West Wing-ers Unite!

Readers weigh in on the series’ online future.

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On Tuesday, I proposed trying to reincarnate the canceled NBC series The West Wingby continuing its run on iTunes and pay-per-view cable and satellite. I suggested that there might be enough of us passionate fans willing to pay a few bucks a week to keep the show alive.

NBC, take notice: I got a lot of mail, most of it from people similarly willing to open their wallets. But a lot of them also had suggestions for making my proposal more viable.

Of course, a few people, like Frayster Brian-1, found the notion “absurd.” And I freely acknowledge the likelihood of this happening is close to zero. But since we’re trying to imagine a plausible scenario for how something like this might happen, let’s make it as plausible as possible.

I used TWW’s current budget of roughly $6 million per episode as the amount we’d have to pony up. Several of you pointed out that TWW was already poised to jettison much of its cast, along with their relatively high salaries, and replace them with “a new administration.” One e-mailer, who works at the show’s studio, Warner Bros., and wanted to remain anonymous, suggested that the producers may have been planning to build a fresher, cheaper cast around a President Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits) and, as the main holdover from the Bartlet administration, Leo McGarry (John Spencer). But Spencer died of a heart attack last month, scuttling that plan, if it ever existed.

Still, I think many TWW fans would be willing to adjust to a new cast, as long as there is Sorkin-esque dialogue and a few holdovers. Hell, they’re going to have to replace Leo’s character anyway—why not make C.J. Cregg (played by the marvelous Allison Janney) the new V.P. candidate?

Also, continuing the show on iTunes/PPV wouldn’t require a full 22-episode season (RM “Auros” Harman pointed out that at $4/episode, a full season would cost more than $80). OK, so make 12 or 10 episodes. Or even six (like British shows do). We’re in no position to demand a certain number.

As for how much we’d each have to pay, several of you had good ideas on lowering the cost. Javier Perez, who appears to be writing from Panama, asks: “What about the international viewers of The West Wing? If we can purchase it from iTunes, for a buck or two, then you increased tremendously its cash generating potential.” Jon R. Koppenhoefer points out that a pay-per-view model doesn’t rule out a sponsor or two placing some form of ad in the download (although it would have to be pretty darned subtle to convince me to pay for the show as well).

And then of course there are DVD sales. Writes David Danzig: “Imagine … 7 million or so fans walking into Blockbuster or Virgin Music to see the 13-episode West Wing Season 9 DVD sitting on the shelf for forty bucks, that they have seen none of. It will fly off the shelves.”

But the main points on which most of my e-mailers agreed were 1) absolutely we’d pay for more West Wing; where’s the petition? (I’ll leave that to someone else.) And 2) we’d be even more willing to pay if creator Aaron Sorkin returned (which isn’t going to happen since he’s working on a new show, Studio 7 on the Sunset Strip). Needless to say, if TWW is reincarnated in PPV form, I will be more than happy to make it my Pod Pick of the Week.

In the meantime, this week’s Slate podcasts include a healthy dose of real West Wing politics, plus a segment on the world’s worst gorilla movies. Not quite Sorkin-esque, but certainly the right price: free.

Jan. 27  The Political Gabfest Returns ( Slate piece)
Jan. 27 Explainer: What Happens When One Government Doesn’t Recognize Another? ( Slate piece)
Jan. 26  The Power-Madness of King George ( Slate piece)
Jan. 26 Explainer: What Happens When TV Networks Merge? ( Slate piece)
Jan. 25  Breaking the DVD Window ( Slate piece)
Jan. 25 Explainer: How Much Do You Want for That Kidney Stone? ( Slate piece)
Jan. 24  The “Me” Walls of Washington ( Slate piece)
Jan. 24 Explainer: Can Someone Else Pay Your Taxes? ( Slate piece)
Jan. 23 Bad Gorilla Movies ( Slate piece)
Jan. 23 Explainer: What’s With All the Blind Muslim Clerics? ( Slate piece)

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