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What's happened to these 12 missing characters?

What’s happened to these 12 missing characters? As the series’ tired bodyguard plot spins on, Bruce Fretts wonders why so many of the show’s interesting characters have lost screen time

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Stockard Channing
The West Wing: David Rose

What’s happened to these 12 missing characters?

My worst fears about ”The West Wing” were confirmed with the May 8 episode, ”The Black Vera Wang.” The C.J.-stalking plotline is turning into a ripoff of ”The Bodyguard,” with Mark Harmon (the TV version of Kevin Costner) in the title role and Allison Janney as Whitney Houston. Devoting so much screen time to a terminal stiff like Harmon seems like a crime when you consider how many more intriguing figures we haven’t seen on the show in ages. To wit, here’s a ”West Wing” missing-persons bureau:

ABBEY BARTLET (Stockard Channing) Much noise was made over the fact that Channing would become a regular cast member this fall, yet she’s only appeared in a handful of episodes. True, an off-screen injury hobbled her earlier in the season, but she’s been up and around for months. So why does the First Lady seem the last character to come to Aaron Sorkin’s mind when he’s writing scripts?

ZOEY BARTLET (Elisabeth Moss), ELLIE BARTLET (Nina Siemaszko), and ELIZABETH BARTLET Even if Zoey broke up with body man Charlie (Dule Hill) after that whole assassination-attempt thing, wouldn’t the littlest First Daughter have some contact with her Dad? What’s become of middle child Ellie, whom we’ve seen only once — which is one more time than we’ve met eldest offspring Elizabeth? Maybe, as a friend of mine joked the other day, they’re like Richie Cunningham’s older brother, Chuck, on ”Happy Days” — vanished without an explanation, never to return.

AINSLEY HAYES (Emily Procter), OLIVER BABISH (Oliver Platt), and LIONEL TRIBBEY (John Larroquette) Apparently, the President hasn’t needed a lawyer lately, as these members of the White House counsel’s office haven’t earned billing. Guess that’s why all three actors have defected to pilots for other fall shows — Procter to CBS’ surefire-hit spin-off ”CSI: Miami,” Platt to executive producer Julia Roberts’ CBS courtroom drama ”Queens Supreme,” and Larroquette to Larry Gelbart’s ABC media satire ”The Corsairs.”

NANCY McNALLY (Anna Deavere Smith) The National Security Adviser has turned up during a couple of crises this season, but she has an alarming tendency to go M.I.A. at crucial moments, like last week’s showdown with Russia over a nuclear reactor in Iran or this week’s terrorist threat against U.S. military installations. Maybe she could’ve pointed out to Leo (John Spencer) that one possible target, Ft. Myer, is actually located in Virginia, not Maryland. (Jeez, doesn’t Sorkin own an atlas?)

CONNIE TATE (Connie Britton) and DOUGLAS WEGLAND (Evan Handler) Machiavellian prince-of-darkness Bruno Gianelli (Ron Silver) finally rematerialized this week, but these key members of the President’s reelection campaign remain underground. Or are they off doing field work in Iowa?

DANNY CONCANNON (Timothy Busfield) and WILL SAWYER (Michael O’Keefe) Press secretary C.J. seemed to be interested in engaging in media relations with reporter Danny during the show’s first season, but the ink-stained wretch disappeared. (Busfield was most recently seen as Tom Cavanagh’s no-account brother on NBC’s ”Ed,” which also now employs the ”thirtysomething” alum as a coexec producer.) Late last year, another journo, O’Keefe’s Sawyer, looked ready to do a little layout with C.J., but he got cut for space after only one episode. Maybe one of them will return to blow the lid off C.J.’s steamy affair with a certain Secret Service agent.

What seldom-seen ”West Wing”-ers do you miss the most?

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