Friday, April 14, 2006


It's been five days since the election was called in 'The West Wing' TV dimension. (Sorry, folks. You're still stuck with the same guy in Earth Prime-Time as you are in Earth Prime.)

I haven't held off from writing about it to spare those viewers who "procrasTiVo". Bleep them!

I mean, I can understand saving up some shows on tape or TiVo that don't matter in the long run - non-sweeps sitcom episodes, reality shows, anything with Ron Pallillo in it - but shows like 'The West Wing', in which it all came down to a seminal moment like the election of the next President? The phrase "appointment television" was created for shows like this!

You find the time to watch it as soon as possible and don't crimp the lifestyles of those of us who want to talk about the next day at work. We can't wait for you to get around to it sometime on Tuesday - if everything else is a repeat... maybe. Bleep that!

As for me, I was sleeping when it aired, but I watched my tape as soon as I got home from work in the morning. That should be the longest stretch between the time it aired and when you finally watch it.

But that's just me. I'm just glad this rant gave me the opportunity to flaunt my newly coined word, "procrasTiVo".

Anyway, that should be enough spoiler space.

According to an article in the New York Times on Monday, the writers originally were going to have Senator Vinick win the election. This would have led to several episodes dealing with the transition as each character made way for the new team. (It's only my suspicion, but I bet Kate Harper would have been one character to end up staying on board with the Vinick administration over the four years that would have played out invisible to us at home.)

This is the ending I wanted, and I'm a life-long Democrat of moderate to liberal leanings. Vinick was a man I would have felt comfortable in supporting (except for the tax cuts); and as a character portrayed by Alan Alda, I found him far more interesting than Jimmy Smits' Congressman Matt Santos.

But as a televisiologist, I would have also wanted a Vinick presidency. Making that transition from a somewhat liberal Democratic administration to a more moderate Republican one held the promise of an ending for the series that could stand proudly in comparison with the finale of 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show'.

But on December 16th, 2005, all such plans and promise went out the window with the death of John Spencer.

As Leo McGarry, Spencer was always in the thick of things in the various strands of the show's plot. As Chief of Staff for the Bartlet administration, he had to be. Only a heart attack could knock him out of his place at center stage, but even that couldn't keep him on the sidelines for long. Soon he was right back in the game as the Democratic nominee for the Vice Presidency.

I don't think there was ever any question that the character of Leo McGarry had to die on the show, mirroring the fate of the actor who portrayed him. With some other shows, I think it could be argued that the character didn't necessarily have to die; they could have just moved away. (I still think this is what they should have done for Bill McNeill on 'NewsRadio'. Why can't we indulge the illusion that he lives on in Toobworld unlike Phil Hartman, who played him in the Real World?)

With Leo, that could never be an option. Win or lose, the audience would have demanded the chance to see how the election had affected him.

But there has been some debate over whether or not he had to die on Election Night. Not that it was unexpected - I think everybody knows that if John Wells is your executive producer, sooner or later somebody's going to have a helicopter drop on their head.

Apparently, if he had passed away more than five days before the election, the rules say that he could be replaced on the ballot. Anything past that date, and he has to remain as Santos' running mate. So why not go all the way for the dramatic flourish by having it happen in the closing hours of the election? It's a drama! I don't see people arguing this point when it comes to events that transpire on '24'!

But one thing is for sure - at least to me.... The death of Spencer, and thus the death of Leo, meant that Santos had to win the election. Had he lost, then Leo's presence would no longer be felt on the show; there would be no reason to even mention him again (at least after the obligatory funeral episode, of course).

But now that Santos has won the election, he must search for a candidate to be offered up as Leo's replacement. Various options will probably be considered within the show, and I would not be surprised if Leo was invoked in comparison to the candidates for the job. And then we can mourn Leo anew as a new Veep is finally chosen; and we get to see that person assume that role with some obvious tip of the hat to the man who should have been occupying that office.

What bugged me about that Times article was that Lawrence O'Donnell, one of the show's executive producers, claimed that Santos was chosen to win after the death of Spencer, because the writers didn't think the audience could handle the double loss of the election as well as the man who was the running mate.

Boo hoo! As a viewer, that sentiment insulted me. After all we've seen in the TV Universe, why should we need to be sheltered from that scenario? If Walt Disney thought that way, Davy Crockett would never have been killed off after three episodes.

(Of course, had Disney known how "Davy Crockett" would blast off as a cultural phenomenon, maybe he would have kept him alive for a long long time - at least until the sale of coonskin caps began to subside.)

Okay, so maybe there are a couple of dimbulb meat-heads out there who wouldn't have been able to take it - look at how some viewers objected to Wild Bill Hickock being killed off in the fourth episode of 'Deadwood', even though it was following historical record! They wanted him to become the Energizer Bunny and keep going and going and going and -#

Hell, you do that and you might has well have Louie Anderson saddle up to play his sidekick Jingles!

But the only reason for having Santos win the election should be the mileage they can now get out of the process to find the new Veep. That will provide more drama than the Vinick transition would have. And just because Santos won, that doesn't mean there wouldn't still be a sweep of the former characters on the show to make room for a fresh team to take over. Bram as the new press secretary, for example - the guy is telegenic and would make a great face for the Santos administration.

So I think this is the only way the show could have gone under the conditions forced upon them by John Spencer's death. And it will serve as a fitting tribute to the actor as well as for making a memorable finale.

By the way, for more on the ramifications of this episode of 'The West Wing', check out Brent McKee's post at "I Am A Child Of Television". It's great reading!


"When I was in third grade, there was a kid running for office.
His slogan was, 'Vote for me and I'll show you my wee-wee'.
He won by a landslide
Dorothy Zbornak
'The Golden Girls'

1 comment:

Brent McKee said...

First, thanks for the compliment.

I think a Vinnick presidency would have been just the thing for the series if it had been renewed. It would have brought in a less expensive cast - I expect only Alda and Patricia Heaton and maybe the Kate Harper character would have been retained from this season's cast. The show could have turned into an idealised version of the current presidency - a truly compassionate conservative - as much as Bartlet's presidency was an idealised version of Clinton's. Who knows, it might even have answered my burnig question - was there more going on between Vinnick and his campaign manager (Heaton's character) than they ever showed us. Not to be, but the show is going out on a high note, no matter what Alan Sepinwall thought of the episode.