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Tuned In: 'West Wing' improves by taking some chances

Saturday, January 19, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

PASADENA, CALIF. -- This season's "The West Wing" has been a mixed bag, although recent episodes -- Leo testifying last month, the abrupt resolution of the investigation into Bartlet's obfuscation about his multiple sclerosis -- have shown marked improvement.

But that's just my opinion. Martin Sheen, who plays Bartlet, thinks this is the show's best year yet.

"We stayed the course, we didn't play it safe," Sheen said. "[Series creator Aaron Sorkin] has just thrown caution to the wind and really taken it to an extraordinary level. He's constantly challenging us."

Sorkin said the new relationship between Josh (Bradley Whitford) and a women's rights leader, played by guest star Mary Louise Parker, will continue. Middle Bartlet daughter Ellie will return and viewers may finally see the eldest Bartlet daughter. Youngest daughter Zoe will be back -- she and Charlie (Dule Hill) are still dating, Sorkin said -- and Republican Ainsley Hayes (Emily Procter) is in an episode that was filmed last week.

By the end of the season, Sorkin promised we'll meet the Republican challenger who will compete with Bartlet for the presidency.

Although the resolution to the Bartlet scandal may have surprised some, Sorkin said he'd gotten everything he wanted from the story.

Perhaps the most polarizing episode was the season premiere, filmed in the wake of the terrorist attacks. Some felt it was too much of a lecture, others appreciated the experiment.

"I wasn't really looking at it the way I look at an episode ordinarily," Sorkin said. "None of us, least of all me, felt we could do an episode at that time where we were flying through hallways and there's a lot of banter. It just wasn't right. Respect needed to be paid to the moment, and that was the only thing I could think to do. ... It's a very unusual episode. I'm very proud we took a chance and did it. People are going to like it or not like it."

HBO series

The premium cable network has given a second season green light to the thoroughly unlikable freshman comedy "The Mind of the Married Man."

HBO also announced plans for a new drama series, "The Wire," about both police and their targets in a single sprawling investigation. It's executive produced by David Simon ("The Corner"). Filmed in Baltimore, "The Wire" will premiere this summer starring Dominic West, Frankie R. Faison and J.D. Williams.

The network's hit drama "Six Feet Under" returns for its second season March 3. Executive producer Alan Ball said the show's success surprised him.

"I thought it was a show I would watch, but, frankly, I didn't think a lot of other people would watch," Ball said. "It's a show that has something for everybody. Within the range of all the characters, there's somebody that you can identify with. These characters are very, very human."

Brandishing 'The Shield'

It appears the best new midseason drama isn't on ABC, CBS, NBC or Fox. It's on cable channel FX. The network's new cop drama "The Shield," likely to premiere in March, stars Michael Chiklis ("The Commish") as a bald, badly behaving cop in Los Angeles. It's gritty and dark, making "NYPD Blue" look like a lark.

Chiklis' character, Vic Mackey, is seen in the pilot killing another cop who tries to rat him out for illegal activity. At the same time, Vic is instrumental in learning the whereabouts of a kidnapped girl from the scumbag who took her.

"My feeling is that if we just make him a bad cop who's doing bad things every week, people are going to grow very tired of that," said executive producer Shawn Ryan. "To me, he's a much more complicated character, who, at times, is a hero. And at times he's the antagonist of this piece. It really depends on the situation."

'Girls' talk

Fans of The WB's "Gilmore Girls" should watch for more of Rory's father, Christopher, who finally seems to be getting his act together to the point Lorelai might consider getting back together with him.

Meanwhile, Rory's relationship with diner owner Luke's nephew will impact on the romantic tension between Luke and Lorelai.

"I wanted to bring this kid into the mix because [we] were playing the game of how do you keep them apart when they really should be together," said executive producer Amy Sherman-Palladino. "There's only so many times people can stare across a table and go, 'She's pretty, but she's dating someone else' or 'He's swell but his girlfriend is back in town,' and then you stick your head in a punch bowl."

Sherman-Palladino said it's clear the way to get at Lorelai is through Rory.

"Her heart, her center, her vulnerability is Rory," she said. "That's the only way to get to this woman."

Post-Gazette TV Editor Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association winter press tour.

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