The West Wing is coming to an end

The West Wing's cast during its first season

NBC has announced that the current season of The West Wing will be the last. I won’t be mourning its passing that much, since I mourned its death at the start of the fifth season. After writer/creator Aaron Sorkin was fired at the end of the fourth season, we were all waiting to see if the show could carry on with even a tenth of its former presence; it was no surprise to see that it couldn’t. Sorkin really has a gift with dialogue that demonstrates so clearly that writers have far more of an effect on the quality of US TV and film productions than they’re given credit for.

In contrast to the first four seasons (the latter two admittedly not as good as the first two), the fifth season was dismal: the plots were dire, dialogue merely functional rather than entrancing and characters behaved inconsistently.The sixth season – the one currently airing on More4 in the UK – was a definite improvement, although nowhere near the heights of the Sorkin years, while the seventh season has had to deal with obvious budget-cutting. It has had a couple of good moments, though, but it’s still lacked the elegance and style of the early years. Ironically, the best episode so far was written by Bradley Whitford, who plays Josh Lyman and who obviously can remember quite clearly what made the show great in the early years.

The only things the later seasons had that Sorkin’s work didn’t were realism – the earlier seasons being obvious Democrat wish-fulfillment fantasies – and coherence: you could tell the man never planned what he was going to do until the last minute, resulting in characters and story arcs that got picked up, dropped and forgotten willy nilly. Mallory, Ainsley and various other first-rate incidental characters would just disappear without anyone asking where they’d gone. Even Sam (Rob Lowe), who was originally planned as the central character of the show, disappeared during the Orange County elections in the fourth season, never to be mentioned again.

Still, the ‘Let Bartlet be Bartlet’ theme got repeated in different guises at least twice during the first four years and got repeated two more times during the sixth and seventh season, so this attention deficit wasn’t limited just to Sorkin’s time.

It’ll be sad to see it go, but with most of the main characters relegated to guest parts of late, it won’t be the passing of old friends any more, just the disappearance of new acquaintances.

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US Sci-Fi Channel does massive U-turn and buys Doctor Who

David Tennant in a kilt

Wouldn’t have mentioned this except for

a) the great way the BBC announced it (sound needed, but you’ll get annoyed after about a minute)

b) the Sci-Fi channel turned down the chance last year because they watched a few episodes and “found the series somewhat lacking and didn’t think it would fit into the network’s schedule”

I’m guessing the change of mind came about since there was a definite pick-up in story quality in the second half of last year’s season, because it’s now a success and because David Tennant is due very soon. Plus how many rubbish B-movies can you fill a schedule with before you start to put off your educated 30+ demographic? Anyone for Mansquito 2? Thought not. Better get some decent shows in instead then, hadn’t you Sci-Fi?

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A test of two bears

Rupert the Bear

Considering the fuss around the decimation of our Winnie the Pooh heritage by Disney, how will the world take the news that Rupert the Bear is to return to Channel Five with a set of new pals including Ming and Miranda the Mermaid?

Given Rupert isn’t quite as well regarded as Winnie and he’s now associated with Richard Desmond through no fault of his own, I imagine the outcry won’t be as big. After all, he was really just a cartoon for increasing newspaper sales, not tales told to a small boy at a bedtime.

Personally, I’m hoping this new series will take Rupert in a completely different direction, assuming that’s Ming the Merciless joining the cast list.

Imagine the possibilities.

PS The Media Guardian says Ping Pong is a new character. But he’s not. Naughty Media Guardian.

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Looking forward to The IT Crowd?

The IT Crowd

Even if it weren’t for the planned guest appearances by Chris Morris, I think I’d still be tuning in to watch The IT Crowd. If you can put aside the show’s obvious use of stereotypes for a second, a Graham Linehan comedy is always worth watching. Even those that didn’t last the course (eg Big Train, Hippies) were full of brilliant comic moments, and with Father Ted and Black Books under his belt, you know that he’s capable of filling an entire season of episodes with end-to-end comedy gems. The IT Crowd looks like it’s going to have at least a couple, and given that Channel 4 is going to be providing an online premiere of the first episode, they obviously have high hopes for it, too.

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Futurama may get a reprieve

Futurama

We’ve talked before about Fox’s nasty habit of cancelling quality shows and how it seems finally to have developed a quality filter. Now, there’s nothing harder for a TV executive to do than to say they were wrong. But it seems Fox has learnt its lesson over Futurama and is contemplating bringing the show back after it scored success on DVD.

I’m not a big fan of Futurama but it was still a good show, killed before its prime. Off the top of my head, I can name quite a few shows that also bit the dust in the US before they should have as I’m sure you can. But the interesting aspect of this is that DVDs are now enabling networks to spot recent shows that were good but low-rated because of poor advertising or scheduling. Anyone want to run a sweepstake on what the next show they’ll bring back from the dead will be?