Fake presidential debate = ratings bonanza! Huh?

Categories: Television
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When did you stop watching "The West Wing?" Was it when the earnest Sam Seaborn headed to the West Coast? Was it when series creator/producer/writer Aaron Sorkin was shown the door? Or are you the die-hard that's now wondering why it's even called "The West Wing" anymore, the focus having shifted to the inner workings of the Santos and Vinick presidential campaigns? Pundits lauded the sixth and most-recent season, declaring Dub-Dub got its groove back and ratings reflected renewed interest, but will delivering a one-hour drama each week about a presidential campaign really capture viewers' attention? Especially after wall-to-wall year-long coverage of the 2004 presidential campaign, and speculation about 2008 all over cable news and the internet?

This fall, the Commander in Chief people seem to be watching wears high heels and shills for ABC, so on November 6 "The West Wing" plans on airing a live episode featuring Democratic nominee Matthew Santos (Jimmy Smits) and Republican nominee Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda) in a presidential debate. Given the public's disinterest/fatigue/apathy - whichever - for televised political debates, who the hell thought this would be a great idea? Smits and Alda seem to be intelligent human beings, but it's doubtful they will be required to do any improvising. The entire episode needs to be scripted lest a gaffe by one of the "candidates" sends the ongoing story line off the tracks. Live episodes of other NBC shows such as "Will & Grace" and "ER" have generated buzz and good ratings, but it's becoming a tired gimmick, and betting your Nielsens on something the vast majority of the public would avoid like the avian flu if it were real, seems like a grand miscalculation. Only those who are with Dub-Dub to the bitter end (including yours truly) may be sitting in front of the TV a couple of Sundays from now to watch a fake presidential debate. Besides, it seems that even when the real president is on TV, it's fake!

The Santos and Vinick characters are interesting, and supposedly one of them will be "elected" when the season wraps up next March to possibly launch an all new "West Wing" to renewed interest in the fall of 2006. Will the left-leaning sensibilities give way to a moderate Republican administration dodging and parrying with liberals and neo-cons? Or will Santos sit behind the desk, with Josh next door for a little continuity? And will it matter to the faithful? Popular characters such as C.J. Cregg, Toby Ziegler, and the president himself get very limited screen time these days, save for the rare episode that is still actually set in the White House, as this Sunday's appears to be. (Oh, yes, and after six seasons on Wednesdays, the show has been dumped onto Sunday nights.) The president's wife is off trading barbs with Fonzie on CBS, the Veep's failed presidential aspirations seem to have ended Donna Moss's tenure... one has to wonder whether "The West Wing" is dying a slow, painful death before our eyes, or if the fresh faces of a new administration will re-energize the show in the model of "Law & Order" and "ER." Will you be tuning in to find out?

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