‘West Wing’ goes more bipartisan
With Aaron Sorkin gone, the tone of the show may change

LOS ANGELES, Sept 18 — When NBC’s White House drama “The West Wing” returns next week for its fifth year, the most obvious difference from last season will be that John Goodman, not Martin Sheen, is calling the shots in the Oval Office as the famously liberal show grows more bipartisan.

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‘You will see the new speaker of the House, the majority leadership (in Congress), which is Republican, and those views much more represented on the show.’
excutive producer
       GOODMAN PLAYS a Republican House speaker who becomes acting commander-in-chief when President Bartlet (Sheen), a Democrat, temporarily relinquishes power in the midst of an international crisis involving his kidnapped daughter.
       Executive producer John Wells, who knows something about filling big shoes when the commander-in-chief steps down, promises that Sheen will get his old job back before long.
       But Wells said Goodman’s guest-starring role is just one way in which “West Wing,” which some have criticized as being too liberal, too Democratic, will become more politically balanced this season.
       “You will see the new speaker of the House, the majority leadership (in Congress), which is Republican, and those views much more represented on the show, and the conflicts between them in trying to get fiscal and international policy done,” Wells said in a conference call with reporters Thursday.
       The stage for a more bipartisan tone actually was set last season, when series creator Aaron Sorkin wrote the election of a Republican-controlled Congress into the show.
       Now Wells, who took control of the series when Sorkin left in May, intends to use the show’s new fictional politics to explore issues dividing real-life Washington and the nation, including debates over the economy and global security.
       “We want to have conversations about international intervention, not to take pot shots in any way at what the Bush administration’s been doing ... but to just discuss how complex the issues are and how there aren’t easy choices,” he said.

       During season four, Bartlet ordered the covert assassination of a foreign leader suspected of exporting terrorism. That story line in turn paved the way for last season’s cliffhanger and this season’s premiere, which airs next Wednesday.

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       To maintain a political balance, and bring a higher level of realism to the show, producers rely heavily on a coterie of inside-the-Beltway insiders, Wells said.
       On the Democratic side, former Clinton White House aides Dee Dee Myers and Gene Sperling are staying on the show as political consultants, and former congressional staffer and “McLaughlin Group” panelist Lawrence O’Donnell Jr., has rejoined the series as a writer, Wells said.
       To represent the Republican point of view, Wells has recruited former Reagan chief of staff Ken Duberstein, along with John Podhoretz, a conservative columnist who wrote speeches for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush senior. Wells said Podhoretz has been one of the show’s “staunchest critics” in recent years.
       The diversity of opinion among consultants and writers has sparked “hours” of spirited debate that Wells said he hopes will “infuse the show” with greater passion.
       “My own sense is that the country is more divided than it’s been in my lifetime, and the more we can reflect that division and allow another place where that conversation takes place, the more interesting the show is for our audience.” Wells said.
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