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Last Updated: Monday, 23 January 2006, 15:03 GMT
Final closure of The West Wing
West Wing cast
Rumours of the demise of the show began in 2005
Political drama The West Wing, which has been axed after falling ratings, has earned widespread acclaim in its seven-year history.

Set in the West Wing of the White House, it follows the administration of fictional Democratic president Josiah "Jed" Bartlet, played by Hollywood veteran Martin Sheen.

Touching on issues such as anti-terror legislation and presidential scandal, its view of White House life earned the series an unprecedented 24 Emmy awards and two Golden Globes.

"It didn't insult you and it was supremely clever at it," said freelance TV critic William Gallagher.

'Huge tension'

"You might not know the finer points of US law but you got it and - much more - you got why it was so important to these characters."

The series had "verve", Mr Gallagher added. "It could build huge tension over people just waiting to go into a meeting."

The West Wing was devised by New York writer Aaron Sorkin, who created the series with unused plot elements from his 1995 movie The American President and 1998 TV series Sports Night.

Martin Sheen in The West Wing
Martin Sheen's role as President Bartlet was expanded in the series
He originally intended to make deputy communications director Sam Seaborn, played by Rob Lowe, the central figure among a cast that included Stockard Channing and John Spencer.

However, when The West Wing made its debut on NBC in 1999 the role of the president soon expanded as critics praised Sheen's portrayal of a tough-minded liberal.

In 2000 former White House aide Matthew Miller said The West Wing "captivates viewers by making the human side of politics more real than life - or at least more real than the picture we get from the news".

Anti-terror episode

Attracting 17.6 million US viewers and winning a record nine Emmy awards for its first season, The West Wing was soon broadcast in countries including Japan and the UK.

Programme-makers endeavoured to keep the show relevant by basing plots around ongoing or current political issues.

It dealt with public stances on homosexuality and religion, and in 2001 a one-off episode entitled Isaac and Ishmael discussed anti-terror legislation in the wake of the Twin Towers attacks.

Aaron Sorkin (left) and lawyer Steve Sitkoff
Aaron Sorkin (left) had drug charges against him quashed
It was later revealed that President Bartlet had multiple sclerosis, with the show examining the personal and political implications of the disease.

The West Wing's first setback came in 2002 when Lowe left in a dispute over pay and the prominence of his character.

"It has been increasingly clear, for quite a while, that there was no longer a place for Sam Seaborn on The West Wing," the actor said.

The show had developed a loyal following by this time, however - even in the UK, where it lacked a permanent timeslot and moved from Channel 4 to E4 then More4.

But a turn of events tested that loyalty to such an extent that a number of fans would actively campaign for The West Wing to be taken off air.

The show's creator Aaron Sorkin was arrested in possession of cocaine, marijuana and hallucinogenic mushrooms in 2001.

When (creator Aaron) Sorkin left, the show stepped off a cliff
TV critic William Gallagher
Charges against him were quashed but he subsequently quit the show in 2003 amid rumours of tension with producer Warner Bros.

The West Wing continued for a further three seasons, but ratings fell as the series replaced Mr Sorkin's dialogue-heavy writing with traditional plot-heavy drama.

"There were teams of writers on it from the start but Aaron Sorkin wrote or rewrote all of them for the first four years and the show had his voice," William Gallagher said.

"When Sorkin left, the show stepped off a cliff - its fifth season was extraordinarily poor."

The first episode of its final season attracted a respectable 7.6 million viewers in the US, but this remained 10 million fewer than the series at its height.

John Spencer
John Spencer, who played Leo McGarry, died in December 2005
The West Wing's unprecedented run of award wins came to an end at last week's Golden Globes, with drama series such as Lost, House and new political drama Commander-in-Chief - with Geena Davis as a female president - stealing its thunder.

"It's a different world from when the West Wing started in 1999," said Mr Gallagher.

"Politics is getting very serious debate in the most unexpected dramas like Battlestar Galactica and we do have the more straightforward Commander-in-Chief."

Meanwhile John Spencer, who had played politician Leo McGarry since the series began, died of a heart attack in December aged 58.

Spencer will be remembered in a two-hour US finale in May.

And with that, the respected and influential West Wing will close to the public for the last time.


SEE ALSO:
Political drama West Wing is axed
23 Jan 06 |  Entertainment
West Wing wins seventh season
18 Mar 05 |  Entertainment
West Wing leads Emmy winners
22 Sep 03 |  Entertainment
West Wing votes in new writers
25 Jul 03 |  Entertainment


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