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John Spencer, The West Wing, and Speculation

[Edited to add this note: Spoilers below for the following episodes of The West Wing: "The Birnam Wood" (October 27, 2004; season 6) and "The Ticket" (September 25, 2005; season 7).]

When I first heard of the death of John Spencer, I naturally found the news sad. I never really got to know Spencer's acting work until The West Wing, on which he plays Leo McGarry. I loved the portrayal of his character, and wondered how much of himself he put into McGarry.

The question has taken on an eerie feel, though, since McGarry had an almost-fatal heart attack last season.

With Spencer's death, though, a new question arises. What happens to the story? McGarry is the current Vice-Presidential candidate on the show. The obvious thing for the writers to do would be to kill off McGarry and replace him on the ticket.

But for a moment, I had an uh-oh thought.

In the opening scene of "The Ticket" (9/25/05), the first episode this season, we saw a flashforward to three years in the future, when the Bartlett presidential library is being dedicated. And for a while there, I thought that Leo McGarry was in that scene. If that had been the case, then they couldn't kill off McGarry, as that would be a major contradiction. They'd have to find some other way to get him off the ticket and off the show. (I suppose a second, non-fatal heart attack could have done.)

But I checked the scene, and it turns out that my memory had been flawed. McGarry isn't in the flashforward. Nor is there any mention of him. Which kind of makes me wonder if the producers knew something about Spencer's health, and kept McGarry out of that scene just in case.

What do we know from that scene?

- CJ is married to Danny and they have a baby.

- Toby and the President might have a strained relationship; then again, it could be their shared reticence to show emotion. Also, Toby's teaching at Columbia.

- Kate has written a book. Note that she's standing next to Will Bailey.

- Will Bailey is in Congress, on Ways and Means.

- Charlie is alive. (Well, that's really all we know. That, and that Bartlett did something in Jakarta to get them talking.)

- Josh is the man of the hour, and the one who knows that the President is arriving.

Which makes me wonder. It's clear that Bartlett and the others are deferring to Josh for some reason. Now, it could be because he ran a successful campaign and got Santos elected --

-- or it could be because he's the Vice-President of the United States.

I guess we'll just have to see where the show goes from here...

Comments

er!
i hate to ask you this, but it might cause others consternation as well.
if you could please put the spoilery bits under a cut, that would be really wonderful.
i'm very slowly working my way through West Wing (having just acquired Seasons 1 and 2 on DVD a couple months ago), and i've been trying to avoid hearing too much about what happens in later seasons...

thank you!
I haven't put a cut, but I did edit to place a spoiler warning at the start of the post. Your request actually got me thinking about an issue I've been considering for a long time, so my latest post is all about the question of when spoilers expire...
that does help, thank you!
I think wanting to avoid a spoiler from last week is reasonable. but a spoiler from last year is not a spoiler. It's a recap.
Admittedly this is a show that moved the completely unqualified for it CJ to Chief of Staff so anything's possible, but I can't see Josh being VP for several reasons.

First, he's running the campaign and is already overstretched. He can't do both, and the only alternative people were mentioning to run the campaign was, well, Leo (and a reason Leo might have been able to and Josh wouldn't is that Leo's a known quantity, both as VP candidate and a former Cabinet secretary. A new Veep candidate will have to be very visible as the candidate given it's only about a month before the election and people will want to know who this new person is. And note that Leo very definitely turned it down, both out of consideration for Josh and it being too much work to do both).

Second, Josh is unqualified on three fronts to be VP, especially getting plugged in only a few weeks before the election.

1) He's a complete unknown nationally save for politics wonks. None of his experience has put him in the public eye at all. The campaign focus would shift to "Who is Josh Lyman?" which Santos and Josh shouldn't want; they don't have enough time to get back to the campaign before the election given they're coming from behind.

2) His experience has been running campaigns and chief of staff for a Congressman and deputy chief of staff (not promoted when Leo left) for the President. From a national perspective, that spins to Santos doing the equivalent of appointing Harriet Miers. The general public would not see any reason this man should be one heartbeat away from the Presidency, and he has no popular base of support to add to the campaign.

