Martin Sheen, The West Wing
Question: When The West Wing closes down for good on May 14, Bartlet & Co. will leave and a new president will be sworn in. What a simply perfect way for a show to end — when it's supposed to! It's no secret that the series lost a lot of fans and critical appreciation after Aaron Sorkin left three years ago. So here's my question: Years from now, when you think back to The West Wing, how will you remember it? Will you remember a top-notch Emmy-winning drama that influenced the face of dramatic TV, or will you remember a disappointing show that went downhill and never recovered?
Answer: What an interesting legacy question to welcome me back from some time off (so much to catch up with). This got me thinking about other shows that went off the air long after they peaked, and I think it's fair to say that most of us will remember The West Wing kindly, without even putting an asterisk after it. The show's impact, and its overall quality up to the reelection season (after which the show stagnated until recently), is so remarkable and unique that I believe its reputation will be OK. When we write about All in the Family, we don't dwell on Archie Bunker's Place, after all. And my respect for The X-Files has outlived the disaffection of the post-Mulder period (and even Scully's misbegotten "miracle baby"). I'll never forget how wonderful Murphy Brown was in its time (and talk about a show being of its time), even though by the time it went off the air, it was a mere shadow of its former self. On the other hand, watching ER, nowadays mired in mediocrity, you'd never believe the intensity and chemistry the original cast and crew generated. That show reminds me of L.A. Law (which once occupied ER's time period), an instant colossal hit that went out with a whimper and rarely comes up in discussions of the best TV shows ever. The West Wing, on the other hand, should make those sorts of lists for decades to come.