Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Bartlet Era Comes to an End

[[T U B E]] * It’s official: NBC-TV has decided to cancel The West Wing after seven seasons. The political drama’s finale will be broadcast on Sunday, May 14, wrapping up a dramatic season in which President Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen) finally ends his eight years in the Oval Office, to be replaced, presumably, by fellow activist Democrat Matthew Santos (Jimmy Smits) of Texas.

Loyal Limbo readers will know that I have long found the brainy West Wing inspiring, especially over the last five years, as George W. Bush has made a mess of America’s economy, isolated the nation dangerously from the rest of the world, and sought to expand his power over the other branches of government. “Jed” Bartlet, by comparison, is a thoughtful, curious chief executive with an appreciation for the sort of crucial nuances that Bush eschews. Surrounding him have been an outstanding cast of characters who’ve learned, changed, and become inspirations in their own ways over the years. People such as gruff but endearing chief of staff Leo McGarry (played by the late John Spencer), highly principled communications director Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff), brilliant but sometimes oblivious deputy chief of staff Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford), smart and persuasive press secretary turned chief of staff C.J. Cregg (Allison Janney), and presidential aide Charlie Young (Dulé Hill), who has grown from a political neophyte into a warm, talented official in his own right. It will be more than sad to see all of these fine folks sign off for the last time. It will, for me at least, be a moment in which the hopefulness of a fictional White House run by truly compassionate and conscientious people gives way completely to the bleak reality of a White House operated by and for a conservative elite ignorant of the needs of most Americans.

To tell you the truth, I was expecting NBC--which is in the throes of a major ratings slump--to close out The West Wing with Bartlet’s departure. And there was a part of me that saw this as the fitting thing to do, rather than continue this multiple Emmy Award-winning series with a predominately new administration. But I didn’t want my expectation to be proved right.

ANOTHER GOOD ONE BITES THE DUST: The bad news out of Hollywood just keeps right on coming, as we learn that veteran actor Tony Franciosa died of a massive stroke on Thursday of last week. Franciosa played a variety of film roles over the decades, but I remember him best for his work in a trio of TV series: The Name of the Game, which found him playing one of three adventurous, mystery-solving publishing execs; Search, another series with rotating stars, in which he portrayed a high-tech private investigator; and Matt Helm, a reworking of author Donald Hamilton’s original concept, in which Helm (Franciosa) was a Los Angeles gumshoe, rather than a government operative (as Dean Martin had played him a quartet of 1960s movie spoofs). The actor later played another P.I. in TV’s Finder of Lost Loves, but it was a serious comedown from his previous small-screen work. Franciosa was 77 years old.

READ MORE:The Real Reason ‘The West Wing’ Was Canceled,” by Russell Shaw (The Huffington Post); “Yes, Still More ‘West Wing’ News,” by Bob Sassone (TV Squad); “Reincarnating ‘The West Wing’: Could the Canceled NBC Drama Be Reborn on iTunes?” by Andy Bowers (Slate).

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