Just As I Thought

If only the real president would leave early

Bad news for you “Wing Nuts”–it looks like the Bartlet administration may end a year early. according to Lisa deMoraes in the Washington Post:

The Josiah Bartlet administration is coming to an end at the close of the upcoming television season — only three years into his second term, NBC suits report. But they insist that does not necessarily mean “The West Wing” will be canceled. Thus continues the slow, painful uraveling of the once-great White House drama series.

” ‘West Wing’ was ratings-challenged” last season, NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly told critics over the weekend, stating the obvious.

“John Wells is not in denial about it,” he said of the man best known for executive-producing “ER,” who took over “The West Wing” when its creator, Aaron Sorkin, was shown the door.

“I can’t reveal too much; all I can tell you is it’s not going to be business as usual,” Reilly continued. “The one little thing I could say is that the Bartlet administration is clearly coming to the end of its term, and I think that’s going to foster some really interesting developments. . . . So we’re going to try to juice up that show creatively this year, and I’m excited about what I’ve heard.”

“Juicing up” is not an expression “West Wing” fans want to hear in connection with the series. When you hear “juicing up” and “John Wells” in the same breath, crashing helicopters and tank attacks cannot be far behind.

On the other hand, Peter Roth, the man who runs Warner Bros. TV, which produces “The West Wing,” yesterday told The TV Column it was too early to say whether the Bartlet administration would come to an end this coming TV season. And yet Reilly seemed pretty certain of what he was saying to a room full of critics and columnists here. But then Reilly is a guy who’s capable of telling a room full of critics and columnists that the “Friends” spinoff “Joey” gave him “this magical feeling that happens only one in a great while,” that he “feeds off the energy” of his boss, NBC Universal Television Group President Jeff Zucker, and that a drama series in which Heather Locklear runs LAX “will have credibility.” Can you ever really trust a man who’s capable of saying such things with a straight face?

Zucker also acknowledged that the Bartlet administration would pack it in at the end of this season. On the other hand, Zucker last season promised that “Coupling” would be the most talked-about show of the season, and he now says he knew “Coupling” was garbage from the time its pilot was shot.

There seems to be a phenomenon at play here that I’ve seen before. After 3 or 4 years, the creator of a show leaves — usually to find other projects, but in this case he was pushed out — and then the new producer decides to make a few changes. Usually it starts with casting, bringing in new characters and changing the focus or direction of the series. We saw this in the final, unfortunate season of Picket Fences, then again in The Practice, and in other series. Finally, the audience deserts the show because it’s “not as good as it used to be” and the series ends.
West Wing last year started this downhill march. The series under Aaron Sorkin was a social studies lesson every week with a unique walk-and-talk style. Under John Wells, the series because a slow, plodding drama like any other. New characters came and went, as if he was throwing them on a wall to see who stuck. (When you have an ensemble as large and competent as the cast of The West Wing, why start adding more?)
The low ratings this year are brought into sharp relief when you note that NBC no longer shows repeats of the show because they lose so many viewers for the network. No repeats means no opportunity for people to catch up or start watching and get up to speed.
Mark my words, The West Wing is over, and with it will go our only hope for a real, worthy president.

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