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Shocking plot twists keep 'em guessing, and watching

Saturday, May 12, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

People were dropping like flies on prime-time television this week. None of these deaths was more shocking than the end-of-episode demise of Mrs. Landingham (Kathryn Joosten), secretary to President Bartlet on "The West Wing."

Landingham was the archetypal sweet little ol' lady, the only one in the White House who could gently sass the president by virtue of having worked with him for more than a decade.

In Wednesday's episode she was on her way back to the White House after purchasing her first new automobile -- Bartlet wanted to see it so he could "kick the tires" -- when her car was hit by a drunken driver.

It was a sad, upsetting out-of-left-field shocker.

So much so that according to The Associated Press a California assemblyman adjourned a session of the California Assembly Thursday in memory of the fictional character. The AP reported Assemblyman Kevin Shelley called Mrs. Landingham a "great American" whose "contributions to the nation were too numerous to count."

That's probably taking grief over a TV show character too far, but Mrs. Landingham's death wasn't the only unpleasant surprise for viewers this week. On Sunday, weasely Assistant District Attorney Richard Bay (Jason Kravits) got machine gunned to death in his car on "The Practice."

Some questions about the deceased linger. Foremost: Are they really dead?

At the end of "The Practice," a preview for tomorrow night's show (10 p.m., WTAE) featured Helen Gamble (Lara Flynn Boyle) referring to the person who "shot" Richard, not the person who "killed" him.

Could that be a clue that Richard lives? Maybe, but his body looked pretty bullet-riddled. Then ABC shot a hole in that theory by airing promotional spots of a funeral attended by a grief-stricken Bobby Donnell (Dylan McDermott).

On "The West Wing" it seemed pretty much a given that Mrs. Landingham was indeed a goner. Charlie (Dule Hill) got the phone call that she'd been killed in an accident at 18th and Potomac. Previews even showed a funeral scene filmed at the National Cathedral.

But an agent for Joosten, the actress who plays Landingham, refused to put her client on the phone until after next week's episode and sort of downplayed the permanence of Landingham's death.

What about the funeral scene? Is it possible the coffin, since it was draped with an American flag, didn't contain Mrs. L. but the body of an American soldier killed during political unrest in Haiti (another story line on this week's episode)?

Nah. That would be a cheat. It's more likely that she appears on "The West Wing" season finale in a flashback, since that device has been used repeatedly this season.

To know for sure, viewers have only one choice and it's one networks love: Stay tuned.

You can reach Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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