City Says Goodbye to 'West Wing,' Its Chattier Self

Members of
Members of "The West Wing" cast, Martin Sheen, Rob Lowe, John Spencer, Stockard Channing, Richard Schiff, Bradley Whitford, Allison Janney and Dulé Hill, garnered a slew of Emmy Awards during the show's seven-year run. (2002 Photo By Mark J. Terrill -- Associated Press)
By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 15, 2006

Washingtonians gathered around televisions last night for the series finale of "The West Wing," a program from a parallel universe in which the president is named Bartlet, terrorists come from Qumar and no one in the White House is allowed to finish a sentence.

The NBC program, which signed off its final broadcast at 9 p.m., was television's homage to Washington, from its regal theme music and iconic imagery of the city to its celebration of leaks, news briefings and spin control.

Viewing parties popped up across the region. "West Wing" was, in many ways, a home-town show, as "Cheers" was for Boston and "Seinfeld" for Manhattan. For some, it was a little too close to home.

"It was exactly like watching work," said Adam Levine, a communications specialist in the District who was an assistant White House press secretary for two years under President Bush. "You'd sit there and you would have just come out of a meeting in the Roosevelt Room, and you'd flip on the show and they are all sitting there having a meeting in the Roosevelt Room."

The show wasn't necessarily water-cooler material inside the real West Wing; people there work just as hard as their counterparts on the program and they haven't the time, Levine said. But it was a beloved weekly ritual for many former West Wingers, some of whom, such as Levine, consulted for the show's writers.

"I watched the show early on and haven't missed an episode in the last two seasons," said Scott Stanzel, another former Bush White House spokesman. He stopped watching only during what he calls the show's "preachy period," in the middle of its seven-season run, when the left-leaning Democratic administration portrayed on the program went a bit "over the top with its devout liberalism."

In an Arlington County apartment last night, six young Democrats watched the finale on a projection screen after an "all-American" turkey dinner. The core of the group -- twin sisters Morgan and Lauren Miller and Christy Gill, all 22 -- began watching "The West Wing" three years ago with their Democratic club at the University of California at Los Angeles and imported the tradition to Washington when they moved east.

Someone in the group noted how old everyone looked: NBC had replayed the show's 1999 pilot before airing the final episode.

"They're supposed to look old when they leave the White House," Lauren Miller responded. "Look at Bush; look at Clinton."

The general consensus among fans, insiders and TV critics is that "The West Wing" began as a riff on the Clinton administration. Critics say it continued down that path even as it strayed further and further from political reality, to the point that its fictional White House would find liberal resolutions to real-life problems faced by the right-leaning Bush administration. Some Republican detractors dubbed the show "The Left Wing."

Jennifer Palmieri, a press aide during the Clinton years, recalls when the real West Wing learned of an early concept for the show.

"We heard it was going to be about a young former Southern governor who was divorced and had a 13-year-old daughter. Does that sound familiar? Except for the divorced part," she said. Producers ended up giving the fictional president a New Hampshire background and three daughters and patching up his marriage.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company