an extended argument for dropping a single word from the title of an old episode of west wing

As I’ve previously noted, I don’t have a lot to say about TV shows for the most part, but today I want to write about an episode in the last season of The West Wing that I heard recently.

I say “heard” because I wasn’t really watching so much as listening to it while I played Zuma in another window on my laptop. This seems like a bad confession to make, but I say it because a) I have a preference for embarrassing transparency in blogging and b) I’m not sure actually seeing the images would matter. Often when “watching” West Wing I’ll think of Stephen Dubner’s observation on his Freaknomics blog that Aaron Sorkin creations are worth just listening to, even without the visuals. (Admittedly, Sorkin wasn’t still writing West Wing in season seven, but even so.)

Anyway, the episode I want to talk about, titled “The Debate,” is unusual first off because it’s staged as a presidential debate and not as a regular episode. And I mean that literally: Except for the first few minutes, the show looks like a televised debate, with a studio audience, a (real news anchor) moderator, and lighting that’s a lot closer to an actual debate than an hour-long drama. As it turns out, the episode was shot live, but I didn’t know this while watching it, and frankly, I think the effect of this knowledge is negligible. Whether you agree with that philosophy, it’s what I’m sticking with for the moment.

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everything you need to know about the difference between house of cards and the west wing, you can see in the opening credits

I will admit, it’s reductive to measure a show by the credit sequence that it begins with. But it’s not my fault that House of Cards and The West Wing can actually be meaningfully compared therein, even if you can’t completely encapsulate them in those few seconds.

With many shows, I feel like the opening credits are a quick look into how the producers would like you to think of the program, since it’s one of their few chances to deliver a context-free montage that is all about tone and nothing else. This was a problem for me with one particular program, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (which, like The West Wing, was a creation of Aaron Sorkin). I liked Studio 60 overall, but the few seconds that the title appeared onscreen were unnerving. Nothing about the show matched that sequence’s short burst of jazzy sax, coming on like a fragment of watered-down sleaze that had gotten lost on its way from a Vegas elevator to the world’s worst nightclub. (For the strong-stomached, you can see what I’m talking about below just after 3:40.)

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