path: Home / Ratings & Critics on the Fifth Season
- There is a controversy brewing about whether the fifth season is part of the same show as the first few seasons. Of course, it must be admitted that there was a slightly smaller controversy about whether the third season was a worthy successor to the first two. And there were also those who felt that the fourth season wasn't up to a recovery.
To those who wonder where we stand, if all that had existed on this show were the third, fourth and fifth seasons, we would never have done a website --- although "Bartlet for America" from the third season was every bit as good as most of the first two seasons. But the fifth season episodes are for us, difficult to rewatch in order to do a page on each --- of course, it must be admitted that we were never able to rewatch the last episode of the third season in order to do a page about that.
Recently we have been hearing things from the President of NBC as to how Emmy winning shows are unimportant and the "only" thing that counts is the ratings: which are brought on more by emotional (melodramatic?) show than by intelligent, thoughtful ones. Then it has been reported that on Charlie Rose Leslie Moonves, Chairman and CEO of CBS said "Even the most loyal viewer only watches his favorite show 2 out of 4 times." If the networks believe that people won't go out of their way to watch something that is qualitatively different, then why should they do something that is quality and/or different (more intelligent, say)?
On November 1, 2003, the show was 13th in overall ratings for the season. Two weeks later, it had dropped to 15th (and the previous week --- a sweeps week --- it wasn't even in the top 20). On January 16, it is listed 20th for the season so far (but for the week of 01/05/04 - 01/11/04, it wasn't in the top ten). There is also a list on the average price of a 30-second ad for fall 2003 and November 2, it lists "The West Wing" as 16th.
(The above quote from "Charlie Rose" was posted by "GraydonCarter" on Television Without Pity's West Wing forum)
(The ad rate article came to our attention when it was posted on Television Without Pity's West Wing forum) by "Alexandria".
- We thought we would include herewith other opinions, as we find them (warning - some news articles are archived after a few weeks and may no longer be available for free) --- articles are listed with the most recent first:
- Orlando Sentinel: "Policy shift on `West Wing'" by Hal Boedeker (1/16/04)
"...executive producer John Wells, who guides the show since Sorkin left, acknowledges.... 'I don't write the way that Aaron does.... I've tried hard to write some of what he did because I don't want it to seem so jarringly different to people who like the show. At the same time, Aaron's talent is huge and very specific, and what he does better than anyone else is this extraordinary repartee, the dialogue, the wit, the pace. I couldn't replicate that if I wanted to, and believe me, I've tried.'
"...NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker says he's pleased with the show's performance. He's not worried that the show's audience in the 18-to-49 demographic has declined 10 percent from a year ago -- an NBC publicist later says it's down 16 percent....
"Sorkin still has a hand in the show, Wells says. He lunches with Wells once a month, receives all the scripts and makes his views known...."
- TheIndependent.com: "With Sorkin's departure, 'West Wing' has lost its spark" by Terri Hahn (1/11/04)
"...The show had a good mix of comedy and drama and knew when to use each. Serious subjects were treated with respect, but there was a lot of room for humor.... Each character had his/her good and bad traits. They weren't perfect, but they seemed like real people in real jobs with real problems....
Then comes Season 5....
"...I used to come to the end of an episode sorry that it was over, feeling that I had been on a 60-minute wild wide. Usually I had learned something about politics, history or government.
"At the end of Wednesday's episode, I felt nothing. Watching Bartlet at the Memorial, I kept waiting for something, anything...."
- The witty banter is gone. Dialogue seems forced and wooden.
- The characters seem to have forgotten who they are and how they got there.
- The plot lines seem contrived.
- The First Lady, fabulously played by Stockard Channing, has been banished to the family farm in New Hampshire.
- And Wells seems to forget from time to time whether he is on the set of 'West Wing' or 'ER.'
(The above article came to our attention through a post by "ms black" on Television Without Pity's West Wing forum)
- SFGate.com: "TV & Radio" by Tim Goodman (12/5/03)
"-- It has been reported that 'America's Most Wanted' is going to issue a deck of cards with, you guessed it, the most wanted criminals in the country on the front. Yes, this mimics the White House's Iraq deck of terror, and we see a perfect opportunity to continue this creative thievery for our own good: A deck of TV cards featuring all the people screwing up television....
"Our current ace of spades: John Wells. Give us back our 'West Wing,' punk.
"And while you're at it, fix the damn lighting. You're on NBC, which is owned by General Electric. Borrow some bulbs."
(The above article came to our attention through a post by "Cherubino" on Television Without Pity's West Wing forum)
- Sacramento Bee: "'West' goes south" by Rick Kushman -- Bee TV Columnist (11/19/03) - "'The West Wing,' the four-time Emmy winner, that once-lyrically written masterpiece of lofty romanticism, is, officially, awful.
"Where there were layered, charismatic characters, we've now got a pack of whiners.
"Where there were noble intentions and an ode to public service, there are now fools, bullies and selfish brats.
