real West Wing exists, after all, for the convenience of one person who wants only those whom he needs and wants working close to him. As Niccolo Machiavelli prescribed, it would be unwise to have any but the most trusted in a position to question, much less criticize, his decisions.
But the power of "The West Wing" shines through this small matter of theatrical license. The show has worked all these years because it has been, at its heart, the genuine article: a saga of loyalty that came to us just at the right time."
From the Sun Sentinel:
" If television had a Mount Rushmore, The West Wing would be chiseled on it.
Its seven-year run produced four Emmys as best drama, equaling Hill Street Blues and L.A. Law. Allison Janney won four Emmys -- two as lead actress, two as supporting actress. The late John Spencer, Bradley Whitford, Richard Schiff and Stockard Channing each won supporting Emmys. The series' first-season haul of nine Emmys is a record. Virtually every other organization that bestows awards for television has recognized its excellence.
Nevertheless, The West Wing's departure is being given the attention of Gerald Ford's final days in the White House. Series of far less significance and achievement are allowed extended-length finales; The West Wing will go out at its standard hour. To put this into perspective, a week from now, an awful sequel to an awful miniseries: 10.5: Apocalypse, will get four hours of prime time.
The final indignity came when it was announced this past week that the long promised hourlong West Wing retrospective -- another standard perk for overachieving series -- has been canceled. It's unclear whether NBC or the cast is primarily responsible. The actors reportedly wanted a hefty fee to reminisce on camera. NBC, which has seen ratings for the show dwindle, supposedly said it was too much.
The fact that a compromise couldn't be worked out between performers who were blessed with the roles of their lifetimes as well as a financial windfall, and a network which reaped glory and huge profits from The West Wing, is another manifestation of the disrespect The West Wing is getting as it leaves the scene.
In place of the retrospective, NBC will re-air the series pilot, which costs the network nothing and has been seen more often than "W" landing on an aircraft carrier to declare, "Mission accomplished.""
From the Richmond Times Dispatch:
"Elect a new president. ?
Find a new job for the losing presidential nominee. ?
Have a moment of fun with the return of Rob Lowe as Sam Seaborn. ?
Hook up Donna and Josh. ?
What is there left for "The West Wing" to do in tonight's series finale?
Go out with the same class and style -- and political acumen -- that it's given viewers for seven seasons.
Fueled by creator Aaron Sorkin's way with words and love of politics (he "practiced" by writing "The American President" several years earlier), this is a series about politics the way it should be: dedicated, bright staff; stirring speeches; problems that get solved.
Never have so many people talked about balanced budgets, tax cuts and legislative agendas in the name of entertainment. And never will again, I'm sure.
But despite a seven-year run and four consecutive Emmy Awards as best drama, this is a series that has had its ups and downs.
Its lowest point came at the end of the fourth season when Sorkin announced his departure, taking director Tommy Schlamme with him.
Ratings dropped over the years, although NBC hung on. "The West Wing" was known for its upscale audience, keeping it attractive to advertisers. It stayed attractive to Emmy voters as well.
"The West Wing" holds the record for most Emmys won by a series in a single season. Along with those four consecutive Emmy Awards for best drama, five of its cast members have won Emmys -- several more than once.
And then, like the very real world of politics, the show was reborn in its sixth season when the plotline turned to a new presidential campaign.
Jimmy Smits and Alan Alda were brought in to duke it out as worthy -- emphasis on worthy -- opponents. There's no doubt that "The West Wing" wears its Democratic heart on its sleeve, but the writers made Alda's Republican character vote-worthy as well.
In the show's closing weeks, it's been business as usual, meaning the business of installing a new president while another looks back on his years in office.
President-elect Santos is overwhelmed by selecting a new set of players; his wife even more so by uprooting her family and moving into the White House. President Bartlet is all too aware of what he leaves behind, including a potential war. His staff is scurrying around looking for new jobs.
No doubt you have your favorite characters, but here's who and what this viewer will miss the most:
* President Bartlet's (Martin Sheen) decisive but humane way with the staff. He often barked but never actually bit his secretaries.
* The two sides of Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford): brilliant when it came to policy manners, clueless when it came to his personal life.
* C.J. Cregg's (Allison Janney) journey from press secretary to White House chief of staff, and her personal stumbling along the way.
* And, most of all, the show's breathless dialogue. That perfect word, those clever phrases were never how people really talked -- but how they should talk, especially when deciding the future of the free world.
Trivia note: Also ending its run tonight after seven seasons is Fox's "Malcolm in the Middle" (8:30 p.m.). Its stars include Jane Kaczmarek, "West Wing" star Bradley Whitford's wife in real life."
From Time Out New York:
"The West Wing ends its seven-season run this week, and though the series has had a lot of ups and downs since creator Aaron Sorkin was forced off the show two years ago, the extended wrap-up that began when the series returned from a six-week hiatus in March has been almost shockingly satisfying. Skeptics might argue that the series has scaled new heights of improbability in that time—GOP presidential candidate Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda) honorably refused to contest the photo finish victory of Democratic rival Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits), and Santos returned the favor by nominating Vinick as secretary of state—but to carp is to miss the point. The West Wing has never been about depicting the world as it is, but rather as it should be, and the series wouldn’t be itself if there wasn’t a lump in the throat of viewers who wish they lived in a country where the system works.
It almost didn’t turn out this way: The Vinick-Santos election was designed to carry the series into an eighth season, since the two-term cap on presidencies imposed by the 22nd Amendment made it impossible for the show to continue with Martin Sheen as President Jed Bartlet. As Sorkin’s successor, John Wells, revealed to TheNew York Times in March, the writers had planned to let Vinick win up until the moment when original cast member John Spencer unexpectedly died in December. Since Spencer’s Leo McGarry was Santos’s running mate, the rest of the season’s story lines had to be drastically rewritten, and at that point a decision was reached to build to a natural conclusion instead of setting the stage for a new incarnation of the show.
That was a shrewd call, since the ratings slump caused by this season’s move to Sundays meant that renewal was hardly certain. The late decision left no room for the wheel-spinning that often plagues shows that announce their departure well in advance, and the long break for the Winter Olympics gave the writers time to properly deal with Spencer’s passing, and to figure out how to resolve character arcs that Sorkin began mapping out during the Clinton administration.
Since the series returned in March, narrative strands have been tied together with impressive precision, in a manner evoking the gradual resolution of a massive novel. When long-running shows end, developments that viewers have awaited for years—the ultimate Ross and Rachel hookup on Friends, for example—are often hastily dealt with in sappy, overhyped finales that draw huge ratings yet are quickly forgotten. On The West Wing, the time devoted to wrapping up the long-simmering flirtation between overcaffeinated policy wonk Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford) and his assistant Donna Moss (Janel Moloney) has allowed the writers to portray the coupling with a broad spectrum of emotional shadings and weave the thread tightly into the larger tapestry. The result is a payoff that lets viewers feel justified in having invested several dozen hours in the relationship over the better part of a decade, rather than making the audience feel that they’ve been merely thrown a bone. Josh and Donna are taking demanding new jobs that will make the relationship an uphill battle (they’ve respectively been appointed as chiefs of staff to the new President and First Lady), but their decision to go forward while knowing the hazards is perfectly in keeping with the idealism of what devotees call the “Bartlet-verse.” Similarly, the farewell appearances by fan-favorite characters have felt like organic developments instead of stunts—in particular, the decision by Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe) to leave corporate law and become Santos’s deputy chief of staff, which dovetails beautifully with the classic flashback episode from the second season that showed how Josh first persuaded Sam to join the Bartlet team. Sunday’s finale will undoubtedly be sentimental, but any tears it elicits will have been well earned."
From the Richmond Times Dispatch:
"Who has time for love when you're balancing budgets and stopping wars? Not the men and women of NBC's "The West Wing."
Certainly not Leo McGarry and Toby Ziegler, both divorced. Certainly not C.J. Cregg, who barely had time for lunch, much less a date.
But of all the "West Wing" characters, Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford), deputy chief of staff turned campaign manager turned White House chief of staff-designate, represents the political animal at his loneliest -- but not for lack of trying.
Here are some of the more prominent women in and out of his life over the show's seven seasons:
# White House media consultant Mandy Hampton (Moira Kelly), an ex-girlfriend made even ex-er when the actress was dropped from the show after the first season.
# Political pollster Joey Lucas (Marlee Matlin), an attraction that never developed beyond the flirting stage.
# Women's rights advocate Amy Gardner (Mary Louise Parker), a relationship that ended after Josh chose loyalty to the president over loyalty to a girlfriend.
# Donna Moss (Janel Moloney), Lyman's former assistant turned press secretary for the Santos-McGarry campaign, and who fans of the show always considered most likely to end up with her former boss. It took seven seasons, but they finally got together."
From the Oregonian:
"T wo years ago, Martin Sheen -- or rather, President Josiah Bartlet from New Hampshire -- was campaigning for Howard Dean in the New Hampshire primary. But before Sheen could appear at Dean's Manchester event, he had another stop scheduled: Josiah Bartlett Elementary School, in Bartlett, N.H.
OK, that Josiah Bartlett was from the 18th century. But in American politics today, reality and show business are as intertwined as New Hampshire and Vermont.
Tonight, with the last episode of "The West Wing," the Bartlet administration comes to an end, although with reruns and cable Bartlet will probably be in office longer than Franklin D. Roosevelt. The fantasy White House of a considerable part of the voting public is emptying out.
Millions of them have gotten through the last five years on a "West Wing" and a prayer.
Partly, it was a Democratic dream world -- a Hollywood fantasy in several senses of the phrase -- of a Beltway where Bill Clinton never imploded and George W. Bush never got elected, where a strong, smart Democrat endured in the Oval Office and fended off the Republican Congress.
At least it could be true for one hour a week.
(By the end of the final episodes, not only had a Democrat been elected to succeed Bartlet, but the party also had retaken the House. The intoxication of the idea made it very hard for some viewers to settle down enough to watch "Desperate Housewives.")
Originally, the idea was to have Martin Sheen -- sorry, President Bartlet -- as an occasional figure, in a show focused on the staff. Gradually, Bartlet became a more dominating figure.
Presidents do that.
As the show moved into the Bush administration, Sheen seemed to become even smarter, even more articulate, as writer-creator Aaron Sorkin's eloquence honed an ever more pointed contrast with the real West Wing's occupant. In an episode about an Iowa college fire, Bartlet told a campus memorial gathering, "The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels, but every time we think we've measured our capacity to meet a challenge, we look up and we're reminded that that capacity may well be limitless."
If Clinton had been able to control certain appetites, the Democrats might still be in the White House. If Sorkin had been able to control his interest in hallucinogenic mushrooms, "West Wing" might still be continuing.
Life imitates art, and television imitates both.
But fundamentally, the show was not just about Democrats being more successful -- not to say better-looking -- than in reality. It was about people convinced that politics and government are an important and noble activity. It showed people willing to be battered and exhausted in pursuit of their political goals and their commitment to each other.
Over seven seasons, the description also fit a number of Republicans, from a speaker of the House to an assistant White House counsel to the GOP candidate to succeed Bartlet. True, it was Alan Alda, but he was still a noble Republican.
These days, of course, that's not exactly the public's general impression of politicians of either party. But once a week, people appeared on television trying to use government to get somewhere -- while also worrying about polls, careers and love lives.
It's been a White House of people always aware they're in the world's best place to try to do something. And if the show sometimes outran any reality -- one week it settled the Israeli-Palestinian problem -- at least it believed that things were possible.
"The people who work there really believe in what they're doing," Paul Begala, a Clinton adviser, told USA Today about the White House. "It is not a cynical place, and 'West Wing' is not a cynical show."
In one episode, press secretary C.J. Cregg -- the superlative Allison Janney -- is arguing with another staff member about an arms deal with a Middle Eastern country known for its medieval treatment of women. After she rolls through the policy questions, her face crumples in agony and she bursts out, "They're beating the women!"
Then she instantly resumes her game face, goes into the White House press room and calmly, wittily, begins the afternoon's press briefing.
Compassion and control, two traits that we've largely given up on in our politicians.
"The inspiring president for your generation was Kennedy," one young political activist said recently. "For us it was Bartlet."
Tonight, Bartlet's time in the White House ends.
He may not get a school named after him, but it feels as if he's taught us something."
From Knight Ridder Newspapers:
"Early on in the TV series "The West Wing," a young man watches the staff scramble around the Oval Office as the president prepares to deliver an important speech to the American people. The double jolt of snagging a White House job and this new and thrilling proximity to power has left him reeling.
"I've never felt like this before," he breathes.
"It doesn't go away," replies the not-so-hardened staffer next to him.
That sensation - the one that makes your heart rise and your back stiffen, makes you stand just a bit taller and vow to do good - is an emotion "The West Wing" has inspired through most of its seven-year run. But tonight, NBC airs the final episode.
It's titled "Tomorrow."
President Josiah "Jed" Bartlet (Martin Sheen) will step down; President-elect Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits) will step up. And millions of dreamers will lose that one hour of the week when they can pretend that the most famous inhabitants of Washington, D.C., are intelligent, thoughtful, industrious, honest, honorable - and liberal.
"THE WEST WING" first aired in 1999, at a time when politics didn't play a big part on TV shows. It won nine Emmys in its first season, the most ever for a drama series. Won Best Drama Series its first four years, too.
But despite its roots in romantic comedy tradition, the show never shied away from serious issues: abortion, religion, education, health care, Middle East relations (often with the oppressive fictional country of Qumar, which bears more than a passing resemblance to Saudi Arabia).
