At a recent World AIDS Day event — where Emmy-winning West Wing director Paris Barclay was honored as one of 20 black "Heroes in the Struggle" — this question arose: Might his issue-oriented series ever address the impact of AIDS on African-Americans?

"That would be a great storyline," said Barclay's pal, Dulé Hill, who plays presidential aide Charlie Young on the show. "I think it's something we should bring to [creator] Aaron Sorkin. I would like to see that."

Scoffed Barclay: "Aaron ignores everything that doesn't come from his own mind. I found the best strategy is to go to [writer/producer] Kevin Falls, who does a lot of the research and is very receptive. He's the person we should talk to. And then we have to figure out if there's any way the president can be involved in this — it always has to come back to President Bartlet (Martin Sheen). And it could come out through Dulé's character."

Thus far, NBC's political hit has dealt with AIDS only once. Last October, an episode focused on the struggle between impoverished African countries and pharmaceutical companies over AIDS drugs. Unfortunately, viewers were distracted from the central issue at hand when that storyline ended with a splashy twist about a foreign coup.

According to the African American AIDS Policy and Training Institute, 155,000 blacks have died from the disease. What's more, that ethnic group accounts for over half the estimated 40,000 new infections each year — numbers that would certainly alarm an intellectual progressive like President Bartlet. "It's about trying to get the word out, trying to save people from this disease," says Hill, who has personally lost friends to AIDS. "Hopefully [things] can change."