"Where the plots were driven by bright debate and difficult moral complexities, now they use emotional manipulation and cliffhangers.
"...Ratings are up this season -- probably because fans came back to check out the changes, but they're dropping again -- and even a few critics have praised the show. They're wrong, but you never know with critics.
"But, be honest, this is not the show it was. Not close. There's nothing amazing, no one inspiring, no moments of grandness or majesty.
"In its best seasons, 'The West Wing' was nearly a national hour of healing. It offered the argument, with power and grace, that public service matters, and it created the hopeful fantasy that the honesty, intelligence and civic concern of the people in it are unassailable.
"Now? It's just another TV show, a show that relies on formula and cheap emotion, on TV conventions that ring as familiar as they do false.
"...The core of this series has always been those stellar, deftly drawn characters. They were dazzling in their sense of purpose and loyalty, they were honest and caring, and so astoundingly smart that they raised our IQ just watching them.
"So what have the new producers done? They tried to keep the hustles through the building -- sounding mighty lame in the process -- and took all the characters and gutted them. Took out their souls and replaced them with spiritless husks, one each from the categories in TV drama for dummies...."
(The above article came to our attention through a post by "astrokng" on Television Without Pity's West Wing forum)
- SFGate.com: "TV & Radio" by Tim Goodman (11/17/03) - "...could somebody return our favorite characters to their upright positions and give them back their personalities, as written all those years ago? Tune in next week when Leo sets himself on fire for no reason other than a possible "Third Watch" crossover episode. What's happened here is just plain sad."
(The above article came to our attention through a post by "JHeaton" on Television Without Pity's West Wing forum)
- TV Guide: "Ask Matt" by Matt Roush (11/17/03) - "I found... expression of conflicted loyalty so fascinating. This is how I have felt about the show for at least the last year, since the unsatisfying election episodes, the murky departure of Rob Lowe, the cliched killing of Mark Harmon, the melodrama of Zoey's kidnapping, and so on. And now the malaise, which at first seemed dramatic to me, now feels strained and overdone. When Josh (still just about my favorite character) shouted to the Capitol dome, 'Hey, you want a piece of me?' I realized that I'd had enough.... And yet I keep watching.... you don't get rich characters and fine actors like this on TV very often, and I'm not ready to give up on the show either. But they're not making it easy....
"I'm OK with Josh Malina, and applaud Will's move to work for the vice president (a welcome new character, as I've said before), but... the first seasons... captivated so many of us in the first place. Not so much preachiness (which I really felt hit its nadir during Bartlet's 'reach for the stars' re-election campaign) but a sense of passion for public service, a love of ideas and philosophy and humanism. The wit, humor and extravagant language again, I can only fall back on the word 'passion' to describe those early seasons is what has been missing since the show became more contrived, muddled and morose."
(The above article came to our attention through a post by "MollyBloom14" on Television Without Pity's West Wing forum)
- SFGate.com: "TV & Radio " by Tim Goodman (11/12/03) - "...one of network television's most acclaimed series has been ruined. 'The West Wing' now is not 'The West Wing' that Sorkin created and nurtured. It's gutless and dumb, overly dramatic and increasingly false at every turn. Two weeks ago, after only chipping away -- instead of using a wrecking ball -- at the essence of the show, 'The West Wing' flipped completely and utterly into a series living an out-of-body experience. Characters said things and reacted in ways that they normally wouldn't. Anger and meanness showed up for dramatic tension because Wells, studied in the ways of pleasing the networks, and the masses, understood all too well that his formula was working.
"And it is. Ratings are up. Perhaps that's due to a new audience coming in and 'West Wing' loyalists sticking with the series even though it resembles what Sorkin created in name only. The cast members that viewers love so much are now just Wellsian pod people. At some point, this will be too much to bear for discerning viewers, and some of them will leave.
"The hollowing out of 'The West Wing' should be one of the new television season's best story lines. It probably won't be labeled a crime as long as the Nielsens stay positive...."
(The above article came to our attention through a post by "jlt" on Television Without Pity's West Wing forum)
- AP: "West Wing" by Lynn Elber, AP Television Writer (11/12/03) - "Ten things we like about 'The West Wing':
(The above article came to our attention through a post by "cookee" on Television Without Pity's West Wing forum)
- "It still has a sense of humor....
- "It still has a sense of history....
- "It's less preachy than before....
- "It cast Gary Cole....
- "It has more romance, but not too much....
- "It's still cinematic....
- "It let first lady Abigail Bartlet... really stand up to her husband....
- "Its female characters remain as dedicated and tough as the men....
- "It's more linear....
- "It's very good to its guests...."