The writers took up political - almost exclusively Democratic - positions.
Creator Aaron Sorkin, who wrote, among other things, the screenplay for "The American President," left after Season 4, taking most of the lighthearted dialogue with him.
We lost Rob Lowe that year in a salary dispute, too. The good news is that his (sort-of) replacement was longtime Sorkin collaborator Joshua Malina as congressman-to-be Will Bailey.
But Season 5 was, to be kind, not "The West Wing" to which we were accustomed. And yet, the show bounced back in its final two years, resurrecting exciting stories and the missing humor and introducing terrific new cast members, as Santos and Republican Arnold Vinick (Emmy nominee Alan Alda) battled it out to be Bartlet's successor.
STILL, THE REGULARS - well-defined, realistically flawed, absolutely irresistible - are what kept us interested.
We rooted for Bartlet, his brains, his hopes, his leadership, his courage in fighting MS.
We wished he were real but were happy we had him at all: Sorkin's original idea was to never show the president, a plan that would have consistently flummoxed the writers and prevented us from enjoying the fantasy as much as we did.
We were fascinated with the dynamics of Bartlet's decadeslong friendship with Chief of Staff Leo McGarry (John Spencer, whose death last year added almost unbearable poignancy to the tense election episodes).
We admired C.J. Cregg (the fantastic Allison Janney, in what will unfortunately probably be the role of a lifetime) for her almost seamless transition from press secretary to replacement chief of staff, and we grieved over the firing of communications director Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff), whose banishment was painful testament to the peril of following your heart in politics.
We laughed at the antics of deputy chief of staff/Santos campaign manager Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford) even as we marveled at his relentless dedication and groaned at his seven years - seven freaking years! - of blindness in regard to his feelings for his assistant Donna Moss (Janel Moloney, who blossomed as her role expanded from secretary to political operative).
Just hand Whitford another Emmy right now: He has continued to ground the series after it split into two shows, one on the campaign trail, the other at the White House.
IT'S THE UNERRING ABILITY of its characters to rise above challenges or personal blindness that in the end defines "The West Wing." As Bartlet, at his second inauguration, tells Will Bailey: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful and committed citizens can change the world. You know why?"
"It's the only thing that ever has," replies Will.
THE BEST OF 'THE WEST WING'
- Best call to action: Leo gives his boss a figurative kick in the pants and demands an end to political timidity in the rousing "Let Bartlet Be Bartlet," Season 1.
- Best presidential debate: The live bout between Vinick and Santos was an intriguing idea, but love for Bartlet dictates that we choose his relentless attack on clueless Florida Gov. Ritchie (James Brolin) in "Game On," Season 3.
- Best press conference/worst time for a root canal: When C.J. undergoes emergency surgery, a cocky Josh inadvertently announces a nonexistent secret plan to fight inflation, "Celestial Navigation," Season 1.
- Most stirring message on a napkin: "Bartlet for America," Season 3.
- Tastiest historical snack, unless you're a busy White House staffer: Andrew Jackson's big block of cheese, "The Crackpots and These Women," Season 1, and "Somebody's Going to Emergency, Somebody's Going to Jail," Season 2.
- Web site you better avoid lest you incur the wrath of C.J. Cregg: lemonlyman.com, "The U.S. Poet Laureate," Season 3.
- Best gift: After torturing his personal assistant Charlie (Dule Hill) with shopping duty for a knife to slice the Thanksgiving turkey, Bartlet presents him with a family heirloom - made by a silversmith named Paul Revere.
- Best Republican: Sharp, principled Arnold Vinick damn near won the election, but our vote goes to White House counsel Ainsley Hayes (Emily Procter) for her skillful verbal dismemberment of Democratic rhetoric and her spirited defense of the South.
- Best battle with a giant chicken: Chicken Bob of the Santos campaign ruffles Donna's feathers in "Freedonia," Season 6.
- Most frightening piece of trivia: According to imdb.com, Eugene Levy was considered for the part of Toby. Now, that idea should have remained a state secret.
Dream president or nightmare? Was fictional president Josiah 'Jed' Bartlet really that unrealistic? Here's how he stacks up against our past two commanders in chief, William Jefferson Clinton and George W. Bush.
Bartlet: B.A., American Studies, Notre Dame; M.A. and Ph.D., Economics, London School of Economics; economics professor at Dartmouth; Nobel laureate in economics.
Clinton: B.A., International Affairs, Georgetown University, 1968; Rhodes Scholar (Oxford University), 1968; J.D., Yale, 1973.
Bush: B.A., History, Yale, 1968; M.B.A., Harvard Business School, 1975.
Bartlet: Three terms in House of Representatives (New Hampshire), six terms of two years as governor of New Hampshire. Never lost an election.
Clinton: Six terms of two years as governor of Arkansas.
Bush: Two terms of four years as governor of Texas.
Bartlet: Vice President John Hoynes leaks government secrets during tawdry affair with journalist.
Clinton: Vice President Al Gore leaks that he invented the Internet.
Bush: Vice President Dick Cheney allegedly has knowledge of plan to leak name of CIA operative Valerie Plame.
Bartlet: Appoints a judge to the Tenth Circuit who calls sexual harassment "a flight of fancy for the overindulged."
Clinton: Appoints first African-American judge to U.S. Court of Appeals for Fourth Circuit.
Bush: Attempts to appoint a judge to Supreme Court who had no obvious or subtle ability to perform that job.
CHIEFS OF STAFF
Bartlet: C.J. Cregg, an Amazon-like woman with dating issues.
Clinton: George Stephanopoulos, a diminutive Greek man with odd sex appeal.
Bush: Andy Card, um ... we got nothin'.
Bartlet: Youngest daughter, Zoey, abducted on May 7, 2003.
Clinton: Only daughter, Chelsea, never manages to overshadow Dad's controversies.
Bush: Twin daughters Jenna and Barbara Bush busted at Austin, Texas, eatery/bar Chuy's. Barbara charged with being a minor in possession of alcohol; Jenna charged with possession of a fake ID, May 29, 2001.
Campaign finance reform
Bartlet: Tries to circumvent congressional self-interest in campaign-finance reform by proposing legislation to take effect in three decades.
Clinton: Closes loophole for "527 organizations," blocking anonymous donors from raising unlimited/undisclosed funds for elections.
Bush: Bans soft money contributions/unlimited campaign contributions to political parties; limits advertising by corporations/unions immediately before an election.
Middle East peace
Bartlet: Hosts Israeli-Palestinian peace summit at Camp David, then holds both parties hostage until an agreement can be reached.
Clinton: Brokers Oslo peace agreement between Israel and the PLO on White House lawn.
Bush: Tells Israeli and Palestinian leaders that God told him to invade Iraq and told him to create peace in the Middle East, too. "
From the Daily Record:
"At the risk of seeming to be just another media liberal (I'm not, but some people just assume that anyone in this business is), I've got to say I'm going to miss "The West Wing."
It's been my favorite television show since it debuted seven years ago. Almost from the start, everyone in my family knew not to try to talk to me in the midst of a first-run episode. I semi-jokingly referred to the weekly hour of "The West Wing" as "church." That meant it was something during which you didn't ever talk or expect any reaction from me if you did.
Heck, I even have the theme song as my cell phone ring tone.
While it's been a little inconsistent in recent years since creator and head writer Aaron Sorkin moved on, it has remained, by comparison to the wide range of garbage that passes for TV entertainment, substantially better than just about everything else.
Plus, during the past two years, they've added Alan Alda, the star of my other all-time favorite TV show, "M*A*S*H," as Sen. Arnold Vinick, presidential candidate and now, the nominee to be secretary of state in the soon to be inaugurated presidency of Matt (Jimmy Smits) Santos.
Tonight NBC will air the show's last episode at 8 p.m.
I know that when the closing credits roll, I'm going to be wishing I could see how the new administration carries out the legacy of Josiah Bartlet and company.
I also know that outside of Mets games and "24," I'm going to be ready to sub-lease my TV from here on.
Whether or not you were philosophically in agreement with the slant of the show, it was usually well written, regularly thought-provoking, sometimes amusing and always worth the investment of an hour.
The character of President Bartlet was frequently known to bark, "What's next?"
In this case, nothing anywhere near as good, I fear."
From the Albany Times Union:
""The West Wing" (8 p.m. Sunday, WNYT Ch. 13) wraps up its historic seven-season run this week; it departs among the all-time great dramas.
Smart shows are rare enough; it's even more rare when a drama makes its viewers smarter. The highly lauded drama -- which in recent seasons has faced charges of creative exhaustion -- has the hardware to prove it: 89 Emmy nominations and 24 wins, with one more awards cycle to go.
Martin Sheen was initially supposed to make a mere cameo appearance -- the President wasn't envisioned as a major character; the original "star" was Rob Lowe. Instead, "The West Wing" built the strongest ensemble cast on television, again proven out by Emmys: Allison Janney, John Spencer, Stockard Channing, Bradley Whitford and Richard Schiff all took home statuettes during the run.
The writing, initially penned to the word by creator Aaron Sorkin, featured smart people saying smart things while walking through narrow hallways. Such scenes, dubbed "the walk and talk," became the series' signature.
It used to be a TV rule: Shows set in the White House were comedies, and not very good ones. "The Powers That Be," "The Farmer's Daughter," "Mr. President" and even the epically bad "The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer" were just some of the forgettable benchmarks.
Sorkin's creation brought us inside the White House, the most important home office in the world. Turns out its just that: an office, with the same personality clashes that affect us schmoes in the more mundane 9-to-5 world.
But "The West Wing" did something else: It made smart television watchable."
From the Cox News Service:
"Let's make a TV show about public service and patriotism, sacrifice and love of country, behind-the-scenes drama and Oval Office grandeur, wit and passion, deep thinking and, yes, morality.
Yeah, right. Sounds impossible in today's cynical climate, but in 1999, Aaron Sorkin made such a pitch, and The West Wing was born.
As NBC's Emmy-laden drama says goodbye tonight, we give thanks and pay tribute. Sure, there have been a few of the seven seasons that didn't pass muster, when people were kidnapped or shot for no apparent reason.
But most of the time, The West Wing has set the bar high and then climbed higher. Makes you want to dress up and go vote.
Memories? We've got a few.
After the president's trusty secretary Mrs. Landingham's funeral, filmed at Washington National Cathedral, Martin Sheen, as President Josiah "Jed" Bartlet, delivered a blistering, fist-pumping diatribe, in Latin, to God. Viewers who weren't shaken by that probably can't be shaken ... or stirred.
In another episode, Toby learned that an old overcoat he'd given away had wound up on a homeless veteran who died on a park bench.
He arranged for the man to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. He sat by the coffin, alone, in a cold, blustery wind as the military guard sounded taps and the rifle volleys echoed.
At the end of another episode, the young staffers sipped beer on the stoop of a brownstone and marveled at the honor of working in the White House.
One by one they repeated, with hushed reverence, their swearing-in pledge: "I serve at the pleasure of the president."
Throughout the years, people have pondered why The West Wing was able to develop such a devoted (if slowly dwindling) following among viewers of all political persuasions.
Sheen, who loathes cynicism, has told reporters more than once that he hopes, if nothing else, that The West Wing has reminded us that public service is an honor, and that the people who do it -- and do it well -- are decent citizens who deserve respect."
From eitb in Spain:
"The nation's real-life political landscape has changed dramatically since the show debuted in 1999, during the post-Monica Lewinsky twilight of the Clinton administration.
American television bids goodbye on Sunday to "The West Wing," a landmark drama offering viewers a Utopian narrative -- some might call it fantasy -- of a president and White House staff who always put country above politics.
The Emmy-winning series starring Martin Sheen as the man in the Oval Office heads off the airwaves after seven years on the NBC network (one year shy of two presidential terms) just as newly elected successor Jimmy Smits is about to assume office.
The nation's real-life political landscape has changed dramatically since the show debuted in 1999, during the post-Monica Lewinsky twilight of the Clinton administration. But "The West Wing" has stayed its course through the turbulent years that followed, often reflecting actual events and politics, although usually with greater eloquence, clarity and decisiveness than viewers could find on the evening news.
"It was a kind of Utopian notion of the kind of president that we wished we had but that the political process would never be able to deliver," said Robert Thompson, head of Syracuse University's Center for the Study of Popular Television. Moreover, the show's idealism resonated with a U.S. electorate disillusioned by real politics, said University of Maryland professor Trevor Parry-Giles, author "The Prime Time Presidency: The West Wing and U.S. Nationalism." "It played right into this seeping cynicism and gave audiences this countervision," he told Reuters.
"The show didn't really rip stories from the headlines but played off cultural anxieties and angst." Critics hailed the series, especially during its first four seasons under the guidance of creator Aaron Sorkin. "West Wing" won the Emmy Award as best TV drama four years in a row and holds the record for most Emmys trophies in a single season -- nine for its first year. Although it lost considerable ratings steam, the show was widely regarded as having enjoyed a creative renaissance in its final season.
As a portrait of the political and personal struggles inside a Democratic administration, the show was embraced by many liberal viewers as prime-time wish fulfillment while derided by some conservatives as Hollywood leftist propaganda. Still, producers sought to depict Sheen's character, President Josiah "Jed" Bartlet, as a leader for all people, endowed with an integrity and nobility seldom seen in Washington on either end of the political spectrum.
Bartlet's top aides were likewise smart, earnestly dedicated, and fiercely loyal civil servants. Much of the show's appeal hinged on their personal lives, which, as in real-life Washington, did not stray far from the office. Executive producer John Wells said that unlike real office holders, his characters were unfettered by Washington's single-biggest imperative -- money. "The strangest paradox of all is that the political ads that paid for a lot of 'West Wing' ... (are) forcing our political system to be something we all wished it wasn't," he said.
