Price Isn't Right for Actors in 'West Wing' Swan Song

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By Lisa de Moraes
Tuesday, May 9, 2006

As recently as last week, NBC promised that for one hour this Sunday, we could watch as "the cast of the Emmy Award-winning 'West Wing' pauses to reflect on the evocative drama's seven years on NBC with a retrospective of many emotional and touching scenes that made the [Bartlet] administration come alive to millions of Americans."

But, as NBC learned the hard way, some cast members of "The West Wing" don't cough up an hour of "emotional" and "touching" for nothing. Not even for cheap.

Turns out, playing themselves reminiscing about their years on the show as role models for millions around the world is not included in their contracts. Those appearances have to be negotiated separately.

Shrewdly recognizing that this could be their last opportunity to hold out for more cash -- various "West Wingers" having entertained us over the years with their sick-outs and other pay-hike ploys -- some cast members let it be known that an hour's worth of emotional and touching pausing and reflecting was going to cost NBC and Warner Bros. TV. Too much, it appears, for a retrospective on a now low-rated show, especially when the clip job was going to air on a Sunday in May at 7 p.m. -- when the HUT (homes using television) level is low.

And so, my fellow Americans, NBC decided it will not broadcast, as it had promised, a "West Wing" retrospective leading into the critically heralded show's very last episode.

Instead, at 7 this Sunday night, NBC will rebroadcast the show's very first episode, in which the band of thespian mercenaries is introduced to an unsuspecting public, and the president of the United States falls off his bicycle -- oh yeah, like that's gonna happen.

When NBC originally aired the pilot episode, in the fall of 1999, it clocked an average of 17 million viewers.

When NBC last reran it in February 2001, according to the network, it averaged about 9 million viewers.

And -- what with "West Wing" originals averaging about 8 million viewers these days -- if the pilot repeat comes anywhere near its previous performance, you can expect to see a lot fewer retrospectives leading into the final episode of a long-running series and a lot more first-episode/final-episode packages.

And Allison Janney no longer will be remembered as having been a role model for millions of women around the world; instead, the "West Wing" gang will be remembered as having been role models for dozens of actors holding out for more cash in order to sit in high chairs and reminisce about their brilliant career on fill-in-the-blank-series.

* * *

Anderson Cooper, hailed by some as CNN's "It" boy, has been named a correspondent for CBS's "60 Minutes."


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