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‘West Wing’ debate throws out the rules

(Posted November 17, 2005 by Leah Yoakum)

NEW YORK - Who won the debate? That was up to each viewer of “The West Wing” to decide. No pundits came on afterward to spin the results.

But this fictional faceoff Sunday night had everything else, including a wishful vision of what a presidential debate might look like if its participants were willing to take off the gloves.

The ratings sweeps month stunt pulled in an estimated 9.6 million viewers, up from the 8.2 million “The West Wing” had been averaging this season, according to preliminary Nielsen Media Research figures. The NBC drama has lost about a third of its viewers this season with the move to Sunday nights.

In this live episode, make-believe Republican candidate Arnold Vinick startled his pretend Democratic rival, Matt Santos, by suggesting at the outset that their carefully negotiated rules of engagement be thrown out.

“When the greatest hero in the history of my party, Abraham Lincoln, debated, he didn’t need any rules,” declared Vinick (played by Alan Alda). “We could junk the rules.”

“OK, let’s have a real debate,” said Santos (Jimmy Smits).

However unlikely it might be that political opponents would agree to such a high-risk, no-holds-barred format, the trappings of the debate sure looked real enough: In their dark business suits, both candidates were stationed at lecterns in front of the customary blue background (that is, until midway through the hour, when both men called for hand microphones so they could roam the stage).

Source: MSNBC

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