On enjoying an episode of The West Wing

Everybody always assumes I must love The West Wing, but the truth is I never gave it a second chance after being bored sick during an episode about passing a crime bill years ago. But live excitement is live excitement and presidential debates are presidential debates, so I gave it another try last night, and I liked it much better this time, even if some critics seem to have disagreed. I thought the mock debate was legitimately good drama, I liked the admittedly kinda silly “let’s have a real debate, with no rules” gambit, and I thought Alan Alda in particular did a virtuoso acting job. (Honorable mention, surprisingly, went to non-actor Forrest Sawyer as himself.)

Unfortunately for NBC, this was far from a typical episode, so it wasn’t enough to convince me to watch the show on a regular basis. But it was a very nice try.

Searching for news on the debate episode today, I see it’s engendered some controversy about the lines between news and entertainment being blurred. The broadcast looked a lot like a real news broadcast, complete with an NBC News chyron in the corner. I’m someone who normally thinks about such things, and honestly, it didn’t even occur to me while I was watching. This was drama about news — nobody ever pretended it was news itself. The NBC News logo and use of an actual journalist as moderator were devices to induce suspension of disbelief, not indications that this was an actual news production, and they were effective ones. The West Wing no more blurred the line than Spinal Tap did.

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