- TV Guide: "TV Gal" by Amy Amatangelo (11/10/03) - "I also like that everyone is angry with everyone. "The West Wing" has always portrayed this ultra-romantic version of the Oval Office. They played cards and games of midnight basketball with the president. He made them chili, regaled his staff with stories of his youth and quizzed them on the spot about historical facts. But now the bloom is off the rose, as the saying goes, and they're all cranky. Leo is mad at Josh, CJ is mad at Leo, Toby is mad at Will, the first lady is mad at the president, and Charlie isn't mad at anyone because he's still without a storyline." [editor: emphasis mine]
(The above article came to our attention through a post by "Maris" on Television Without Pity's West Wing forum)
- TV Guide: "Ask Matt" by Matt Roush (11/10/03) - "...in recent weeks, I have become more absorbed in the show than I had been for at least a year. The fact that there is some dissension and dissatisfaction in the ranks has created an environment that is more provocative than preachy. Gary Cole is a great addition as a too-easily underestimated vice president. I hope they use him a lot. I'm still bitter about the show's Emmy win for last season, but I'm getting over it.... I don't think West Wing is on par with its early brilliance, but that was inevitable.... watching these staffers stew in their juices week after week will grow old quickly, but for now, they're hitting new beats of internal conflict that are a step up from the self-righteous smugness that often characterized the show. As I've thought about it, I've begun thinking that in Bartlet's second term, he and the series might be better off cleaning house in the White House and bringing some new people on. I am so tired of dour Toby in particular. Some new faces and I'm not talking cutesy preppy interns might make a big difference."
(The above article came to our attention through a post by "eeowyn" on Television Without Pity's West Wing forum)
- Time Online Edition: "Extreme Makeovers" by James Poniewozik (11/3/03) - "No characters on TV have been more dependably moral than the White House wonks... The West Wing.... That was the vision of Aaron Sorkin, the series' creator and producer, who wrote or heavily rewrote nearly every episode for four seasons. When Sorkin left last spring taking the show's rapid-fire, talking-while-walking voice with him many thought that Wing, already sinking in the ratings, was doomed. But the ratings have firmed, and in some ways the show is better. Producer John Wells, now heading up the writers' team, kept the core of Sorkin's show but toned down the piety. The heroes are more self-doubting and fallible, and their adversaries more human. Last year President Bartlet (Martin Sheen) ran for re-election against a Republican so dim and loutish no one could have voted for him unless tricked by a butterfly ballot. This year resolving a cliffhanger set up by Sorkin Wing gave us John Goodman as a G.O.P. House Speaker (stepping in for Bartlet after his daughter was kidnapped), who was inspiring, even noble, and the new Vice President (Gary Cole) is a wily, underestimated foil to Bartlet."
(The above article came to our attention through a post by "WWGeek" on Television Without Pity's West Wing forum)
- NY Daily News: "Lot of change does 'em good" by David Bianculli (11/4/03) - "For this series, the cliff-hanger question was: Could it establish new momentum after losing creator Aaron Sorkin? The answer, without a doubt, is yes.... The show has found its voice by injecting more dissent into the ranks. Josh (Bradley Whitford) has alienated a Democratic senator (Tom Skerritt) to the point of defecting to the Republicans. Amy (Mary-Louise Parker) sparked the ire of President Bartlet (Martin Sheen). C.J. (Allison Janney) had a fight with Leo (John Spencer), and Will (Joshua Malina) defied Toby (Richard Schiff) by entertaining an offer from the new vice president - and taking it...."
(The above article came to our attention through a post by "Sedonared" on Television Without Pity's West Wing forum)
- New York Metro: "The West Wing loses more than just its liberalism" by John Leonard (11/4/03) - "from brave and edgy producers, we get plunging necklines and fellatio jokes. There are many reasons why The West Wing is no longer must-see TV in my house: With Aaron Sorkin gone, it¹s become a half-speed hobbling from obvious pillar to predictable post, with long walks, slow reaction shots, repetitious flashbacks, underlined signifiers, and so much posing for postage stamps you¹d think the Bartlett administration had done something, anything, except compromise and pretend to feel bad about it...."
(The above article came to our attention through a post by "Vineyarder" on Television Without Pity's West Wing forum)
- Eye Weekly: "The West Wing goes south": by BERT ARCHER (10/30/03) - "The call's already been made. The West Wing has jumped the shark. Scott Feschuk spotted the fin in the Post on Oct. 27.... The West Wing belonged to a sub-subgenre of the subgenre of shows like Six Feet Under and The Sopranos that might be called Exceptionals, to the same sub-subgenre that shows like Boston Public do and Hill Street Blues and Buffy did. They're auteur shows, shows that rely on the personality and quality control of a single person to reach their respective heights.... the beginning of the current season's shown that we didn't quite know how maverick its style was, and how easily and precipitously it could slide off.... the dialogue got loose, lines began to whizz past each other without ever engaging, leaving ugly, sagging spaces between word, meaning and feeling that would not only have been anathema a season earlier, but possibly even itself the subject of some sharp verbal shootout. In fact, the very essence of West Wing dialogue has been compromised to such an extent that it might now be confused with, let's say, ER dialogue.... The West Wing under new management is trying to transform a workplace drama into a slightly soap-operatic emotional one...."
(The above article came to our attention through a post by "Nomad" on Television Without Pity's West Wing forum)
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