While the stories were told from a Democratic perspective, Republicans were generally treated as worthy adversaries. "I don't think the show pandered to liberals," Parry-Giles said. "They tried to give the Republican viewpoint at least a fair hearing."
Both presidential contenders in the show's climactic election campaign this season -- Democrat Matthew Santos (Smits) and Republican Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda) -- were politically moderate, intelligent and extremely likable. "West Wing" may not be the only political show to leave the air this month. A new ABC drama, "Commander In Chief," starring Geena Davis as the first female U.S. president, may not be renewed for the fall due to low ratings."
From the Buffalo News:
" It is, no matter what, the final episode of "The West Wing" that takes pride of place here. Aaron Sorkin certainly didn't invent shamelessly, virtuosically literate and witty dialogue on a TV dramatic series. That distinction, as we've now come to understand it, probably goes to "Hill Street Blues" with a nod to earlier mid-'70s things like "Harry O" and "The Rockford Files" (both of which are so good in a fresh way they're still being re-run).
But Sorkin and his director/partner Thomas Schlamme brought it to an intellectual density and allegro tempo that were new, while turning the extended two-character Walk and Talk into the standard expository device in almost every good TV show since.
Where praises for "The West Wing" deserve to be sung for as long as anyone still watches TV is this: never before in TV history has a TV series sent its virtuosic creator and show-runner to the showers and then brought in an entirely new fellow (John Wells) to figure out a way to change the show decisively while still honoring absolutely everything that made the show great.
At some point, serious TV journalists, historians and scholars are going to have to interview the producers and writers to find out how this prime-time miracle was managed.
I suspect that former Clintonista Lawrence O'Donnell - who straddled both regimes of the show - had more than a little to do with it.
Even so, I'm one inquiring mind who wants to know, in detail, how a show about "The West Wing" decided instead to go out on the campaign trail with Santos and Vinick. And how they decided to reconcile all the sexual tensions on the show with so much buckle and swash (one of the great episodes in the series' history was the end of the Santos campaign and the Bartlett presidency, in which their staffs, out of boredom, all started sleeping with one another.) "
"The West Wing," wrapping up its seven-season run on NBC Sunday (8 p.m. on Ch. 4, preceded by a reairing of the pilot episode at 7 p.m.), is an American dream. An all-American dream. Although it has been charged that President Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen), commander-in-chief of an alternate-universe United States, is a fantasy for "ultra-liberals," the fact that the series had the most upscale audience in all of television suggests that more than a few dividend-collecting, Lexus-driving conservatives tuned in as well.
And why not? "The West Wing" not only has been better television than we usually get, it also has depicted a better presidential administration.
No ordinary politician - or human, for that matter - "Jed" Bartlet is an improbable mix-and-match creation. He's a one-man presidential gallery, beginning with his John F. Kennedy hair and jaw and including his Richard Nixon pragmatism, his Harry Truman directness, his Ronald Reagan amiability and communication skills, his Jimmy Carter social conscience and his Woodrow Wilson erudition.
Pundits talk about people preferring a president they could have a beer with. Bartlet would raise a mug with you and tell you all about the hops and barley that went into the brew - and do the same for a fine Cabernet. He could talk history, philosophy, mythology, the ins and outs of baseball, turkey roasting and national parks. He seemed to know more stuff than Daniel Boorstein and Cliff Clavin combined. Who wouldn't want a fellow like that in the Oval Office? You might not love his politics, but you'd never have to worry about him embarrassing the nation.
While the Bartlet character set the tone, only occasionally was he the series' primary focus. "The West Wing" was largely about the White House staff and the process of governance. Here, too, the series was packed with fantastically brainy men and women. Chief of staff Leo McGarry (John Spencer), deputy chief of staff Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford), press secretary C.J. Cregg (Allison Janney) and communications director Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff), the one true "ultra-liberal" in the bunch, put the shine back on the notion of "the best and the brightest" that real President Lyndon Johnson's men tarnished.
As they went about the business of flattering lawmakers' egos and twisting their arms, trading favors and formulating policies, Bartlet's minions didn't merely say the glib dialogue series creator and primary writer Aaron Sorkin imagined for them - they said it, often as not, while barreling around the White House hallways like NASCAR drivers. Thomas Schlamme was the primary director, but at times it seemed like Howard Hawks. The walk-and-talk dialogue was "Bringing Up Baby" quick and zingy. "The West Wing" established a new genre, the screwball dramedy.
Bringing a new level of intelligence and sophistication to prime-time television in itself would have distinguished "The West Wing." But it also posited an upbeat, inspiring vision of what a presidential administration could be. Bartlet was an honest, moral chief executive, and neither he nor the members of his staff were enriching their cronies, lining their own pockets or dropping their pants.
In its first season (1999-2000), "The West Wing" stood as an idealistic antidote to the scandal-tainted final months of Bill Clinton's real presidency and was rewarded with passionate viewer response, decent Nielsen ratings, an Emmy for best dramatic series and a Peabody Award. In its second (2000-01), which began with the dramatic conclusion of an assassination-attempt cliff-hanger, the series hit its popularity peak against the real-world backdrop of a divisive, bitterly disputed presidential election and, then, the winner's "What, me worry?" look and grammatical misdemeanors.
"The West Wing" may not have been a blockbuster hit, but it was a top 10 fixture - a remarkable feat considering that it did not entail crime-solving, emergency medicine or courtroom heroics and that, when President Bartlet deployed military personnel, they served their country off-screen. A series essentially about ideas had never risen so high.
Political fortunes can shift overnight, and so can those of a show about politics. Sorkin's immediate response to the terrorist strikes on Sept. 11, 2001, was a hastily produced special episode in which Bartlet staffers ruminated on a similar attack. After that awkward, stilted installment, "The West Wing" resumed its regular storyline, and the stylized characters and imaginary crises suddenly stopped resonating. With President Bush talking like a frontier marshal and his cabinet members, likewise ubiquitous on TV, looking so solemn and sounding so tough, the breezy Bartlet team seemed too clever for their own good - or ours.
Sorkin struggled mightily against forces beyond his control and, to his credit, produced many finely crafted episodes in the third and fourth seasons. But the bloom was off the Rose Garden. Fewer people were receptive to the fantasy. Before the fifth season began, Sorkin was forced out of his own show, and the reins were handed to co-executive producer John Wells. With the ascension of Wells, whose trademark show was "ER," "The West Wing's" melodrama quotient went up and its dialogue became less agile. More viewers defected. Ratings slipped. Many critics gave it up for dull.
For their fidelity and patience, viewers who weathered the storms were treated to perhaps the most amazing recovery by a series in TV history. In Wells' second season in command, the sixth (2004-05), "The West Wing" divided its focus, splitting its time between the lame-duck president's offices and the campaign trail, where various Democrats and Republicans jockeyed to win their respective party's nomination. Not only did the shift re-energize the show, but it also necessitated bringing in engaging new characters - not just Jimmy Smits' Rep. Matt Santos and Alan Alda's Sen. Arnold Vinnick, who wound up topping the opposing tickets, but secondary characters such as the professional campaign cutthroats played by Stephen Root, Janeane Garofalo and Ron Silver. Except for a well-intentioned stab at a presidential debate that was scripted but performed live, the run of episodes that will culminate in Santos' inauguration Sunday are among the best hours of drama that this or any other weekly series has produced.
And even in these, which depicted a part of the political process that we know only too well is rife with backroom tradeoffs and dirty tricks, "The West Wing" has maintained its vision of presidential politics as they never were or probably never will be, but for which we have not just a right but an obligation to aspire.
Call it melodramatic fantasy or a satirical shaming of politicians who pay only lip service to nonpartisanship, but it was a grand moment when President-elect Santos offered the position of secretary of State to Vinnick, the man he bested by a narrow margin. And it was all the more inspiring because he offered Vinnick the job not simply because it was politically advantageous, but because, after evaluating the prospects, he decided that Vinnick was the most qualified and the best choice for the country. Imagine.
It's a pity NBC is abandoning "The West Wing." There's plenty of life left in this series. Then again, there's no reason to think the ratings would ever rebound. Presidential popularity is almost impossible to regain once it has slipped. Rather than gripe, let's just stand up and applaud its last hurrah. Not only did "The West Wing" give us a glimpse, a suggestion, of what goes on behind those doors and in those hallways, it championed civility and statesmanship. Not a bad presidential legacy."
Readers can send in their comments to Newsday.
From the Baltimore Sun:
" This has not been a very good year for TV presidents.
Tonight, after seven seasons and 25 Emmys, comes the final episode of NBC's The West Wing - and with it, the last chance for viewers to visit an Oval Office graced by President Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen).
Prime time has been diminished by each of the departures, but the greatest loss, by far, comes with the finale of The West Wing.
With dialogue distinguished by rapid-fire repartee and biting wit, creator Aaron Sorkin's scripts pushed prime-time dramatic writing to new heights. And they did so week in and week out at a time when much of the rest of popular culture seemed to be growing less enlightened and more coarse.
The series was never the same after Sorkin left at the end of the fourth season. But in fairness to producer John Wells and an outstanding ensemble cast, the core characters remained much as their creator envisioned them. The drama even enjoyed a bit of a renaissance in the past year with Alan Alda and Jimmy Smits pitted against each other as presidential candidates.
Most important, the savvy saga of backstage life at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. accomplished something exceedingly rare for network TV: It elevated the national political conversation and served as a source of inspiration for millions of Americans. (At the peak of the series' popularity during the 2001-2002 season, 17 million viewers a week tuned in.)
"The West Wing set the standard for so many years for quality television - and I think it also spoke to the better part of us," said Hollywood producer and writer Steve "Scoop" Cohen.
The Maryland native is the creator of WB's 2004 drama Jack & Bobby, which told the story of two teenage brothers, one of whom would become president of the United States. Cohen was inspired to develop the show in 1992 while working on then-Arkansas-Gov. Bill Clinton's campaign. His critically acclaimed but low-rated series lasted only one season; last year, Cohen was a writer-producer on Commander in Chief.
"We want to believe that our leaders and the people who are working for them are passionate, committed and relentless in their pursuit of bettering the country - regardless of ideology," Cohen said. "The loss of the Bartlet administration and the nascent Allen administration, leaves the country with just one president - a president at an all-time low in the polls."
Cohen, who also worked in the Clinton White House, is referring, of course, to George W. Bush, America's real president. On TV, however, there's still another fictional president in prime time, 24's hopelessly corrupt Charles Logan (Gregory Itzin), with his Nixon-esque mannerisms and bundle of neuroses.
Viewers may lose even him. Last week, the Monday night drama closed on the image of President Logan alone in his office with a handgun on his desk and suicide clearly on his mind.
As compelling and resonant in the post-Sept. 11 era as 24 can be, even the series' most die-hard fans have to acknowledge that it regularly relies on superficial - even cartoonish - depictions of heroes and villains to send its par-boiled story lines into overdrive. (Remember the public service announcement last year that featured Kiefer Sutherland stepping out of character as Jack Bauer and, speaking directly to viewers, insisting that the series was not characterizing Muslims as terrorists?)
The producers of The West Wing, on the other hand, rarely oversimplified government or reduced those who work within it to stereotypes.
"The series offered a rich and often ambivalent depiction of women, people of color, the military and politics in general," said Shawn Parry-Giles, director of the Center for Political Communication and Civic Leadership at the University of Maryland, College Park, and co-author of The Prime-Time Presidency: The West Wing and U.S. Nationalism (University of Illinois Press, 2006).
Furthermore, even though the series was first and foremost prime-time entertainment, its producers addressed the audience as intelligent adults rather than eyeballs to be counted by the great god Nielsen and served up to Madison Avenue.
"The West Wing offered a compelling, romantic, complicated vision of the American presidency over the span of seven tumultuous years of American history," said Trevor Parry-Giles, Shawn's husband and co-author of Prime-time Presidency and associate professor of political communication at Maryland.
The show, which made its debut in the aftermath of Clinton's impeachment and continued airing throughout the 2000 election, the Sept. 11 attacks and the war in Iraq, "provided its viewers with another layer of meaning about the presidency - one that is easily the most complex popular-culture depiction of a president and his administration ever offered."
Trevor Parry-Giles doesn't think a drop in ratings by more than half during the last four years suggests less public interest or involvement in the political process: "We have not seen any dips in voting percentages or anything that would suggest more disengagement today than when the series began seven years ago. People are troubled and anxious about the economy and the war in Iraq, but they are very engaged."
The West Wing deserves a better sendoff than NBC will offer tonight. Last week, the network canceled plans for a one-hour retrospective preceding the finale. The cancellation came as the result of a squabble over whether or not the actors would be paid for being part of the special.
Given the series' small audience (8 million viewers a week) and consequently low advertising rates, the retrospective would lose money were the actors to be paid, according to the network. Thus, the finale will be preceded tonight by the 1999 pilot instead.
A rerun is no way to send off a series that has brought such honor to a network for seven years."
Send in to your favorite episodes to the DCist.
From the Detroit News:
"In real life, presidents and politicians almost always disappoint their constituents at some level, never truly living up to all their campaign promises.
On the small screen, ethically grounded President Josiah "Jed" Bartlet (Martin Sheen) never did, as the fictional leader came to epitomize all the things America needs.
But as NBC's "The West Wing" comes to an end Sunday, will it be able to boast the same legacy its protagonist experienced -- or will the once-strong drama fade away Jimmy Carter-style?
