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TELEVISION & RADIO

'West Wing' turns up heat with debate

November 05, 2005|From Associated Press

The powers behind "The West Wing" are making this campaign promise: Sunday's live debate between presidential candidates Arnold Vinick and Matt Santos will be far from politics -- or television -- as usual.

Laurence O'Donnell, who balances work as a political analyst and a "West Wing" executive producer, said the hourlong episode at 8 p.m. on NBC represents "my wish-fulfillment debate."

"We are using the accepted liturgy of presidential debates. It will look the same, it will be moderated by Forrest Sawyer, a real newsperson; it will have all that real feel to it," O'Donnell said.

"But I think it will be more satisfying in that the candidates end up really going into the issues in a way that they normally would not," he said. "They end up each forcing the other to get more honest as the debate wears on."

In other words, Republican Vinick, played by Alan Alda, and Democrat Santos, portrayed by Jimmy Smits, will listen and respond to each other -- as opposed to real-world debates that tend to excise substance or spontaneity.

The episode, with separate live versions for Eastern and Western time zones and with just two commercial breaks, could be the highlight of a resurgent year for "The West Wing," which is drawing lavish critical praise after being dinged in recent seasons for a creative slump.

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