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Thoughts on The West Wing: "Election Day"

[Spoilers for The West Wing up until last night]


Last night, Nomi and I watched the second part of "Election Day," the latest episode of The West Wing. For others who watched it, you might be interested in an article in today's New York Times, 'West Wing' Writers' Novel Way of Picking the President. According to the article, the writing staff was planning to make Senator Vinick win the election, until John Spencer died. When that happened, and they decided to have his character, Leo McGarry, die on election night, they decided it would be too much of an emotional one-two punch for the viewers. So instead, they gave the election to Santos.

Over the past two seasons, there have been a lot of rumors going back and forth about who would win the election, and I have to say that I don't buy it. I suspect that they're leaving out a key point. Given what the media reported before, my guess is that they had been planing all along for Santos to win -- until they found out that the show would not be renewed. Then, perhaps, they considered giving the election to Vinick, but recanted when Spencer died.

I'm still amazed at the way the flashforward at the beginning of the season omitted an appearance by Leo McGarry. And the way that his death echoes the death of Josh Lyman's father on the night of the Illinois primary... It's macabre to think about it, but in a way John Spencer's death may have led the writers to create a storyline with far greater resonance than it would have had otherwise.

Two other things from the New York Times article that I found interesting. First, this quote from Bradley Whitford, the actor who plays Josh Lyman:


"This show is probably the first line in my obituary," Mr. Whitford said. "Everyone knows they got lucky with this one."

That line echoes a line spoken by C.J. Cregg a few episodes back, in which she tells Danny Concanan, "You think I'm not aware that I'm living the first line of my obituary right now?" And that particular episode was written by Whitford. Not hard to see what's on his mind these days.

The second thing from the article I found interesting was what Martin Sheen, who plays President Bartlet, plans to do next. Apparently, he's been urged by members of the Democratic party to run for office from his home state of Ohio. Sheen turned then down:


"I'm just not qualified," he said. "You're mistaking celebrity for credibility."


I have a lot of respect for what he said. He's smart enough to know that he's not the right guy for the job, that playing a role on a TV show is different from playing that role in real life.

So what's Sheen up to? He's decided to enroll for the first time, at age 65, in college. That's an inspiration.

Comments

For the record, I think Larry O'Donnell is full of crap. I think Santos was always going to win and he's just trying to look clever now.

When Brad spoke at American University, he said that for a while his biggest fear was that Billy Madison would be the first line in his obituary. It's a thing with him. *g*
Last night, I kept reloading your journal, desperate for your comments on last night's episode. Guess I should have stayed up later. :-)

I can't see them letting Vinick win if the show was going to continue; I doubt any of them would have wanted to write that administration. And frankly, I think it would have disappointed the fans had it not been Santos.
I remember hearing John Wells quoted in an interview as saying that maybe it's time for a Republican president on The West Wing, so I think you're right: I think that the original plan was for Vinnick to win. I always thought it was interesting that Vinnick was portrayed as a moderate Republican. My thinking is that would have been the only way for loyal WW fans to even consider accepting a new president on the show. Frankly, I'm glad it didn't come to that. WW was always a Democratic fantasy and a good one.

Funny you should mention the flash-forward; I was thinking about it myself last night. Another friend of mine points to it as confirmation that Wells had planned for a Santos presidency, else why would Josh be there saying that "the President was coming." Myself, I never bought that rationalization. The scene was taking place at the opening of the Bartlet Presidential Library. It's an occasion when many presidents of both parties turn out.

And I, too, have a lot of respect for Martin Sheen. He's right. Though it's appealing to think of him going into public service, it's unrealistic. When did we stop being able to distinguish the difference between reality and TV? Oh, wait: I think it's called Reality TV. ::sigh::
I doubt they would have had Vinick win if the show was going to be renewed. But once they knew it was being cancelled, they might have considered it.
I've been wondering for awhile if their intention with Josh's "The President is coming" line was for President McGarry (presumably sometime after a Vinick or Santos administration) to walk in at the closure of that scene, when they got round to filming it. Obviously, that idea would no longer work.
I had been hoping for a Vinick victory (I think his would be a more interesting administration to follow), and after the show was cancelled I figured they could justify doing that (don't have to worry about characters who wouldn't return to a Vinick white house). But for most of this season it's been obvious to me that they were going to give it to Santos; he's just plain gotten more air time and there's been more character focus on his group than Vinick's group. So maybe they were planning to pull a surprise Vinick win after all that, or maybe they're just saying what they think people want to hear.

I couldn't envision this particular writing staff wanting to write a Vinick presidency, though. As far as I know, most if not all of the writers are Democrats.
I gave up on WW, especially when they decided to re-run the election and by God! have a Democrat win this time. How much more excruciatingly boring could they possibly get?

If you gave up on West Wing, then why bother to respond to this post?

And which election are you talking about their re-running? They just did the election. Unless you're saying you gave up as of yesterday...

I don't find the show boring. I find the characters and the situations they put them into to be fascinating.
I felt they were deciding to re-run the 2004 election, but this time with an ideal Republican candidate — a Republican that could pass for a Democrat, versus a Democrat.

I just lost all interest in the show at that point; the thought of sitting through a fake campaign right after sitting through a real campaign led us to find the "off" button.
"Vinick was gonna win" is a crock. All season long, they've been "leaking" the "possibility" that the outcome of the election was unsure. It was nothing more than a cheap attempt to pump up ratings by injecting some false uncertainty into what was (let's face it) a coronation. All the camera time was on the Santos campaign, all the angst, all the stars, and the Vinick campaign wasn't a competitor; he was "Democrat-lite" [sic]. He was the Republican Democrats could live with, not the Republican Republicans could live with.

Oh, I still enjoy the show (to some degree), and I'm hooked through the end, but they've tried to write it intelligently for an intelligent audience; to assume the audience is too dumb to see where the election was going just to make a last-ditch stab at ratings was wrong.
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