Over its seven-year run, the perpetual Emmy darling inspired books, blogs and fan sites.
"There were more people enthralled by the presidential debate between Santos (Barlet's elected successor, played by Jimmy Smits) and Sen. Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda) this season than with the real presidential debates. What does that tell you?" asks Jonathan Taplin, a professor of digital media and entertainment at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication.
In its heyday, "The West Wing" made civics fun in a way that not even the best-intentioned bespectacled high-school teachers could.
"This show did a more complete job of explaining the presidency than ever done before," says Trevor Parry-Giles, a professor of rhetoric and political culture at the University of Maryland.
He has studied "The West Wing" over the years with his wife, Shawn Parry-Giles. The couple wrote "The Prime-Time Presidency: The West Wing and U.S. Nationalism," (University of Illinois Press, $50).
"There have been movies where you saw Harrison Ford as a president fighting for his life on a plane for two hours and Michael Douglas as a president falling in love for two hours," Trevor Parry-Giles says. "But there has been nothing like 'The West Wing' when it comes to the presidency."
But over time, the allure began to dim. Marc Berman, a TV analyst and columnist for the New York-based Mediaweek Magazine, says "The West Wing" fell off largely because of NBC's capricious scheduling changes.
"It started out like gangbusters and won Emmys even after it lagged in the ratings," Berman says. "(But)most people got over (the show) after NBC moved it from Wednesdays to a graveyard spot on Sunday."
Also contributing to its slide, Berman says, were the show's increasingly extreme left-wing plotlines, the departure of the show's creator Aaron Sorkin at the end of the fourth season and actor egos.
The most publicized controversy surrounded the 2003 exodus of Rob Lowe, who left under a storm of rumors about possible salary and prominence demands. (Lowe returns Sunday for a guest appearance in the finale.)
The show's water cooler quotient rekindled earlier this season when Alda and Smits acted out a startlingly realistic live debate between their characters. Suddenly, people were wondering if the tired show would find new life as Bartlet's two-term run came to an end.
But the ratings never rebounded enough to save the show from a cancellation announcement earlier this year.
So as the chapter closes on the formerly formidable "West Wing," experts differ on whether the show leaves a legacy worthy of its pinnacle or tarnished by its unfulfilled promise.
For some, the tell is the recent echo of the mid-run cast histrionics. Early this week, reports circled about NBC's planned retrospective being killed by actors from the show's past demanding too much moolah.
"The fact that there will not be a retrospective because some of the actors got greedy proves that this is the end," Berman says. " 'The West Wing' will go out with a whimper."
But Dave Ross, a radio talk show host on Seattle's KIRO-AM (710) who has dedicated countless on-air hours to discussing "The West Wing," believes there is so much life left in the drama that the show's legacy remains strong.
"Some people think it lost its spark when Aaron Sorkin left, but frankly I think the campaign episodes from this season were as good as any they did," says Ross, who has never missed an episode and has "The West Wing" earmarked as a season pass on his TiVo.
"I have to believe NBC has a spinoff in mind," he says. "To have Santos take office and pick his opponent as his secretary of state (a main story in Sunday's finale) is compelling. To leave that plotline hanging would be an incredible loss to the country."
No matter whether viewers look back on the show with love or hate, this Oval Office series will be leaving an unprecedented impression on pop culture, Parry-Giles says.
"This was good stuff for a TV show.""
From the Detroit Free Press:
"The political party's over for "The West Wing," but this isn't the time to mope.
For seven seasons, most of them truly exceptional, Aaron Sorkin's smart, colorful White House odyssey captured our imaginations and stirred the emotions in a way that no "CSI," "American Idol" or "Grey's Anatomy" ever could.
"The West Wing" had the ring of essential truth in its Washington storytelling details while also presenting an idealized portrait of the American political system the way we might like it to be ... a portrait of hope, integrity, patriotism and civility.
Does it hurt to have NBC pull the plug on such a fine series? Absolutely.
But "The West Wing" -- which joins "Hill Street Blues" and "L.A. Law" as the only series to win four Emmy Awards as TV's top drama -- has already carved out a special spot in television history. In a medium often overrun with doctors, lawyers and cops, President Bartlet & Co. offered a mesmerizing pop-culture alternative when the show first arrived in the fall of 1999.
The memories are just too rich and wonderful to sit around whining about NBC's decision to cancel the show. And despite a big ratings drop after being moved to 8 p.m. Sundays, the quality of "The West Wing" this final season has recalled the glory days of the early years.
Going out on top creatively, with a return to dramatic excellence on the campaign trail as Santos battled Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda) for the keys to the White House, has been especially sweet.
So heavens to Mrs. Landingham, let's enjoy it."
From the Detroit Free Press, "10 Things We Loved About "The West Wing""
"1. President Josiah (Jed) Bartlet, of course. The stubborn, straightforward Vermonter (sic) always spoke his mind. And what an intelligent, literate mind it was. The guy even babbled eloquently in Latin. And Martin Sheen's unforgettable performance captured all the flaws, humor and humanity of a pragmatic liberal with a big heart who always hung tough on foreign policy.
2. Aaron Sorkin's mesmerizing language. His uncanny ear for witty repartee, policy wonk chatter and articulate political discourse gave "The West Wing" its signature verbal zing. And when Sorkin departed after four Emmy Award-winning seasons, "The West Wing" stumbled around for a season or so before finally relocating its Beltway mojo.
3. The walking and talking. Characters briskly walked, talking all the way, through the hallways and offices of Bartlet's White House. Credit a superbly talented ensemble cast, Sorkin's distinctively snappy, stylized conversations and executive producer Thomas Schlamme's kinetic visual style.
4. Substance and real issues. Sorkin & Co. even made obscure congressional budgetary battles and quirky international trade agreements intriguing.
5. All the President's men and women. From the late Leo McGarry and C.J. Cregg to Josh Lyman, Sam Seaborn and Toby Ziegler, Bartlet was blessed with a smart, ambitious team of advisers. Despite their policy wonk tendencies -- or sometimes because of them -- this intense, witty White House gang was remarkably compelling.
6. No cynicism allowed. With empathy and intelligence, "The West Wing" resurrected the notion of genuine political honor and the true worthiness of public service.
7. Josh and Donna's sexual tension tango. Bradley Whitford and Janel Moloney smartly strung us along for six seasons before these two workplace soul mates finally got together for some good lovin'.
8. Idealism is cool, optimism rocks. "The West Wing" never succumbed to the toxic atmosphere of polarized partisanship that has too often put a mean-spirited stranglehold on political discourse in the real Washington.
9. John Spencer. Whether he was serving the president as fount of political wisdom Leo McGarry on "The West Wing" or working the courtrooms and helping his clients as sly, fiery Tommy Mullaney on "L.A. Law," Spencer fully inhabited his memorable TV characters. RIP.
10. The final season. Alan Alda and Jimmy Smits brought their 'A' game to "The West Wing" for an enthralling presidential election duel. Unless Emmy voters are completely clueless, they'll both be honored when nominations are announced in July. And as a make-believe Vinick backer, I think Alan Alda will make a fabulous Secretary of State."
From the Courier Journal:
"When most popular TV series reach the end of their long runs, producers and columnists struggle to attach some social significance to their passing.
But no one will have to anguish over making a case for "The West Wing," which winds up a seven-year stint Sunday. The series, starring Martin Sheen as President Bartlet, dealt with issues real chief executives deal with, such as terrorism, and some they haven't, such as the health-care crisis.
Why is this series leaving the air? Ratings, as usual. The political drama peaked with over 17 million viewers in the 2001-02 season, which took in 9/11, and began a free fall in 2004-05. It is now seen by about 8 million viewers weekly, less than half of what it commanded in its heyday. The move to Sundays only accelerated its demise.
On the other hand, seven seasons in an era when shows get canceled after a single chapter is a long run.
From another perspective, "The West Wing," like real political administrations, had just run its course and about run out of ideas, although you would think that might be hard to do with something like politics and the White House.
The creators painted themselves into a corner with President Bartlet, who was already 18 months into his first term when the show started, which meant he could serve only another term before the star of the series would have to step down. "The West Wing" actually played the scenario out, having characters portrayed by Jimmy Smits and Alan Alda running to succeed him.
Could the series have carried on with either one of them as the star? It's doubtful, especially with a show that costs $6 million an episode rapidly losing audience. They could even have kept Sheen around by having him run for Congress. Andrew Johnson did that and was elected to the Senate that had tried to impeach him.
But even Sheen, 65, wanted to call it quits. Still, Democrats from his birth state of Ohio wanted him to run for the U.S. Senate, according to The New York Times.
The actor, who has been a firebrand activist for many causes over the years, turned them down, saying he didn't have the credentials and that they were mistaking being an actor with being qualified for public office. Tell that to Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Bartlet was a Democrat on the show, although he was, according to some conservatives, the kind of Democrat they could like, if not vote for because of his strong values and willingness to take forceful action. Other conservatives called the show "The Left Wing."
The show frequently mirrored the real-life situations the resident of the Oval Office had to deal with, but it was usually on a delayed basis.
Because "The West Wing" normally shoots weeks or even months ahead of when it's aired, the plots couldn't be quickly ripped from the headlines. But it did deal in the ideas, debates and controversies that plague all political administrations, although in a more melodramatic way than in real life.
"The West Wing" also gave the writers a chance to peek behind the doors of the White House to see the president as a person and a human being. It also introduced us to a deeply involved and committed staff.
Sunday's episode sees the swearing-in of the new president, played by Smits. Originally, the script called for the Republican, played by Alda, to be elected. The producers, however, decided it would be too much for fans to also see Smits' character lose the election on top of the death of his running mate, so they put the Democrat in office instead, according to The New York Times. (Smits' running mate was played by John Spencer, who died in real life in December.)
The producers say the swearing-in is fitting because the message of the show always was that many good, decent and dedicated people serve in public life and that core of democracy is the peaceful transition of power. "
From the Voice of America:
"For years, American television producers were most likely to set their dramas in places like courtrooms, hospitals or police stations. But over the past decade, the White House and halls of Congress have also become popular settings as well. Many credit the critically-acclaimed drama The West Wing with providing an "insiders" look at the U.S. presidency and Washington political process. The West Wing concludes its final season next Sunday as Washington political observers reflect on the show's contributions.
As many as 15 million American viewers tuned in to the NBC network to watch actor Martin Sheen play a fictional president, Jeb Bartlett -- as he and his White House staff grappled with everything from global terrorism to aggressive reporters. Now that the series is ending, Mr. Sheen says he has enjoyed his seven-year -or nearly two-term tenure- on The West Wing. The show's title refers to the area of the White House where the president's and many staff offices are located.
"It's been a beautiful, beautiful grace-filled, happy run," says Sheen. "I have mixed
feelings about it: it's hard to let go of, but it must be let go of."
News reports attributed the show's cancellation to a declining number of viewers and the sudden death last December of key actor John Spencer, who portrayed the president's chief of staff. George Washington University Law Professor Jonathan Turley says the show filled a need of Americans to have a "fantasy leader."
"I think people liked The West Wing because it was the president they wanted," Professor Turley says, "someone who was sensitive, intelligent, even conflicted, but someone aware of his conflicts. People enjoyed The West Wing more than reality because it was the White House they wanted, whether they were Democrats or Republicans."
Professor Turley says the dialogue on The West Wing sounded accurate because the show's creator, Aaron Sorkin, hired real-life White House staffers, such as ex-President Bush's and Clinton's press secretaries to help with the TV scripts.
"The West Wing was very much a part of a cottage industry here in Washington," says Turley. "There were a lot of contributors who brought a lot of reality. The West Wing often followed contemporary events closely and was a commentary on those events. What was striking was that people seemed to take comfort that The West Wing was dealing with contemporary problems even though it was purely theatrical [and] there was a certain nobility to the way the problems were handled."
Former CBS News White House correspondent Terence Smith once visited the West Wing studio set in Burbank, California, and found it almost like the real president's office in Washington. "It was eerie walking around that set - how similar it was," Smith says. "Many things were shrunken down in size, but I was very familiar with the White House press room. They got it right."
But observers also say the show sometimes presented an idealized view of the American presidency. Professor Turley says he found The West Wing staffers were sometimes too good to be true.
"The greatest problem with The West Wing was that everybody was articulate, no matter what occurred," Turley says. "You could have a nuclear threat and people were talking in complete sentences! In reality, Washington is not that articulate, neat or provocative."
Retired correspondent Smith says The West Wing has to have some literary license to make the show exciting. "Of course, it was theatrical," he says. "But there was an authenticity to it. It was fascinating for people to watch. The cast was so good, including the late John Spencer, who was a terrific actor and a tragic loss."
As a university professor, Jonathan Turley and other educators applaud such shows
as The West Wing and ABC television's Commander in Chief for giving viewers a unique look at their government in action. But he says it's unfortunate that many need to turn to television for strong presidential role models and staff.
"There's an element of fantasy as people in both parties are unhappy with the current politics," says Jonathan Turley. "They're turning to television, where actors are providing a more viable and sustainable model. [But] it's worrisome that so many Americans turn on the TV to see White Houses that resonate more deeply with them. It's an example of the deep malaise and dissatisfaction both Republicans and Democrats have with the political system. Right now, television offers the most inspiring models and reality is far more disturbing."
Apparently, interest in fictional White House dramas is diminishing. Along with the ending of The West Wing series, ABC television recently announced it has canceled the new series Commander in Chief, starring actress Geena Davis. Davis won a Golden Globe "best dramatic actress" award earlier this year for her portrayal of the first female president of the United States."
