Monday, November 07, 2005
If You Didn't See The West Wing Last Night, You Missed Some Good Television
Rep. Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits) and Sen. Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda) debated live last night on a really fantastic episode of The West Wing (they got a 7.7 Nielsen rating), and it still wasn't enough to beat that saccharine, mindless, Ty Pennington's abs-obsessed show, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (which got an 11.3 rating). How can you be a programming executive at any network and not be a raging cynic about the American viewing audience? Anyway.
For an hour, with only two commercial interruptions, the perfect liberal and the perfect conservative squared off on real issues, giving compelling arguments for both sides. At the beginning Alda's character says, essentially, let's get rid of all of this arbitrary debate-rule nonsense, and let's have a presidential debate like Lincoln used to have. No holds barred. Ostensibly this was done to show how wily and quick-on-his-feet Alda's character is, but it was really to allow the show's writers some free reign so they wouldn't have to chop their character's soliloquies down into 2 and 1-minute nuggets. This was meant, I think, to show the American public what a real, substantive debate might look like. I agree and disagree with the idea that only an "old-fashioned" debate can be substantive. Sure, a free-wheeling format would be fantastic, but I think the three debates we did have last year were pretty good too, and those had rules. I think after seeing last night's fictional presidential debate, some viewers may be pining for a similarly unstructured presidential debate in 2008, but I think most will be pining for actual candidates, liberal and conservative, who are as forthright, as principled, and as intellectually nimble as the fictional ones. But I guess presenting idealized presidents to act as counterpoints to the real deal has always been West Wing's stock-in-trade, so I shouldn't get too caught up. These shows are written by liberal Hollywood screenwriters, so of course their fictional politicians are going to appeal to me. Even the conservative ones. Oh well. What's kind of sad is that this show is as good as it's ever been, better I think, but fewer people are watching it than ever before. And that new Geena-Davis-is-President show on ABC is no substitute if NBC axes West Wing.
That's all I've got.