It was often said that the TV series “The West Wing” was the Clinton administration the way Hollywood wished it would be. As it is, the series outlasted the presidency it was presumably based on by five years, but the May 14 episode will be the last.
Seven seasons is a good, long run, almost two full presidential terms. The show was intelligent political drama, leavened with lightning-quick — and highly improbable — dialogue, and taking place in a West Wing, where the president has his offices, not remotely like the real thing. But who cared?
Initially, “West Wing” had a huge following in Washington. At a White House correspondents’ dinner early in the show’s run, the actors playing President Bartlet, press secretary C.J., speechwriter Toby and chief of staff Leo attracted more attention than their for-real counterparts.
From the outset, the show had its faults — the characters wore their idealism on their sleeves; it was prone to a preachy approach to issues; and it was suffused with a certain liberal smarminess. But the show was witty and often dead-on. Political junkies loved it — not that there are a lot of prime-time political melodramas to choose from.
But like presidencies, the show ran out of steam in its second term, an aura of lame-duckery hovered over it and, in striving for drama and novelty, the show fell prey to that fatal phenomenon known as “jumping the shark.”
TV is not real-life, and a good thing for presidents Clinton and Bush. Presidencies aren’t subject to cancellation if their ratings fall low enough.