From the Washington Post:
"Stories about kings, and all the kings' men, have been around for centuries. But when it comes to our king (the president), our palace (the White House) and our modern storytelling medium (television), the record has been mostly silent. Doctors, lawyers and police officers have always outnumbered and outlasted political leaders on TV. Then came "The West Wing."
The series that showcased Jed Bartlet's presidency ends Sunday after seven seasons and two dozen Emmys, a long reign for a show about politics.
So why did "The West Wing" succeed? For one thing, entertainment TV had been timid about the subject of politics for most of its history, fearful of offending audiences. When political settings were used for a TV series, the subject matter was softened, if not neutralized. Nearly all of the series about the White House, for example, have been comedies -- including a 1992 series, "Capitol Critters," that featured talking mice -- and most of the political dramas were only slight variations of the nonpartisan movie fantasy "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." These series were stripped of what could have made them most interesting: the processes of politics.
"The West Wing" took a different ap-proach. While it certainly featured comic elements, its focus was politics, and it didn't shy away from assigning its characters to a specific political party.
"The West Wing" recognized that modern government is mostly about hot air. The essence of Washington is talk, and the essence of the series was its dialogue -- conversation as a spectator sport.
This new style of fictional TV politics was the vision of Aaron Sorkin. He created "The West Wing" and presided over the first four -- and many say best -- of its seven seasons. He also wrote or co-wrote all but three of the 88 episodes he produced. Besides winning a record-breaking nine Emmy Awards in its first year, "The West Wing" took the Emmy for Best Drama for all four years of Sorkin's tenure.
The weapons of choice most often on display in Sorkin's White House were rhetoric, oratory and a general running-off-at-the-mouth by people who obviously had done very well on the verbal portion of their SATs. The rapid fire of syllables proved more exciting than that of missiles. The show's words spoke louder than its actions and, though meticulously directed, this is one of the few dramatic programs on television that actually could have worked on radio.
As a writer, Sorkin is a man of many words: many, many words. "West Wing" screenplays ran up to 20 pages longer than other hour-long dramas on television.
"Growing up in my house," Sorkin said recently, "anybody who used one word when they could have used 10 just wasn't trying." His New York childhood included frequent trips to the theater: He saw plays by the likes of Edward Albee, Shakespeare and David Mamet before he was a teenager.
"I had no idea at all what was going on up there," he said, "but I loved the sound of the dialogue, and I wanted to write dialogue that sounded like what I'd heard."
Not since "Moonlighting," or until "Deadwood," had any new series paid such careful attention to language. Two books of selected scripts from the show have been published, a distinction earned so far by only a handful of TV series.
In the end, however, "The West Wing" was not very realistic. For that, we'd do better with HBO's short-lived "Tanner '88" or "K Street."
If only people on both sides of Washington's political spectrum acted with the soaring vision and spoke in the baroque linguistic fugues heard on "The West Wing." But that, alas, is as much a fantasy as the talking White House rodents on "Capitol Critters."
Robert J. Thompson is a professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University.
Robert J. Thompson picks some "West Wing" episodes that stand out because of substance or style. All are available on DVD.
· Pilot (Season 1): The show's maiden voyage featured comedy (Sam accidentally dates a prostitute), politics (Josh gets in trouble with the religious right) and a rousing final-act entrance by the president.
· Let Bartlet Be Bartlet (Season 1): A model episode that touched on gays in the military, campaign finance reform and sagging presidential approval ratings.
· The Midterms (Season 2): This episode about the three months leading up to midterm elections aired just weeks before the real, and highly contested, presidential election of 2000.
· In This White House (Season 2): Ainsley Hayes proved that Republicans can talk as well -- and as fast -- as Democrats.
· Two Cathedrals (Season 2): As a freak storm raged through the nation's capital, the president saw visions of his childhood, had a conversation with a ghost and talked to God. The striking directing of Thomas Schlamme, the visual soul of the series, was in evidence here.
· Isaac and Ishmael (Season 3): A stand-alone episode made as a response to the terrorist attacks. It aired less than four weeks after Sept. 11, 2001."
"American television bids goodbye on Sunday to "The West Wing," a landmark drama offering viewers a Utopian narrative -- some might call it fantasy -- of a president and White House staff who always put country above politics.
The Emmy-winning series starring Martin Sheen as the man in the Oval Office heads off the airwaves after seven years on the NBC network (one year shy of two presidential terms) just as newly elected successor Jimmy Smits is about to assume office.
The nation's real-life political landscape has changed dramatically since the show debuted in 1999, during the post-Monica Lewinsky twilight of the Clinton administration.
But "The West Wing" has stayed its course through the turbulent years that followed, often reflecting actual events and politics, although usually with greater eloquence, clarity and decisiveness than viewers could find on the evening news.
"It was a kind of Utopian notion of the kind of president that we wished we had but that the political process would never be able to deliver," said Robert Thompson, head of Syracuse University's Center for the Study of Popular Television.
Moreover, the show's idealism resonated with a U.S. electorate disillusioned by real politics, said University of Maryland professor Trevor Parry-Giles, author "The Prime Time Presidency: The West Wing and U.S. Nationalism.
"It played right into this seeping cynicism and gave audiences this countervision," he told Reuters. "The show didn't really rip stories from the headlines but played off cultural anxieties and angst."
"West Wing" won the Emmy Award as best TV drama four years in a row and holds the record for most Emmys trophies in a single season -- nine for its first year. Although it lost considerable ratings steam, the show was widely regarded as having enjoyed a creative renaissance in its final season.
As a portrait of the political and personal struggles inside a Democratic administration, the show was embraced by many liberal viewers as prime-time wish fulfillment while derided by some conservatives as Hollywood leftist propaganda.
Still, producers sought to depict Sheen's character, President Josiah "Jed" Bartlet, as a leader for all people, endowed with an integrity and nobility seldom seen in Washington on either end of the political spectrum.
A Democrat, yes, but he was no Jack Kennedy, or Bill Clinton, for that matter. The biggest scandal Sheen's character faced during his tenure was over his concealing the fact that he suffered from multiple sclerosis.
Bartlet's top aides were likewise smart, earnestly dedicated, and fiercely loyal civil servants. Much of the show's appeal hinged on their personal lives, which, as in real-life Washington, did not stray far from the office.
Executive producer John Wells said that unlike nonfiction politicians, his characters were largely unfettered by Washington's single-biggest imperative -- money.
"The strangest paradox of all is that the political ads that paid for a lot of 'West Wing' ... (are) forcing our political system to be something we all wished it wasn't," he said.
While the stories were told from a Democratic perspective, Republicans were generally treated as worthy adversaries.
"I don't think the show pandered to liberals," Parry-Giles said. "They tried to give the Republican viewpoint at least a fair hearing."
To enhance balance and a sense of realism, producers consulted with a bipartisan coterie of Washington insiders, including former Clinton White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers and onetime Reagan chief of staff Ken Duberstein.
Both presidential contenders in the show's climactic election campaign this season -- Democrat Matthew Santos (Smits) and Republican Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda) -- were cast as politically moderate, intelligent and extremely likable.
When Vinick loses by a razor-thin margin, he gracefully declines to contest the election, and Santos winds up asking him to be secretary of state.
Despite its obvious departures from reality, "The West Wing" stands as the most complex, nuanced portrait of the presidency to date in pop culture, Parry-Giles said.
"Most two-hour movies give you either a romantic hero president, who saves a large airplane from Russian terrorists (Harrison Ford, "Air Force One") or defeats aliens (Bill Pullman, "Independence Day"), or the malevolent president who murders somebody, like in 'Murder at 1600,' or the Gene Hackman character in 'Absolute Power,"' he said.
"West Wing" may not be the only political show to leave the airwaves this month. A new ABC drama, "Commander In Chief," starring Geena Davis as the first female U.S. president, may not be renewed for the fall due to low ratings."
From InTheFray Magazine.
From USA Today:
"Sometimes, second terms just don't work out.
There was a time when The West Wing was the best show on television, with four straight Emmy wins to support the claim. But as if to mimic a historically common political reality, that golden era came to an abrupt end when Wing's fictional president won re-election — and its real-life artistic driving force, Aaron Sorkin, lost his show.
The predictable result of Sorkin's 2003 departure was a precipitous decline in ratings and quality that mirrored NBC's own collapse. Indeed, the show has become such an afterthought for its once-proud network that NBC cheaped out on a planned retrospective, choosing instead to pair Sunday's final new episode (8 ET/PT) with a repeat of the show's 7-year-old pilot (7 ET/PT).
Ah, but what a pilot. As it turns out, NBC may have done us an unintentional favor, because it's unlikely the powers-that-be at West Wing could come close to matching the work done by the powers-that-were.
What you'll find is a show that went against many of TV's "givens." It was a given in 1999 that viewers were not interested in politics, and particularly not in a show that idealized the residents of the White House. In a medium that tends to be action driven, West Wing dared to champion the beauty of words — lots of words — and the power of the intellect.
True, much of what Sorkin brought to West Wing had already been seen in Sports Night, from his whip-smart, whip-fast dialogue to his habit of dropping us into the middle of an ongoing story. And the show benefited immensely from the work done by Sorkin's Sports Night partner, producer/director Thomas Schlamme, who gave the show its rich, crowded look, its breakneck pace and its walk-and-talk signature.
Yet what made West Wing a surprise success was what also made it so special: its romantic paean to the value of public service. West Wing was a smart, heart-felt antidote to the age of irony, an earnest show that was tough on issues, soft on people.
It was also extraordinarily cast. The ensemble will be hard to match: Martin Sheen, the late John Spencer, Richard Schiff, Allison Janney, Bradley Whitford, Rob Lowe, Stockard Channing, Janel Moloney and Dule Hill.
Unfortunately in TV, good things don't always last as long as we would like. Sorkin's episodes in his last season often bordered on impenetrable — a consequence, perhaps, of his increasingly chaotic private life. When he left, he wrote the show into such a bizarre corner, with the president stepping down to focus on his daughter's kidnapping, that it's no wonder viewers started looking elsewhere for entertainment.
Sadly, to compensate, ER producer John Wells simplified Wing out of existence, turning it into a by-the-books TV drama about co-worker conflicts. Yes, Wing was always in essence a workplace drama, just like ER. But Sorkin realized that the White House was, or at least should be, a very different workplace than the ones TV usually explored.
Call it fantasy, but we wanted to believe the people working for Josiah Bartlet were more willing than the average employee to put personal squabbles and desires aside and unite for a common cause. Sorry, but I didn't want to see Toby and C.J. fight, and I certainly didn't want to see Josh go work on an outside campaign in some transparently desperate attempt to extend the show's life past the Bartlet administration.
Still, most fans would probably prefer to dwell on the show's best moments. For many, the high-point memory may be Bartlet railing against the heavens in the National Cathedral. For me, it's the Christmas episode from the second season, as Josh is forced into therapy to deal with being shot in an assassination attempt. In despair, he wonders why he should believe he'll ever be able to put his pain and problems behind him. The simple, humanistic answer he receives perfectly encapsulates Wing's optimistic view of Americans and their government: "Because we get better."
Sunday, NBC gives you a chance to relive the show at its best. Take it."
From the Salt Lake Tribune
Stuart Levine from Daily Variety:"Funny, but I don’t remember the country shedding a collective tear when Andy Card resigned as chief of staff a couple of months ago. And there wasn’t a rush on Kleenex when Scott McClellan stepped down as press secretary, replaced by Fox News’ Tony Snow.
So why do I feel this sudden rush of sadness as NBC's "West Wing" prepares to depart on May 14? Over the past few seasons, characters from “West Wing” have been promoted and even left the White House due to scandal, personal advancement, or to work on the just-concluded presidential election. Our memories of them, however, will always be of their duties at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. — a.k.a. soundstages 23 and 28 on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, Calif.Viewers will miss CJ Cregg (Allison Janney) standing on the podium in the press room, spinning stories in front of a packful of hungry-for-news journos trying to break a story. Real U.S. administrations and the press have, at least for the last few decades, had an adversarial relationship, and CJ would play her part in that awkward and untrusting dance played out every day at the press briefings. She’d never outright lie, but instead would do her best to put the president in the best light possible, even if that light was a flickering candle in a sea of darkness.Then there were those snippy rat-a-tat conversations (some would call them arguments) between Josh Lyman and Toby Ziegler. Free trade, voting amendments, education reform — didn’t make a difference. Lyman (Bradley Whitford) would be passionate one minute, hangdog exhausted the next.Ziegler (Richard Schiff) may have had more political savvy than anyone in the entire administration, but his contentious and abrasive style was sometimes too much to stomach — for both the character he was berating and viewers watching at home. His self-righteousness became overbearing at times and when he eventually was fired from his job because of a security leak, not too many felt bad about it. For all of Ziegler’s smarts, he never understood the importance of subtlety. Sure, he was usually right about whatever the subject was but he was also indignant too, and that attitude will ultimately cost you — and it did, both professionally and personally.Chief of staff Leo McGarry (the late John Spencer) offered calming waters in tumultuous times, knowing when to placate a colleague or legislator if it was politically prudent and when to demand his counsel be followed to the letter. McGarry was the great ruse, a political illusionist. Like a modern-day Houdini, he’d distract all the naysayers by having them keep an eye on his right hand while getting all his work done with the left. Even those close to him would sometimes question his motives, but McGarry always had a plan. He just wouldn’t always share it with everyone. And then there’s the prez. Martin Sheen filled the role of President Bartlet with both gravitas and compassion, as drawn out by show creator Aaron Sorkin. Bartlet made the hard decisions when necessary, but always left room for negotiation, no matter how badly he wanted to crush those who stood against him.Yes, the show was far from perfect. Sorkin and executive producer John Wells, who went on to run the show after Sorkin’s departure, had to juggle between teaching civics lessons and serving up soap opera dramatics. For every scene where questions were raised about how much should a nation pay, in the cost of human lives, for protecting our foreign interests and national security, equal questions were raised about when Donna would sleep with Josh. Or where the president’s daughter, Zoe, was being held after kidnapped. Don’t even get me started about the scene when Josh, after a particularly hard day at the office, drives up to the Capitol and yells, “You want a piece of me?”Some might say that NBC sent “West Wing” a death blow by moving it from its familiar Wednesday-night slot to Sundays a couple of years back. Though that might not have been a great move in retrospect, it probably didn’t make much a difference. Ratings had been slowly sliding for a couple of seasons before that and “Lost” was starting up on ABC, which was sure to grab viewers away. “American Idol” was also becoming a Wednesday staple.“West Wing” will close out its campaign with a new president: Jimmy Smits’ Matthew Santos will be sworn in on the series finale. This season has been as good as any — not a small accomplishment for a series that’s overcome the tragic death of longtime cast member Spencer and the exodus of creator Sorkin and his right-hand man, Thomas Schlamme. So even though fans will be saddened, the show finishes on a high note.Not many programs get to go out like that, with the quality as high as it was from Day 1. “West Wing” taught us that, despite the mudslinging that can create a stench in Washington, politics can remain a noble profession. The selfless men and women who serve do so not out of ego, but out of wanting to make government both a beacon and a safety net for the benefit of others.And if Josh has to sleep with Donna to get that done, so be it.
