John Spencer, who plays Leo McGarry on The West Wing, has passed. Only 58, although he always looked older than his age in everything I’ve seen him in (at least, everything since his work on The Patty Duke Show). This is sad, of course, for those who knew him and cared for him.
But this sets me wondering about the practical reality of what’s going on in the West Wing writers’ room the next time they gather. Not that this is a hard death to deal with in context; Leo had a heart attack last year, and while he has been quite involved in the current storylines, it’s as a VP candidate. You write in his death, you say that Santos gets a sympathy boost in the polls, you pick another veep candidate, maybe from the show, maybe someone new.
The real trick is: what if the goal was to have Santos win the election, and use Leo as one of the few characters who bridge to the next season? (That would be the real goal… to jettison most of the long-running characters to reduce production costs, but keep enough to bring the old fans back.) Then, the loss of Leo leaves a real hole in their plans for the future chemistry of the series.
(I maintain my suspicion that they will have the viewers “vote” to chose next season’s president.)