The cast and crew of "The West Wing" spoke during the NBC executive question and answer segment of the Television Critics Association Press Tour at the Ritz Carlton Hotel on January 22, 2006 in Pasadena, California. One of President Bartlet’s memorable lines on "The West Wing" comes to mind now that NBC has announced the award-winning series will have its finale May 14 after seven seasons: "What’s next?"

At a press conference, Executive Producer John Wells said the mid-December death of series regular John Spencer briefly led to a discussion of whether it was appropriate to continue the series without him, and whether the three filmed episodes he was featured in prominently had to be re-shot.

"The conclusion we came to was John was so wonderful in the episodes that the best homage we could make to his contribution was to let people see the last days of his work," said Wells. "We did not change or edit a single thing."

The first of the final episodes, including Spencer’s character, Leo McGarry, aired on Sunday night. He will be in two of the remaining nine episodes. Wells said it hasn’t been easy writing or performing the episode in which McGarry dies. "I think for the cast and for all the shooting company, we’re now kind of dealing with the death of a character that we loved, after having dealt with the death of a man that we loved," said Wells. "And it’s a complicated and difficult time for us."

In the series, McGarry is the former chief of staff in the Bartlet administration who became the vice president running mate of Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits). Wells said the episodes filmed before Spencer’s death took the show within five days of the election between Santos and Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda).

Research determined that a death of a vice presidential candidate so close to an election would make it too late for the presidential candidate to get a replacement on the ballot.

"In the case where it’s right up against the election, all of the people that we talked to said the wisest thing for a candidate to do would probably be to either indicate who they want to replace them or to just go silent on the issue," said Wells. "If they lose, it’s not an issue. If they’re elected, it makes the most sense to wait until the inaugural and then try to get a candidate nominated and then through Congress under the 25th Amendment."

The series, which is having a terrific creative season even though viewers have ignored it on its new Sunday night spot, gets a natural February break because of NBC’s Olympic coverage. Wells said the April 2 and April 9 episodes will deal with the election. The May 14 finale will focus on the inauguration of the new president and the Bartlet administration leaving.

And yes, Rob Lowe, who was part of the original cast, has been asked to return.

After the press conference, Wells revealed more of his plans for what happens between the Olympics and the inauguration. He feels it is a luxury to know the show is ending so he can send it out the proper way.

"We’ll have episodes at the end where we’ll follow (chief of staff) C.J. Cregg (Allison Janney) and see what is happening in her life. There is an episode about what happens to (disgraced speechwriter) Toby (Richard Schiff). We have a full episode with what is happening with Vinick and Santos, what is happening in the rest of the their lives. We will have an episode about (Santos’ campaign manager) Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford) and an episode about Bartlet (Martin Sheen).

"It was going to be an episode about Bartlet and Leo. Now it will be an episode about Bartlet."

Those remaining avid "West Wing" viewers may remember that an episode set in the future revealed that C.J. and the reporter played by Timothy Busfield got married and had a child, speechwriter Will Bailey (Josh Malina) was in Congress, former assistant chief of staff Charlie Young (Dule Hill) was working in the government and there remained a distance between Toby (Schiff) and the president because of Ziegler’s involvement in a White House leak.

"We’ll play all of that out at the end of the season," said Wells. "We have to work around (Busfield’s) schedule because he’s very involved (as a producer-director) with "Without a Trace.’ We’re trying to follow through on it. We talked about it long and hard over the summer."

One thing was not addressed in the future episode: Whether Donna Moss (Janel Moloney) and her former boss, Josh, will finally realize they belong together after flirting for years.

"One of the great things is when you know the show is ending, you can actually do stuff that you probably wouldn’t do if you thought the show was continuing," said Wells. "I’ll say just that."

That paints a pretty obvious picture.

Wells was in such a talkative mood that he even revealed the two choices he has for the final scene. Both will be filmed, but the decision as to which one will be the final scene will be made in the editing room. I don’t want to spoil it, but both candidates are strong ones.

And the best choice will have a poignant and familiar ring to regular viewers of the show


Posted on January 26, 2006, in The West Wing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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