"From the Seattle Times:"Cue those drums, or better yet, some Yo-Yo Ma. We're about to feel even lousier thanwhen Mrs. Landingham died. No more press briefings and all that bantering through those hallowed halls. No more world crises and political sparring.Goodbye, neurotic Josh. Savvy C.J. Sunny Donna. Devoted Charlie. And Toby, lovable grouch.It's been seven fine years, but this Sunday, we bid farewell — even though we would love to hold onto our make-believe White House for just a bit longerBecause, let's just say it, we could stand proudly behind this president and feel patriotic, even when he took us to war. That's what "The West Wing" did. It gave us a conscientious, knowing president, Jed Bartlet, with a devoted, hardworking staff. And we cared."The West Wing," with its ensemble cast, multiple story lines and, above all, spitfire dialogue, stroked our intellect. (OK, yes, in the pilot Sam slept with a prostitute — but Sam was Rob Lowe. Rob Lowe!)We tuned in because we had fallen in love with that other workplace TV show, "Sports Night," and we wanted to see what else writer/creator Aaron Sorkin could do. And this time the workplace was both storied and something we hadn't yet seen: the White House.What we found was a drama about high-pressured teamwork and the desire to always be wanting. if sometimes failing, to do what is good. Anyone who's ever felt like they don't have a life outside the office could appreciate "West Wing." Same goes for anyone who's ever worked behind the scenes in a supporting role. Some blue-state viewers were lured in because the show was about earnest Democrats and if, say, our public persona was to remain objective, er, neutral and not show bias, at least in our living rooms they could groan and roll their eyes at the Republicans. (Except for Arnold Vinick. And ha! Now he's Secretary of State.) But what truly connected with viewers — those of us who stuck with it even when the show got too preachy, or we just couldn't buy into Claudia Jean as chief of staff — was that "The West Wing," week after week, heralded commitment. This was a group of people devoted to one another, to their leader and to a country. And hasn't everyone imagined what it would be like to serve at the pleasure of the president?***Sorkin initially envisioned "The West Wing" as a TV drama spotlighting just the president's senior staff. So he gave us a marvelous crew: a couple of brilliant lawyers (Rob Lowe's Sam Seaborn; Bradley Whitford's Josh Lyman); a caring cynic (Richard Schiff's Toby Ziegler); a tall, stands-her-ground press secretary (Allison Janney as C.J. Cregg). And to mind them all, the crusty, tortured Leo McGarry as chief of staff, who was played by the terrific John Spencer, who died unexpectedly in December.
President Josiah "Jed" Bartlet, descendant of a signatory of the Declaration of Independence, a New Hampshire Democrat with a fondness for chess, old books and the occasional cigarette. But in spite of his privileged upbringing and the insular Oval Office, he never seemed out of touch with the regular folk. If anything, he'd groan when his own staff was oblivious. The cost of a gallon of milk? he asks his staff. They all haw before Bartlet gets the answer from his personal aide, the son of a slain D.C. police officer, Charlie Young (played by Dulé Hill).Ah, Charlie. A supporting-cast member who made the series that much more appealing. Because if you couldn't identify with a geeky politico, then Then there was sassy-sweet presidential secretary Mrs. Landingham and her only-if-you-deserved-it cookie jar. She was wrongly killed off when she was struck by a drunken driver — just as she was buying a new car.There were many others to love: The eccentric Lily Tomlin character (the subsequent presidential secretary). The fiesty First Lady (Stockard Channing). The fiesty deputy press secretary played by Kristin Chenoweth. Mark Harmon as a Secret Service agent — and C.J.'s long overdue love interest. Adam Arkin as a shrink. (Poor, poor Josh.)Because of them, we wanted to learn Latin; talk Census, Social Security, capital-gains tax; throw a ball against our office wall — just like Toby. So hail to the Chief and "The West Wing"; long may it wave."
From the Boston Globe:
""'The West Wing" was a big old mess of brilliance. It was spilling all over the place with smarts.
NBC's political drama, which leaves the air Sunday after seven seasons, overflowed with too many brainy idealists talking too fast and using too many Latin phrases while walking down too many corridors of power. It had too many global references to This-i-stan and That-a-dad. It had too many obscure allusions to Immanuel Kant, Thomas Aquinas, and I.M.A. Highbrow.
It had too many words.
Created by writer-producer Aaron Sorkin, ''The West Wing" was a prime example of how excess and greatness can go hand-in-hand. Before Sorkin left the show in 2003, after pushing too many script deadlines too far, each episode of ''The West Wing" contained enough political complexity to fill a few feature films. Indeed, in cases such as the rich first-season hour in which President Bartlet gets to nominate a Supreme Court justice, the episodes were better written than most theatrical releases. Between Bartlet dealing with the surgeon general's hint that pot should be decriminalized and Leo using a ''Peanuts" metaphor to explain a missile-defense system, the show set a new bar for TV intelligence. (sic)
When the formidable talent behind Geena Davis's ''Commander in Chief," including Steven Bochco, attempted the same Washington wonkery, it was sidewalk Gucci compared with ''The West Wing." Ten years ago, ABC's ''Commander in Chief" surely would have been hailed as a TV high. But now, after a season of declining ratings, it's heading toward cancellation.
And Sorkin was no slouch when it came to the interpersonal conflict amid the politics. An argument scene on ''The West Wing" could be stunning in its combustive mix of emotionality and ferocity. Indeed, few things are more electric than a pair of high-IQs trash-talking each other. When C.J. learned Toby didn't tell her India was attacking Pakistan, they locked horns in a distinctively ''West Wing" way -- anticipating each other's next thoughts and speaking in shorthand. Sorkin pared his clashes to the bare bones, never compromising them with the showboating, amphetamine hall talk that has become his trademark. Moments of tension between Bartlet and his wife, Abbey, or between C.J. and anyone in her path, could be riveting.
But the excesses, oy the excesses. ''The West Wing" went over the top almost on a weekly basis, particularly in its earnest, ''I'm-just-a-public-servant" moments. Few shows have milked nationalism quite as shamelessly.
Bartlet was meant to be an ideal American president, an avuncular know-it-all who'd never get caught with his pants down like another Democratic president we know. But his goodness often led to tiresome trivia-spewing and self-important intonations, accentuated by Martin Sheen's scenery chewing. When Bartlet came face to face with a Bible-quoting homophobe, he easily outquoted her on the spur of the moment, with chapter-and-verse knowledge that rivaled his great familiarity with national parks and world cultures. Sorkin and other writers sometimes idealized Bartlet to death.
And then there was the episode-ending scene when Bartlet's senior staffers each said, ''God Bless America," one at a time. And then there was the embarrassingly preachy 9/11 episode. And then there were the operatic montages. And then there were the relentless and cutesy verbal volleys among the characters.
After Sorkin left ''The West Wing," the excesses stuck around, although without the same rare level of intelligence to back them up. Producer-writer John Wells, of ''ER" and ''Third Watch," took over and suddenly characters were behaving out of character -- Toby, in particular, who went from dark to darker.
The political complications continued to take an occasionally interesting turn, but the characterizations lost their sparkle. Meanwhile, NBC moved the show from Wednesday to Sunday nights in an unsuccessful effort to stop the failing ratings.
With all the odds against it, the show's recent creative renaissance seemed to come out the blue. Wells had gradually restocked the cast with new faces, including Jimmy Smits and Alan Alda as candidates for president, and those characters finally took on lives of their own. Everything that was tired and inconsistent about the portrayal of the Bartlet administration fell away behind the characters that Wells hadn't inherited from Sorkin.
This last season was among the best of ''The West Wing." The writers explored the dodges and darts in the tense race between Smits and Alda, and they handled the death of Leo (after the death of actor John Spencer) gracefully. The romantic tensions between Donna and Josh as well as C.J. and Danny subsided happily, and believably. The Sorkin magic was missing, but Wells nonetheless provided some of the most adept, quick-witted drama currently on network TV.
Executive producer Lawrence O'Donnell recently said that before Spencer died the plan was for a Republican victory, but the show's final outcome -- Smits's Democrat won, then made Alda's Republican the secretary of state -- was a nice bipartisan series endnote. With the parties as polarized as ever in real life, the show offered a parting homage to idealism.
Indeed, throughout its tenure, ''The West Wing" played off real-world politics by serving up exemplars. At a time when presidents and their staffs had enough flaws to threaten to undermine public trust, the series invited us to expect better. Bartlet was like Clinton, but his ''family values" were strong enough to rule out extramarital activity. He, too, underwent a glitch in his leadership when he failed to disclose his MS, but it wasn't sordid like Monicagate. He was Clinton 2.0.
After Bush took over the White House, Bartlet stood less as a symbol of solid character and more as a reminder that presidents can indeed be intellectuals. They can be knowledgeable enough to answer questions substantively, and without fumbling their grammar.
The show often felt too much like a cheering section for Democratic leadership, particularly under Sorkin. But ''The West Wing" has also felt like a cheer for any form of responsible democracy. When we're watching the show 10 years from now, when it's free from immediate political associations, it may stand as a rally for viewers to keep hoping for the best, despite any signs to the contrary."
From the Times Herald Record:
""My anger with losing "The West Wing" isn't an argument about high-brow or low-brow or liberal or conservative television. It's about quality. Fine acting. Crisp writing. Smart dialogue. Political satire. A way to offer folks a behind-the-scenes look at the White House without lecturing viewers.
When community groups talked about the need to get rid of television, I'd say, oh yeah, get rid of "The West Wing"? It was the exception to the rule.
I'll be honest, I never caught all the jokes or the inside-Washington gab the first time around. Or the second. It's like reading a good novel, where you go back over a paragraph or a page for a better understanding of what's written and to enjoy the words.
Look, I don't suspect there will be too many mass gatherings Sunday night like there was when Sam Malone told the last patron the bar was closed.
Tears won't be shed as they were when Hawkeye read the goodbye message from B.J.
And it certainly won't be an edge-of-your-seat night to find out who's off the island, who marries the bachelor, who's fired and who gets hired.
Tell you the truth, I wouldn't be surprised if something off the WB wins the time slot.
When that majestic theme music comes on Sunday night, the credits roll and we see all the old familiar faces - C.J., Charlie, Donna - with the new crew - Santos and Vinick - and that shot of Bartlet hunched over his desk, I'll shake my head in amazement.
Amazed that folks would rather watch someone eat a plate of live worms, watch someone get punked or watch some someone pass on a deal to collect $300,000 because they're greedy idiots.
Anything but watch the last quality show on television."
From the St. Petersburg Times:
"West Wing, arguably the best television show ever produced, is down to its final episode. The fans, called Wingers, are watching their cherished show in its death throes. Our nonreality president, Jed Bartlet (actor Martin Sheen), the stalwart leader of the free world, is packing up and will soon leave center stage.
Along with him, we Wingers have suffered the slings and arrows of his powerful office. We have taken immense pleasure in his triumphs and we have sorrowed for his several blunders. We have embraced President Bartlet's greatness and become absorbed with the trials and tribulations of his gifted advisers and minions. The show has allowed us to cast hopeful eyes on a vision of what this country was intended to symbolize.
West Wing is television at its technical and moral best. Through the magic of our TVs, we committed viewers were able to consider the day-to-day turbulence that surrounds the nation's chief executive and his supporting players.
It has been a hugely entertaining civics class as well as government learning tool. As any government teacher might attest, the program has given both politicos and lay persons a bold romp through the workings of our American democracy."
From the BBC collective
From the New York Daily News:
"# Best episode: Toby (Richard Schiff) tramples red tape to arrange a military burial, with honor guard, for a homeless veteran. This is the essence of the show's idealism: government used for good in a very imperfect world.
# Worst episode: The 9/11 special in which the whole cast explains to a captive audience of students the complexities of this imperfect world. Preachy and forced.
