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Last Updated: Saturday, 13 May 2006, 08:46 GMT 09:46 UK
Fans say goodbye to The West Wing
By Jonathan Beale
BBC News, Hollywood

After seven long years, through overseas crises in the Middle East, rising tensions with China and interesting romantic dalliances, The West Wing is ending its critically acclaimed - although recently low-rated - run in the United States.

President Bartlet attends the funeral of Leo McGarry - a plot point necessitated by the death of actor John Spencer
The show ends not long after the death of a main character
The show's demise will surely bring tears to the eyes of liberals who sought refuge from the current occupant of the real White House by watching the romantic portrayal of Democratic president Josiah Bartlet.

Played by real-life Democrat supporter Martin Sheen, he gave liberals a parallel universe they would have far preferred.

Many of the cast make no apologies for the show's left-wing tilt - partly because they're Democrat supporters in real life.

Bradley Whitford, who plays the politically savvy Josh Lyman, says: "Does anybody want to watch a television show where the music swells at the end and we jump up and down and go, 'We're drilling on protected land', 'We got a tax cut for the rich people'? It wouldn't work."

Real president's view

In truth, the series took advice from both sides of the political divide in trying to make it as real as possible, and it has appealed to a much wider audience than just downcast Democrats.

The president ... didn't come over to say 'Hi' - I don't think he watches it
Richard Schiff,
cast member
But was there any concern as to what the current occupant of the real White House thought about the portrayal of his party?

That remains a mystery, says Richard Schiff, who plays former communications director Toby Ziegler.

"We met the support staff of the Bush administration very early on in their takeover and then we had tea at the White House with the staff.

"The president was walking with his wife and his dog on the lawn and didn't come over to say 'Hi'. I don't think he watches it."

West Wing cast
The show has won several awards during its critically-acclaimed run
The notion that The West Wing somehow transformed the American political landscape is of course as far-fetched as some of the drama's plot lines.

It was President Bush, the anti-Jed Bartlet, who came to power during the show's early heyday.

And even Sheen, never afraid to make his own opinion known, could not help his friend Howard Dean win the presidency in 2004.

Sadly for Democrats, their fairy-tale ending only came true in Hollywood.

Influencing a generation

Then again, even with the recent ratings dip which contributed to its ultimate demise, The West Wing still drew millions of viewers weekly.

And Joe Lockhart, a White House spokesman for former President Bill Clinton, thinks it may have had an even greater impact.

Martin Sheen
Sheen says he wants to finish his education after retiring
"If this show could make people want to get involved in government, that's great for government, and I think it actually did.

"I think there's more enthusiasm now for working in government and getting into public service and - ratings aside, awards aside - that's a service that this show provided."

To quote President Bartlet, the show may have contributed to a new generation of Americans aiming to serve in government to "ensure that the promise of this country is the birthright of all the people".

The West Wing ends in the US on Sunday with the inauguration of a new president.

Lowe returns for West Wing finale
02 Mar 06 |  Entertainment
Final closure of The West Wing
23 Jan 06 |  Entertainment
West Wing's Leo dies at age of 58
17 Dec 05 |  Entertainment
Sheen defends anti-war views
18 Mar 03 |  Entertainment
Martin Sheen: 'President' under fire
07 Mar 03 |  Newsmakers

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