3) Seriously, would you want President Lyman? Per Bartlett, the reason he kept Hoynes as VP; "Because I might die". I can't see Santos thinking that about Josh.

As for how to handle the situation, I'd go with writing Leo out in terms of his making a physical or vocal appearance, or plugging in past footage/dialogue in very brief scenes. I'd now have the final show have him die right after the Inaugeration, and the final show is about the cast's reaction to both his death and the end of the Bartlett administration, something that only came about because Leo pushed Jed to run.
In the real world, as you point out, Josh is unqualified to be the VP candidate on many levels. But in the world of the TV show, it would just be cool. :-)

As for your suggestion, personally I think it would be difficult to stage an inauguration scene without Leo McGarry in it. But I like your idea for the final episode.
Seriously, would you want President Lyman?

The county is not ready for a Jewish Vice president on TV.
I don't see Josh as VP either. I figured all that stuff was to suggest that Josh was Santos' Chief of Staff now or something. (Or even Arnie Vinnick's, in some strange twist of fate.)

The wife and I had a more interesting thought on how the writers would handle John Spencer's death though:

I'm guessing that Spencer's death has occurred in the vicinity of filming of episodes that take place right around the election. I have had a feeling for awhile now that they're setting up a 2000-style close vote, but that this would give the West Wing staff a chance to take an interesting moral high ground way out (unlike what actually happened in 2000).

With Spencer's death, it opens up a further possibility. Suppose the election stands with Santos having a lead over Vinnick, but one state in contention is too close to call. It could go into the House and be the usual mess, etc, although it still looks like Santos would win when all is said and done.

Leo McGarry's death occurs in the midst of all of this.

Santos reaches a hand across the aisle, and in the spirit of bipartisan cooperation offers Vinnick the Vice-Presidency. Vinnick is a different kind of Republican and he and Santos did get along when they were serving in their respective houses of Congress. They both realize they're a lot more alike in some respects than some of the people in their own parties. And they realize that cooperating would be better for the country than the mess Bush and Gore left us with in 2000. Rather than haul this thing into the courts and Congress, Vinnick could concede the state - and the Presidency - in exchange for the Vice-Presidency.

It could happen. We'll have to wait and see.
On the one hand, that fits the WW "politics as we wish it were" mindset.

On the other, there are very pragmatic reasons for Vinick to refuse. Traditionally, the VP is a very weak position, and Santos doesn't strike me as doing anything with his VP like Chaney is to Bush. Frankly, Vinick as VP doesn't really position him in much more power than he'd have as a defeated Presidential candidate (I'm not clear if he's still in the Senate, or if his term is supposed to be up this year and if so whether he's also running for re-election ala Lloyd Bentsen or not). And, more to the point, Vinick's old. Particularly if he wants the option of two terms, this is realistically his last shot at the Presidency. Being VP doesn't gain him anything unless Santos offers him real power nigh-unprecedented in the real world in the position.
Now that would be interesting...
I like that idea. It seems clear that they're already setting this up for a Santos win (Vinick isn't getting the screen time); this would add an interesting twist to it.
I don't buy Josh as VP. He's too young, to unknown, not married and really brings nothing to the ticket in terms of votes.

What my question is where are they in terms in filming.

If i had to bet they would pick Baker from PA or the current VP as the new running mate.

BTW where is Charlie this year? I like Dule Hill.
We haven't seen much of Charlie, but supposedly he's working for CJ on her staff.
OK, so I haven't been watching the show for a while (lack of any sort of TV) but back when I had cable I was watching it feverently -- only show I tried to watch at it's original air time and I was watching re-runs on Bravo way too much That being said, in the Bartlett white house, Leo was the one who knew what was going on. It wasn't Hoynes (sp?) or Bingo Bob or Bartlett himself. Sometimes it was Charlie, but really it was Leo. So it makes sense that Josh would know what was going on. But I think that also kinda implies (not having seen the scene or any episode after the DNC -- and having missed some prior to it) that maybe maybe Santos didn't win? It would be an easy way to end the show.