# Most wasted opportunity: Ainsley Hayes (Emily Procter), a smart Republican who could deflate the Bartlet team when they started getting pretentious, which was not infrequent. She also could have lured Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe) away from hookers. Alas, the writers seemed to lose interest, trivialized her and she left for "CSI: Miami."
# Best seized opportunity: Bruno Gianelli (Ron Silver) was brilliant as a shark of a campaign manager - for both sides.
# Worst major cameo: We'd never seen John Goodman before. Suddenly he was President. Four episodes later, he was gone, barely to be seen again. He was a good character, well-played, but that describes Spider-Man, not a President.
# Best major cameo: Bingo Bob Russell (Gary Cole), a hack congressman from Colorado who becomes vice president. "West Wing" was consistently on target about vice presidents. Most of the time it didn't remember they existed, or if they did, who they were.
# Best character arc: Donna (Janel Moloney) finally bagging Josh (Bradley Whitford), with only weeks to spare. We knew it was going to happen from Moment One, but the writers never rushed it, knowing that once it started for Donna and Josh, it was over for us.
# Worst character arc: C.J. Cregg (Allison Janney). Everyone loves C.J. But you don't go from press secretary to chief of staff. It doesn't happen. C.J. was smart, but a press secretary is a publicist. A publicist.
# Best character: My wife likes Donna and, of course, no one could dislike Leo (the late John Spencer), who was the show's nerve center. I vote for Toby, unpleasant and maddening as he could be. Even when there was no choice except to cut a deal, he reminded us there used to be a principle here.
# Worst character: Through no fault of her own, Amy Gardner (Mary Louise Parker). The writers had no idea what to do with her, so for whole episodes she looked like a glib Moonie on heavy prescription drugs.
# Best presidential moment not on his official calendar for that day: Jeb meets Charlie (Dule Hill) coming out of his daughter's bedroom in a state of partial dress.
# Worst reminders that this is television and television demands action: Jeb's daughter Zoey (Elisabeth Moss) gets kidnapped. His secretary Mrs. Landingham (Kathryn Joosten) is killed in a car crash. Josh gets shot, Donna almost gets blown up, Toby's going to jail, Leo has a massive heart attack. Memo to writers: His name was Jeb (sic) not Job."
From the Indianapolis Star:
""What led to the demise of the series?
• 9/11. It basically took a lot of the whimsy out of the series, because it had to.
• The actual presidential election of 2000. Bartlet took office during the Clinton administration. When George W. Bush took office with a GOP Congress, it made the Bartlets seem even more make-believe.
• Reality TV. The biggest ratings challenges "West Wing" faced came every winter and spring from "American Idol," and then "Lost." The arrival of those shows started to detract from "West Wing's" numbers as the reality onslaught began in earnest.
• The loss of Aaron Sorkin after Season 4. He was the show's creator and its heart and soul. Without him, the dialogue and intelligence of the show suffered. Until this year.
• Sunday night. NBC, in a suicidal move, bumped "The West Wing" from its traditional Wednesday-night spot and moved it to 8 p.m. on Sundays. The show never recovered, despite critical acclaim.
5 things to watch for in the finale
• Last-minute moves from Bartlet. Hmmm, what is it outgoing presidents usually do in their final hours? No, not pack. They issue pardons. If only there were someone who needed a pardon from Bartlet. Hmmm . . .
• Moving out. We'll have the tear-filled farewells from so many of our old friends as they leave the White House, and hand over the keys to the new administration.
• Moving in. Maybe we'll get at least a glimpse of President Santos with his top advisers in the Oval Office, so we can see what we'll be missing in the future.
• The moment. Creator Aaron Sorkin made it a point to not show the big moments -- the MS speech, the Bartlet inaugural and State of the Union addresses. We saw the preparations, and the aftermaths. But this time, it seems certain that we'll witness Matthew Vincente Santos taking the oath of office.
• The last line. What's the final line of "The West Wing"? One guess: Santos to his staff, uttering the line made famous by President Bartlet: "What's next?"
5 things we’ll miss about the series
• Josh + Donna. No, not just in bed. In the early seasons, they were the question-and-answer portion of the show. Donna would ask Josh to explain something -- the budget surplus discussion was a classic (Donna: "I want my money back" . . . Josh: "You shouldn't have voted for us, then.") -- and Josh would have to walk Donna through the process.
• The music. The series had great music choices for crucial moments. At the end of Season 2, with Bartlet having just disclosed his multiple sclerosis to the country, he stormed through the White House to the news conference without a word, but with Dire Straits' haunting "Brothers in Arms" playing in the background. Simple and powerful.
• Claudia Jean Cregg. She joined the campaign as an untrusted press secretary and ended the series as White House chief of staff. She changed more than any other character on the show. But she'll always be remembered for her incredibly witty banter from the podium . . . and, of course, "I had Woot Canawl." Other C.J. classics from in front of the cameras: "Set fire to the room. Do it now;" "The Pwesident needs to be bwiefed on the ewents of the day;" . . . and "I can only answer five or six of you at one time."
• "The Thing." There are entire Internet pages devoted to the many, many uses of "The Thing" in "West Wing" dialogue. "The Thing" could be a person, place or, well, thing, and seemed to be Aaron Sorkin's little fingerprint on the script. Examples: "Now this is going be a Thing, isn't it?" "I'm going to do my Thing; come watch." "Did you know leaf-peeping is a Thing?"
• The unbridled patriotism of Josiah Bartlet. Sorkin made this character a dream candidate -- a good-natured Nobel Prize winner with an immense knowledge of American trivia whose ancestors signed the Declaration of Independence and founded his home state of New Hampshire. When Bartlet waxed poetic about America, it usually was a goose-bumps experience: " 'We hold these truths to be self-evident,' they said, 'that all men are created equal.' Strange as it may seem, that was the first time in history that anyone had ever bothered to write that down."
5 turning points
•The assassination attempt. It was too easy a cliffhanger to end the first season, but of course Sorkin transformed it into something memorable -- the Emmy Award-winning two-parter "In the Shadow of Two Gunmen." The aftermath of the shooting gave Sorkin the ability to build in the back story on how the group came together in the primaries, but more importantly did the unexpected: In addition to Bartlet taking a bullet, the beloved Josh Lyman wound up with the most massive injuries, shocking fans and elevating that character to top-tier status for the rest of the run.
• 9/11. Before the attacks, "The West Wing" was loaded with witty banter. But the country changed that day, and so did any TV show about the government. Sorkin created a special "out-of-sequence" episode prior to the Season 3 opener to deal with the attacks, and then loaded up the next seasons with terrorist- attack scenarios.
• Re-election. Some of the best writing in the show's history came in the run-up to Bartlet's re-election, including the great debate episode in Season 4 and a wonderful Election Night two-parter. But then . . . oops. All the momentum leaked out of the show for quite a while, demonstrating how quickly presidents -- and TV presidents -- become lame ducks.
• Twenty-five (Season 4 finale). It was Sorkin's parting shot to his critics: Here, watch this. I'm going to have the vice president resign, and then kidnap Bartlet's daughter to make him resign under the terms of the 25th Amendment, thus reminding everyone that the presidency can actually change parties in such a scenario. John Goodman played Speaker of the House and Acting President Glen Walken, and as he took the oath to end Season 4, with Bartlet walking out of the Oval, it was Sorkin's Grand Finale. Here, fellas, write yourselves out of this one.
• John Spencer's death in December 2005. This led to the on-screen death of Leo McGarry -- and, as it turned out, the Santos victory. Producers had decided that Republican Sen. Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda) would win the election, but then Spencer died. Everything changed, since it was believed that viewers would have a hard enough time dealing with running mate Leo's death, without also putting them through a Santos defeat.
5 things you might not have known
• Why did President Bartlet put on his jacket in such an odd way? As Sorkin said on one of the early-season DVDs, he'd never seen anyone put on a jacket the way Martin Sheen did. It was due to an injury to Sheen's arm as a youngster that he learned to put on a jacket in an over-the-head motion.
• Big-block-of-cheese day. Andrew Jackson really did once have, in the main foyer of the White House, an enormous block of cheese for anybody who might be hungry. In that spirit, Leo decided to open the White House to "odd" groups one day a year -- which led to two hysterical episodes.
• Indiana connections. One of the few Hoosier story lines opened the fourth season: Toby, Josh and Donna got left behind in a campaign motorcade. They missed a plane connection in Indiana because of this weird we-didn't-have-daylight-saving-time thing.
• Holidays. Sorkin just loved the holidays at the White House. Christmas was always a "very special" episode, including the first Emmy Award winner, "In Excelsis Deo." And Bartlet loved Thanksgiving, when he took special pride in pardoning the national turkey -- two, in fact, in one year.
• Recycling. Sorkin was writing both "Sports Night" and "The West Wing" -- and it showed. He used similar dialogue, as well as many of the same actors on both shows and similar character names. He evidently ran out of ideas for episode names, since each show's first-season finale was called "What Kind of Day Has It Been?"
5 best episodes
•"Celestial Navigation." Josh tells the story of 48 hysterical hours in the White House, including a Supreme Court nominee getting arrested, a new secret plan to fight inflation, CJ's root canal and the one -- and only -- time Josh gave a White House press briefing.
• "In the Shadow of Two Gunmen." The aftermath of the assassination attempt on Bartlet.
• "Game On." Bartlet's only debate against GOP contender Robert Ritchie (James Brolin). As his staff looks on in awe (Toby: "I can't watch any more . . . no, wait, yes, I can."), Bartlet wipes the floor with Ritchie and seals re-election.
• "He Shall, from Time to Time . . . " Bartlet becomes ill on the eve of a State of the Union address, and it is revealed that he is hiding multiple sclerosis from the public.
• "2162 Votes" Last season's finale, in which Matt Santos claims the Democratic nomination after a three-day slugfest in a wide-open convention. Many viewers probably cannot even remember a real convention fight, but this one was a classic.
5 all-star guest stars
• Glenn Close as Supreme Court nominee Evelyn Baker Lang.
• Matthew Perry as associate counsel Joe Quincy.
• Edward James Olmos as Supreme Court judge Roberto Mendoza.
• Mark Harmon as the late, great Secret Service agent Simon Donovan.
• Oliver Platt as White House Counsel extraordinare Oliver Babish."
From USA Today:
""WASHINGTON — President Bartlet is leaving office, taking his tart tongue and Nobel Prize in economics, his principled stands and arcane musings, his wise, feisty wife and his witty, attractive, smart staff.
Really smart. Also, really Democratic. And did we mention high-minded and idealistic and looking out for the common good?
NBC's West Wing, which ends its seven-year run Sunday (8 ET/PT), often had the feel of wishful thinking — especially for Democrats who haven't controlled the White House for six years. Yet "for all the leaps you have to make in TV land," as former Bill Clinton aide Gene Sperling puts it, Democrats and even some Republicans say the show offered a fairly accurate picture of how the White House works.
"It was very realistic, and that's why people liked it," says Marlin Fitzwater, a press secretary to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush who became a consultant to the show. "They wanted to see good government. They appreciated people who were trying to do the right thing for the right reasons. That was common to both parties."
Among its many legacies, The West Wing offers cautionary tales for politicians with secrets (Bartlet was censured for hiding his multiple sclerosis) and for strategists looking toward the next election (Nevada was the pivotal state and nuclear power the pivotal issue in the campaign that made Democrat Matt Santos president-elect).
Some scorn The WestWing as a liberal fantasy, despite Bartlet's hawkish foreign policy. "It was a place (liberals) could go and have everything that they wanted reinforced," says Marshall Wittmann, who worked for the Christian Coalition and Republican Sen. John McCain and is now at the moderate Democratic Leadership Council.
Bipartisanship wasn't the only unrealized dream. West Wing also featured an empowered feminist press secretary (C.J. Cregg) so sharp that she rose to chief of staff. In real life, many a press secretary has briefed reporters without knowing what's really going on.
Dee Dee Myers had such problems in the Clinton White House. Later, as a West Wing consultant, "I got to take things that happened to me and change the ending a bit."
In one episode, C.J. realizes she knows less about an issue than the reporters questioning her, and confronts the president. In another, C.J. has a root canal and Josh Lyman, the deputy chief of staff, substitutes at the daily briefing. "He makes a total hash of it" and creates an economic crisis, Myers says cheerfully.
Revenge? "Absolutely," she says.
C.J. was one of the show's many passionate, well-intentioned, hardworking aides, a portrayal people of both parties say is close to the truth. "The people who work there really believe in what they're doing," says Paul Begala, a Clinton adviser. "It is not a cynical place, and West Wing is not a cynical show."
The West Wing was, in that respect, a seven-year ad for public service. But anyone who heeds the call should know that life won't entirely imitate TV. "We don't walk as fast," says Sperling, who consulted for the show. "We're not as funny. And we're not as good-looking."
From the Scotsman (subscription required)
From the Associated Press:
""I don’t often dash off mash notes to the President of the United States, be he real or make-believe. Come to think of it, my last time was back in December 1999 (just a few months into the run of a fine new NBC drama, “The West Wing”), when I tipped my hat to President Jed Bartlet.
Dear President Bartlet,
I guess your mind is on many things after two eventful terms in the White House — and seven rousing seasons on TV.
Whew! It’s been a long haul, huh? Including that awful assassination attempt and the kidnapping of one of your daughters! Plus your battle with multiple sclerosis (glad to see how well you’re doing lately — using a cane sometimes, but otherwise in good shape).
Just this season you had a further blow: You lost your friend and right-hand man Leo McGarry (by then Matt Santos’ vice presidential running mate). His death was a sad aftershock to the unexpected passing of John Spencer, who had done no less than give Leo life.
