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Wednesday: New Shows

‘The West Wing’

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THE WEST WING
NBC 9-10 PM Debuts Sept. 22

Aaron Sorkin wants one thing to be known about his new Oval Office-based series: ”This is not the Clinton White House,” proclaims the West Wing creator. ”There’s no Betty Currie character; there’s no George Stephanopoulos character.”

Still, the NBC drama’s White House staffers aren’t completely ignorant of Clintoniana. ”I watched The War Room,” says Moira Kelly of the documentary about the 1992 campaign. ”We were sent copies so we would understand the environment — the emotion and the chaos.” Adds Allison Janney: ”I’m watching C-SPAN and C-SPAN2 more than ever.” And Brad Whitford concludes, ”Stephanopoulos’ book [All Too Human] really should have been called What Brad Whitford Needs to Know to Play This Part.”

The series’ two biggest names were already well versed in the subject. ”I’m a political junkie,” confides Rob Lowe, who made headlines with his videotaped three-way tryst while attending the 1988 Democratic convention. ”I live for election years.” Radical activist Martin Sheen, who plays the Prez, shares this tidbit: ”Recently, a friend of mine at the Green party inquired if I would run [as a vice presidential candidate] with Ralph Nader. I was flattered but had to remind them I have a very colorful past.”

It’s an impressive ensemble, with ex-Brat Packer Lowe’s supple turn as a beleaguered speechwriter providing the biggest surprise. ”Without knowing me, Aaron wrote the part I’ve been waiting for my whole career,” says Lowe. Raves Sorkin, ”About 30 seconds into Rob’s audition, we didn’t want anybody else.”

Sheen’s road to the White House wasn’t so smooth. Originally, Sorkin wanted to distinguish the show from The American President (which he wrote) by focusing solely on the staff. ”Then I thought it’d get hokey,” says Sorkin. ”We’d only see the back of the President’s head, like the neighbor on Home Improvement.” Sheen signed on for four episodes, then upped it to 13. ”I was the last one cast,” he says. ”I have a suspicion Rip Torn wasn’t available.”

Then the scandal hit. ”You look at the first cast photo and say, ‘Jeez, we’re awfully white. That’s not what we want,”’ says Sorkin, who’ll juggle The West Wing with his other fledgling series, ABC’s Sports Night. ”Sure enough, the NAACP gave us a tap on the shoulder.” Sorkin and fellow executive producer John Wells (ER) swear some characters of color will be added soon.

Now all they have to worry about is offending viewers and advertisers with the show’s political content (in the pilot, the liberal President takes on the religious right over abortion). ”It’s a TV show,” reasons Sorkin. ”We’re not hitting people over the head and taking their money.” Spoken like a true politician. — BRUCE FRETTS

WORK WITH ME
CBS, 8:30-9 p.m. Debuts Sept. 29

CONCEPT Kevin Pollak and Nancy Travis are married lawyers who work together; strain — if not hilarity — ensues.
THE SCOOP ”The show looks at what it’s like to be married to somebody and see them all day, at work and at home,” says Travis, seemingly unaware that this is more of a nightmare scenario than a sitcom premise. ”Hopefully, we’ll be able to show what it’s like to be in a marriage and take the gloves off.”
BOTTOM LINE Hope so, ’cause the show needs more punch than its wobbly pilot displays.

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