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After a week of lengthy conversations and rehearsals, two live versions will be telecast, one for the East Coast and another for the West Coast. But Wells expects many unscripted moments. “The guys are pretty playful. There’s quite a bit of back-and-forth.” Moderating will be TV newsman Forrest Sawyer.
And, yes, the show’s writers talked about sticking a box-shaped bulge on a candidate’s back. “Jimmy wanted to be the one having the receiver,” Wells says.
Oh, if only Bush were as articulate as Alda; most recently, our George keeps flubbing pandemic flu as “foo,” as in egg yong. If only he were as centrist. How slick of the producers to have hired Alda, the liberal in real life and onscreen (The Seduction of Joe Tynan, famously), to portray that rarity: a likable Republican. But the very idea of the GOP nominating a fiscal conservative who’s also pro-choice like Vinick is laughable. To counter Alda’s McCain, Smits is Cisneros with the sex but without the scandal.
Topics to be covered during the debate include tax cuts, drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, health care, nuclear power, immigration policy and budget deficits. O’Donnell believes Dubya could learn from it. “What would become interesting for him is that there actually is an effective form of political speech once you get your spin shields ripped from you. Unlike Bush, who deals with at best half-truths and partial prescriptions, this debate will pierce the language that these people normally use.”
Will any of this make a difference for West Wing’s Nielsens? Probably not, and it’s a shame because this season the show is not just better than it’s been, but better even than it has to be. Sure, I stopped watching because of those jejune post-9/11 rants, but I came back now that Smits is a regular. “Everyone keeps saying to me, ‘It’s great this year. Everybody’s watching,’ ” sighs Wells, “but we need about twice as many everybodys.”
The show may have added one VIP viewer, but it’s limping into its seventh season, and the last year of Bartlet’s second term, having lost an audience of millions. Worse, NBC moved West Wing into the time-slot equivalent of dead air for an adult drama — 8 p.m. Sunday — when football overruns on the East Coast put the show in direct competition with ratings heavyweight 60 Minutes. Once NBC’s most reliable winner of Emmys and critical raves, West Wing now not only can’t attract viewers, but it can’t even earn kudos. Both migrated to dumbed-down Commander-in-Chief, which is ABC’s bona fide hit, even though it’s a PSA warning against bad plastic surgery and furrowed-brow overacting.
Hard to imagine Bush getting pointers on governing from a gal. On the other hand, it’s just as unbelievable for Bush to be getting pointers from the second worst-case scenario: a liberal drama that has long been beat up by whining Republicans as a big wet kiss to the Clinton White House. Ain’t life a bitch, George?
It’s too easy imagining him fast-forwarding through the episodes where everyone derides his doppelganger, Governor Robert Ritchie, who’s portrayed as Bartlet’s dumb-as-dirt GOP foe in that second-term presidential campaign and played by none other than Babs’ real-life husband, Jim Brolin. It’s more amusing to fantasize Bush savoring that snarky slam that Ritchie delivers to Bartlet in a private moment between the two very public men: “You’re what my friends call a superior sumbitch. You’re an academic elitist and a snob. You’re Hollywood, you’re weak, you’re a liberal, and you can’t be trusted, and if it appears from time to time as if I don’t like you, well, those are just a few of the many reasons why.” Wait a sec, wasn’t that W’s exact campaign stump speech in 2004?
Finally, no one can fantasize what Bush must feel when Bartlet goes up against a fictional terrorist-sponsoring Middle Eastern state, Qumar. The West Wing prez orders the assassination of that country’s defense minister for orchestrating a botched attempt to blow up the Golden Gate Bridge. After the First Family’s daughter is kidnapped in retaliation, Bartlet relinquishes his office to the Republican speaker of the House, who then orders the bombing of terrorist camps inside Qumar. But those hostilities end without escalation as soon as Bartlet takes charge of the Oval Office again.
Seems even a fictional U.S. president isn’t stupid enough to lead his country into an avoidable war.
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