''The West Wing'' goes live -- We tell you what happened during the show's ''live'' debate episode

”The West Wing” goes live

This season’s most intelligent, exciting, suspenseful, and sharply acted new show has two things going against it: Ratings are low, and it’s actually six years old. But after an amazing yearlong reinvention, The West Wing is hitting creative peaks not reached even when it was winning all those Emmys. How? By transforming itself from a drama about governance to a drama about politics at a moment in America when governance has seemingly become about nothing but politics. The show now focuses on two presidential candidates — underdog Democrat Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits) and moderate Republican Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda). It’s about the compromises candidates make, the ideals tossed by the wayside, the interest groups fighting for a piece of each man — in other words, about reality, not wish fulfillment. Even the show’s White House plotline, in which Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff) was fired for leaking info to a reporter, has been both prescient and perfectly in character. As Nov. 6’s live debate — the rare stunt that worked — showed, Smits and Alda, superb on-their-toes actors, have become series MVPs, and week in, week out, the writing has been monumental. This fall, NBC put The West Wing out to pasture to make room for…E-Ring? Martha’s Apprentice? Brilliant. Now let’s hope the network gives its best show the commitment it richly deserves. The debate: Santos: B+ Vinick: B The series: A

The West Wing
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