CJ and Danny get married! And have a baby! YEA!!!

-Kris
There's no reason for Spencer's death to require that Santos lose the election...but the flashforward scene was definitely set up in a way to make it unclear who the new President will be.
Actually Kate is next to Charlie, but Kate and Will as a concept makes sense.
Also watching the Undecideds again when Will goes into CJ's office Kate seems to be checking will out, and she asks him to the wedding as well.

Future of the WW

I was saddened to hear of John Spencer's death. And like you, I can't help but wonder who would take over the VP if Santos won... what about this idea: bring back Sam (Rob Lowe), who would already have been a two-term congressman at this point and make him VP... it would groom him for the presidency, and then Rob Lowe would get what he wanted when the show orginally started seven years ago: to be the headliner of the show... just an idea!

It will be interesting to watch what will happen to our beloved show..

Re: Future of the WW

You know, there has been a rumour that Rob Lowe would be returning to play Sam in the final episode -- assuming that this ends up being the show's last season. It's not outside the realm of possibility that they would make him the VP...

Re: Future of the WW

I thought that Sam lost the election. Was I wrong on that front?

Re: Future of the WW

Hmm....it wasn't entirely clear, but that seemed to be the implication. Still, in the midst of all this, perhaps he's become a one-termer at the very least.
My thinking has been that perhaps they'll simply ignore Spencer's death, and let him be the off-stage and off-screen vice president that Hoynes and Russell mostly were. After all, if you know the vice president can't be on screen, ever, you can write it that way.
But the VP still has to maintain some level of visibility while campaigning, and we don't know where they are in filming. There might be some storylines left that necessitate McGarry's presence if he's on the ticket.
I can't see leo being kept around long term off screen as VP. He is such a power in the party that if he was VP he would be visable. They could get away with it for an episode or two but not for a season.

Do know if WW will continue after this season? I had thought it was still getting pretty good raitings.

(Anonymous)

John Spencer, The West Wing, and Speculation

Once again sadly life mirrors art.
There is only one person to replace Leo on the VP ticket, someone who is keen to get back and onto the 'Wing' team. His stint with !A Few Good Men" in London ended on December 17th so Rob Lowe (Congressman Sam Seaborn) would make an excellent choice

Re: John Spencer, The West Wing, and Speculation

Hi! Could you identify yourself? I don't allow anonymous comments without attribution.

Re: John Spencer, The West Wing, and Speculation

Just signed up to this - still learning the ropes - call me Black Arrow

(Anonymous)

Re: John Spencer, The West Wing, and Speculation

They are going to kill of Leo on the show. It will have more of an emotional impact on the whole final season of the show (it is not going to be renewed). Either William Devane (as Secretary of State Berryhill) will be appearing a few times as the last minute running mate for Santos, Ed O'Neil (as Governor Baker of Pennsylvania), or a new character (possibly played by John Mahoney). The actor/VP candidate they choose would be older than Santos. Once the election is over, you would not see much of the VP. Devane has a new series (a sitcome) coming, but Stockard Channing has a new series and still appears from time to time on TWW. No way they just write him off screen - they will have to kill him off, he was just too important to the show, and it would dishonor Spencer.

The series will end with the inauguration of Santos and while the post party is going on a major crisis hits and the last scene is Santos rushing into the Oval Office and sittying behind the desk with National Security people and staff present and they start discussing what to do, the camera slowly pans away from the desk and the west wing theme fades in. Fade to black.

Or it ends with the swearing in and Jed & Abby riding away in a limo with the sappy version of TWW theme playing Bartlett reflects on his presidency (kind of like a 3 or 4 minute montage) fade back to the present as the limo pulls into Arlington Cemetary and Jed goes up to Leo's grave and thanks him, leaving a memento behind (a Santos-McGarry button).

Re: John Spencer, The West Wing, and Speculation

Hi, who is this? I don't allow anonymous comments without some sort of attribution.
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