NEW YORK - Writers on "The West Wing" aren't expected to begin grappling with how to deal with actor John Spencer's death until after the holidays - and the production and program schedule affords them extra time to do so.
Spencer, 58, who played former White House chief of staff and now vice presidential candidate Leo McGarry in the political drama, died of a heart attack on Friday.
Because there are five episodes of the Emmy-winning drama already filmed, staff members need not begin discussing how Spencer's death will be addressed on the show until production meetings start again in two weeks, said a spokeswoman for Warner Bros. Television. A phone call to Lawrence O'Donnell, one of the show's executive producers, was not immediately returned on Monday.
Also, the show airs no new episodes until Jan. 8, with the last of the completed episodes not scheduled to air until March 19, due to the Winter Olympics and other specials, NBC said.
Spencer is featured in two of the unaired episodes. The show scheduled for Jan. 8 includes a debate between vice presidential candidates, including Spencer.
The entire season is built upon a presidential campaign featuring actors Alan Alda and Jimmy Smits, and Warner Bros. hasn't filmed the results of the election yet.
The lives of actor Spencer and character McGarry had odd similarities. Both were recovering alcoholics; McGarry was forced to give up his White House job because of a heart attack.
NBC hasn't announced a decision on whether "The West Wing" will return after this season. Given declining ratings since its move to Sunday nights, its prospects are not promising.