Thursday, May 11, 2006
In the legendary song American Pie, the phrase "the day that music died" is used several times. The song and that phrase referred to the tragic death of Buddy Holly in a plane crash. Don McLean equated Holly's accident to the death of music. As I watched the final credits of The West Wing, I made a similar connection between this series finale and TV's demise.
The West Wing began its seven-year run in 1999. Tonight that run ended. I personally did not start watching the show regularly until near the end of the first season, but after I did I was instantly hooked. The show was funny, intelligent, and thought provoking and along with the superior writing and acting, it became a hit.
Aaron's Sorkin's brainchild had a combination of realism and idealism. The nuts and bolts of politics and law making were accurate, but The West Wing also possessed a idealism about Washington. Bipartisanship and people in government who actually wanted to do what was best (in their minds) for America were the centerpieces of the show. I found this refreshing when compared to the doom and gloom of scandal and partisanship that is often seen in Washington. The West Wing, in many ways, was a look at what our government should be.
Of course many complain about the liberal bias in the show. I would argue it is impossible and unrealistic to make a show that would portray a completely moderate white house. Also, anyone who has watched the West Wing consistently knows that conservative viewpoints have been presented in a positive light as well. Besides, people who base their political viewpoints on what Martin Sheen said as the fictional President don't have the brainpower to remember what he said an hour later.
So why is this the day (or in this case night) that TV died? Consider what shows the NBC broadcast of the series finale was up against. CBS: Survivor (Reality), Fox: The Simpsons (Cartoon), ABC: Extreme Makeover-Home Edition (Reality), USA: Monk (Cop Show), UPN: America's Next Top Model (Reality). Most likely, The West Wing will finish in the bottom half of those shows in terms of ratings. Why? Because Americans watch dirty people fight for a million dollars, humorous cartoons, a guy yelling into a megaphone, a funny cop solving crimes, and beautiful skinny people over intelligent writing and great acting. 95% of network TV is a reality show, a cartoon, a cop show, or courtroom show. The other 5% needs sex and violence to get ratings.
The West Wing was unique in that it fit in none of those categories and did not use sex and violence to draw viewers. With The West Wing gone, TV has become nothing but brain numbing entertainment and that is why tonight was the night TV died.
Stupid entertainment eventually won over intelligent entertainment, but The West Wing fought the good fight for seven years and for those seven years I am thankful.
I leave you with some of my favorite West Wing quotes.
"So, five White House staffers in the room. I would like to say to the 1.6 of you who are stoned right now that it's time to share."
"The Democrats aren't going to nominate another liberal, academic, former Governor from New England. I mean, we're dumb, but we're not that dumb." "Nah, I think we're exactly that dumb."
"I'm going to make a suggestion, which might help you out. But I don't want this gesture to be mistaken for an indication that I like you."
"Nobody ever looks like Joe McCarthy. That's how they get in the door in the first place."
"I wasn't calling you a fool, sir, the brand new state of Georgia was."
"The President has asked Josh Lyman and Sam Seaborn to run these meetings, so it's entirely possibly that by week's end we'll have alienated Christians, China, and our own government."
"You know what word should be Yiddish but isn't? Spatula. Also, farfetched."
"Could I have a couple of aspirin, or a weapon of some kind to kill people with?"
"Yet it feels strange to score political points by doing the right thing… I'm victim to my own purity of character."