Meanwhile, of course, you’ve been pretty busy as leader of the free world.
But now you’re handing the reins over to president-elect Santos (who looks so much like Jimmy Smits it’s amazing, just as you bear a remarkable resemblance to Martin Sheen). And I’m sure you can see how the public is preoccupied not with the past, but with the future (especially the new fall TV shows, which will be announced next week). So maybe viewers are giving short shrift to all that your show, er, administration, has vigorously stood for.
Please, Mr. President, don’t get me wrong. I have a tight enough grip on reality to understand that you are not, and never have been, the nation’s actual chief executive.
I can also make distinctions between one TV drama about the presidency and another. The recent ABC flop “Commander in Chief,” which installed Geena Davis in an ersatz Oval Office, was clearly so divorced from reality that I can imagine it available to YOU as escapist fare, Mr. President (although I doubt you ever got around to checking it out).
By contrast, “The West Wing” as conceived by Aaron Sorkin and then stewarded by others after his departure a few seasons ago (TV series, too, have White House shake-ups) has played true — in its own ambitious way.
A weekly display of intellect, wit, conscience and high drama, it has explored possibilities for statesmanship that seem rare in the real corridors of power. It has been filled with wonderful actors playing politicians (rather than in real government, where public figures scramble to play their roles convincingly).
On “The West Wing” our nation has been on view as if through Alice’s looking glass, mirroring us in many respects. (Although I often worried that — unlike the Lewis Carroll tale — it was here, on our side of the mirror, where things are backward. I think you know what I mean.)
So I chose to believe, and still do. I think of Josh and Donna, C.J. and Charlie, and all the rest (including you, Mr. President) as occupying a dimension cozily parallel with mine.
Now you’re leaving office and the series is about to leave NBC’s lineup. You both have had a long, distinguished run.
In its early years, “The West Wing” was even a hit. Then it fell prey to creative drift (which happens in the best administrations). More recently the show has bounced back with much of its original energy and spunk, if not its Top-10 ranking.
This season’s tough race between Santos and Sen. Vinick (a dead ringer for Alan Alda!) has been entertaining, yet substantive in ways we scarcely dream of anymore for an actual campaign.
Then Santos drafted his former Republican opponent to be his Secretary of State.
If the Nielsen ratings hadn’t plunged so far, maybe “The West Wing” would remain on the air with the Santos Administration settling in, doing the people’s business, making its inevitable blunders and carrying on. But low Nielsens (season-to-date, “The West Wing” languishes in a tie for 79th) are the sort of approval rating that can kill, not just cripple, a presidency.
So “West Wing” fans will be left to imagine for themselves the triumphs and setbacks awaiting President Santos. His White House will be unseen in our world, relegated to a phantom realm beyond the reach of any viewer’s cable box. But there, I’m sure, a big-hearted, patriotic spirit will prevail.
Like yours, Mr. President, and for that, my thanks. Together with everyone who made your presidency possible, you are leaving our country (or, at least, television) a better place than you found it."
Letter to the Editor from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.
""Yet, in my doddering adulthood, I find myself hopelessly addicted to a TV show, as blindly smitten as any Trekkie yearning to boldly go where no man has gone before.
Like "Star Trek," mine, too, is a fantasy. I refer, of course, to "The West Wing."
"West Wing" is "Star Trek" for policy wonks, "Bizarro World" compared to our present Washington reality. Alas, it ends its seven-season run on NBC this Sunday night.
Imagine, if you will, a land in which the President of the United States is a Nobel Laureate in economics, and someone who, for all his vast ego, is able to confess his fallibility and accept the consequences. "No one in government takes responsibility for anything any more," President Jed Bartlett (Martin Sheen) complained in one episode. "We obfuscate, we rationalize. 'Everybody does it,' that's what we say. So we come to occupy a moral safe house where everyone's to blame, so no one's guilty... Well, I'm to blame. I was wrong."
Imagine a land in which the president's press secretary is not an automaton spouting the party line and even a Republican presidential candidate says things like, "The Founding Fathers didn't set up a government based on trust. They could have designed a government based on trust in our ability to govern fairly but they knew that power corrupts so they invented checks and balances. That was genius."
It's a world in which there are serious attempts to solve problems like Social Security and the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Presidential aides and assistants are at the White House to accomplish something positive for their country (not that everyone doesn't have career advancement on their minds, too).
Can you fathom these words being spoken in the today's real life West Wing? "It is in the spirit of Andrew Jackson that I, from time to time, ask senior staff to have face-to-face meetings with those people representing organizations who have a difficult time getting our attention. I know the more jaded among you see this as something rather beneath you. But I assure you that listening to the voices of passionate Americans is beneath no one, and surely not the people's servants."
They were spoken by Leo McGarry, President Bartlett's chief of staff, played by the actor John Spencer. His sudden death by heart attack just a few weeks ago brought real-life finality to the television series' demise.
Of all "The West Wing's" vast roster of characters, Leo was my favorite. As one commentator noted, the principled and acerbic McGarry "represented what so many of us yearn for in a progressive politician. He was hard-nosed enough to be effective and yet never lost sight of the progressive vision."
Created by the writer and producer Aaron Sorkin, "The West Wing" was an idealized vision of what society, the American presidency and the democracy it serves should be.
After the first few seasons, such a burden burned Sorkin out. Others assumed the mantle. It has been said that in the days of JFK and the romance of the New Frontier, Harvard kids wanted to work in government; today, they want to write for "The Simpsons" and "Saturday Night Live." In an ironic parallel, after creating a fictional, more perfect union, Sorkin's latest project is described as "a behind-the-scenes look at a fictional sketch-comedy TV show."
As another writer and political observer said a couple of centuries ago, "I hasten to laugh at everything, for fear of being obliged to weep." So, given our current pickle, Sorkin may have the right idea. "The West Wing" is dead. Long live "The West Wing." The pity is, it never really existed."
From the New York Sun:
""When Aaron Sorkin's "The West Wing" first aired on September 22, 1999, its fictional president had just suffered a sprained ankle from riding a bicycle into a tree. From this comic conceit grew a series rich with ambition; as our country found itself with far more serious problems than its commander in chief's clumsiness, the breakout hit series deepened alongside it. Seven seasons later - the rest of us have lived through a terrorist attack, two wars and two tight presidential campaigns - "The West Wing" dwells uncomfortably in the disconnect between its liberal idealism and the nation's conservative reality. Perhaps, in the end, that's why we no longer need "The West Wing" as a reference point; it seems silly to play out the absurd notion of a perfect President in today's world.
And so "The West Wing" goes off the air this Sunday night, just when it should. Its president-elect, Matt Santos - a Houston congressman played with smug sincerity by Jimmy Smits - has just appointed his republican opponent, Arnie Vinick (Alan Alda) as Secretary of State, definitively establishing the "West Wing" as a television writer's silly fantasy. While Mr. Sorkin's White House had ingredients of realism, majesty, and grace, its current incarnation comes off as goofy and awkward. With President Bush at all-time popularity lows, the notion of an alternate-universe presidency might have served a valuable purpose and caught fire among audiences starved for illusion. But instead, "The West Wing" has descended into vapidity.
Who could imagine a less appealing (or likely) first lady than the one played by Teri Polo of "Meet The Fockers" fame? She treats the American presidency as a giant inconvenience to her lifestyle. And where did the fire and idealism of Bradley Whitford's Josh Lyman disappear to? Now he's just an overworked political hack. C.J. Cregg - the press secretary to President Bartlet once played with such gusto by Alison Janney - has been rendered meaningless by the shifting sands of power. And with the death of actor John Spencer (who played Bartlet's crusty chief of staff, Leo McGarry) and the departure of Richard Schiff's Toby Ziegler, the show lost muscle and added bulk. The performance of Martin Sheen as the president devolved into parody - in a recent episode, he was seen muttering statistics about the population of Germany as though anyone still marveled at his memory. He's the human embodiment of the virtue of term limits.
Still, even the worst "West Wing" episode towered over the mess made of "Commander-in-Chief" by ABC. What began as a hit series last fall, with Geena Davis as the nation's first female president, quickly disintegrated into a cartoon.
Ms. Davis made for a fine president, in some ways more grounded in humanity than Mr. Sheen, but her series never captured the tensions that must envelope the Oval Office in an hour of crisis. Her greatest adversaries weren't foreign leaders, but Washington politicos like Donald Sutherland, who played the speaker of the house as an homage to Snidely Whiplash. Too bad the show got cancelled before he got the chance to mutter, "Curses ... foiled again!" when Ms. Davis yet again saved the day.
What will America do now, without a fictional president to offer a fantasy alternative to President Bush? Perhaps it will liberate us from the notion that television exists to create an escapist parallel universe. One consistent weakness in the "West Wing" formula (and copied by "Commander-in-Chief") was its obsession with phony crises in non-existent countries. After September 11, the show struggled with ways to address the real and enduring terrorist threat that enveloped the nation, and never really found its footing again - everything seemed to happen too late to matter.
But what truly made "The West Wing" so captivating and addictive when it began was its treatment of the White House as just another dysfunctional television family; Mr. Sorkin's characters engaged us more than his stories. Alas, when our world demanded that we care about terrorism and war, it left little room for the goofy antics of Josh, C.J., and Toby, or even the engagingly intellectual prattle of President Bartlet. It's no surprise that Mr. Sorkin has shifted his sights away from Washington; next season he returns to NBC as the creator of a new series set backstage at a late-night comedy show. It seems unlikely that world events will overtake his stories and render them irrelevant. If anything, Mr. Sorkin has correctly calculated that in times as trying as these, comedy ought to belong only to those paid to be funny for a living - and the government doesn't need Hollywood to reimagine its mission. It's hard enough already."
Gail Pennington from the St. Louis Dispatch.
From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
""After seven seasons of "The West Wing," I have too many favorite moments to list them all.
If I did make a list, though, very close to the top would be the last scene of the season finale three years ago
"The West Wing," in fact, has been full of such delights, from its main ensemble - centering on but never dominated by Sheen - to its scores of recurring actors and guest stars.
The writing, though it has been good and sometimes great in this last season, never again reached the sustained highs it did under creator Aaron Sorkin the first few years. But the performances have rarely flagged.
Finding and directing performers to fill the roles of a small army of Washington insiders, from lobbyists to senators, is a tall order that has been executed, almost always, with great imagination and class. Where else in TV has there been such a stellar combination of glibness and gravitas?
Alan Alda and Jimmy Smits, in contrast, did some of the best and most unexpected work of their careers as the Republican and Democratic contenders to succeed Bartlet.
In particular, Alda's Emmy-nominated performance as the eventual loser - a consummate politician struggling to stay on top despite his advancing years - guarantees that he'll be remembered as someone other than just the lovable cynic of "M*A*S*H."
None of this is to slight a starring cast, most of them with the show from the beginning. They deservedly received more than 30 Emmy nominations and won eight statuettes in the show's first six years. There have been TV ensembles as fine as Sheen, Channing, Janney, Bradley Whitford, Richard Schiff, Dulé Hill, Janel Moloney, Josh Malina and the late John Spencer, but probably none better.
Oh, and that Rob Lowe fellow who left in the middle of things - he was fine, too. His confident and enormously likable guest shot last month, more than three years after his last appearance, made for yet another of those jolts of pleasure that "The West Wing" so reliably delivered."
Older post from Chicago Tribune blog.
Comment from the Star Telegram.
From USA Today's Pop Candy.
From the Chicago Sun Times:"THE WEST WING'
When it started: 1999
Finale: 6 p.m. May 14
Awards: Emmy wins for best drama, writing, directing, cast members, editing, cinematography.
Sex symbols: Jimmy Smits.
Considered at first to be: Best show on TV.
Ended up being: One of the better shows until creator Aaron Sorkin and writer Thomas Schlamme left a few years ago.
Pop-culture heat: Sorkin busted in airport in 2001 on charges of holding 'shrooms, pot and coke.
Downward turn: Sorkin and Schlamme exit."
Time Line from the Star Tribune.
Comment from the Sun Sentinel.
From the Ohio Oxford Press.From the Beacon Journal:
""As the current TV season comes to an end, actors (and married couple) Bradley Whitford and Jane Kaczmarek will be thinking about new jobs.
Whitford has had a long run as Josh Lyman on NBC's The West Wing, while Kaczmarek has played the outspoken mom Lois on Fox's Malcolm in the Middle. Both shows have their series finales on May 14.
I don't envy them the task ahead. After all, Whitford and Kaczmarek had been working in TV long before they had hit series and Emmys to go with them.
Each needed an off-screen collaborator -- writer Aaron Sorkin for Whitford, writer Linwood Boomer for Kaczmarek -- to make them stars.
The relationship between on-screen talent and off-screen forces, such as writers and directors, can shape a career.
Smart actors know this. Whitford, for example, is working on a new project with Sorkin.´
Think of another guy who worked with Whitford on The West Wing. He had a good role on a hit show, and he walked away from it for other things -- including two series that didn't make it to a second season. Rob Lowe didn't know he was in the middle of magic -- and how rare that magic can be."
But show-biz careers may last longer than partnerships. (Sorkin left West Wing, Boomer is now just a consultant on Malcolm.) Actors may decide they can make it on their own. Writers and directors may be drawn to new projects by the lure of big money. Studios and networks can make demands. Agents can want better deals.
Think of another guy who worked with Whitford on The West Wing. He had a good role on a hit show, and he walked away from it for other things -- including two series that didn't make it to a second season. Rob Lowe didn't know he was in the middle of magic -- and how rare that magic can be."
Brent is doing a 14 day revue of the entire series on his blog.