'West Wing' still presidential material

-- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 4:03 AM ET

The West Wing still finds its way into my TV rotation every Sunday.

That's an increasingly isolationist position. After all, The West Wing regularly gets killed in the ratings these days.

NBC already has announced the show is not coming back next fall. And CTV has moved to the front of the queue by dropping The West Wing, since it can't match the numbers achieved by the Canadian network's other hot Sunday properties such as Desperate Housewives and Grey's Anatomy.

The Sex Pistols-esque cries of "no future" in the background certainly have put a damper on the U.S. presidential race between Republican Senator Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda) and Democratic Congressman Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits). It somehow all seemed more crucial when Alda and Smits essentially were auditioning to be the future of The West Wing.

Be that as it may, the first of two "election episodes" airs tonight (8 p.m., NBC).

You won't find out who wins the election 'til next week. But the episode tonight provides fresh insight into how the show's writers have chosen to deal with the death of actor John Spencer, who played Leo McGarry.

Time spent watching The West Wing always seems to go by quickly, and that sensation surely will continue through to the series finale on May 14. But while the show continues to be a personal must-see, there's no denying it has been dumbed down in the past couple of seasons.

There are many opinions as to when, or if, The West Wing jumped the shark (perhaps the phrase "jump the shark" has jumped the shark itself, huh?). Anyway, here are a few candidates:

* When one of the daughters of President Bartlet (Martin Sheen) got kidnapped.

* When C.J. Cregg (Allison Janney) moved from White House press secretary to White House chief of staff.

* The unrealistic shenanigans at the Democratic convention that led to the surprising nomination of Santos.

* When Donna (Janel Moloney) went from being a wide-eyed assistant to Josh (Bradley Whitford) to a media-savvy, inner-circle advisor on the Santos campaign team.

* When Leo went from being the rock-solid White House chief of staff to a bumbling and bewildered vice-presidential candidate.

* When sexual tension started to dominate the relationship between Donna and Josh (there are major developments on that front tonight, by the way).

Overall, it's obvious The West Wing is not as worthy of viewer devotion as it used to be. But it still is worthy of more devotion than it's getting as it slowly walks the plank in the cutthroat world of Sunday-night TV.

In at least one household, The West Wing sorely will be missed when it goes away in a month and a half.

But until that time, it won't be missed.


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