The West Wing

Season 7 Episode 7

The Debate (East Coast)

Aired Wednesday 9:00 PM Nov 06, 2005 on NBC
out of 10
User Rating
125 votes

By Users

Episode Summary

The Debate (East Coast)
Santos and Vinick battle it out in prime time live. Forrest Sawyer the moderator poses questions and attempts to ensure that the candidates remain within bounds. Ellen DeGeneres guest hosts the show on behalf of American Express and their new credit card. American Express provides limited commercial interruption. A "live" debate episode! This episode will feature a live debate between Santos and Vinick. Two versions will air. One for the East Coast of the U.S. and one for the West Coast of the U.S. Because of this there will be two episode guides but both will carry the same production number and the same episode numbers. When contributing please make sure you have to right episode guide. If you'd like to elaborate on the summary or recap just add a .5 at the end of the episode numbers on the submission form. Example: 7.5 or 139.5moreless

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  • hope that the real president candidate follow the exmaple

    the idea of a real and live debate ever for the real presidential candidates that point and talk about the real issues and no an answer for a single question has made me think thast is not a bad idea to apply in real lafe. The episode was very well written and the profesionalism of the actor show no problems on handeling a live episode of this serias that has become one of the greatsmoreless
  • I found this episode extremely silly and a little boring. I mean, I respected what they were trying to do, but they shouldn't have.

    Okay, so... The Debate. It upped the ratings a little, people've been making a big deal about it and all this other stuff but... I don't know. I didn't like it. For one thing, it shouldn't have been live. It's not like everything wasn't scripted, from what I heard the West Coast feed was exactly the same as the East Coast one I saw. And Jimmy Smits clearly isn't very good at the live acting and so it bothered me because while his points were a lot better, Alan Alda, being the better actor (and in particular live actor) got to win, just because of that.

    I'm a politics nuts, so I got some kicks out of it, but... honestly, I'd rather hear all of this coming from... real people. I want... dialogue coming out of Santos and Vinick's mouth, not pitches about why I should vote for them, I'm not GOING to vote for them. Plus, there's the fact that not one of the main cast (and by that I mean Jed, Leo, Josh, Toby, C.J., Donna, etc.) were in this episode. None of them. I mean, okay, I didn't expect many of them. But couldn't Leo, as Santos' VP have been there? Couldn't it have been Josh and Donna walking Santos to the stage and not Louise "Mandy II" Thornton? I mean, the only Sorkin-created character there at all was... Bruno Gianelli, who I mean, is okay and all, but still.

    Overall, it joins The Long Goodbye, Access and Ninety Miles Away as the only episode of this series I actively dislike.

    Good work by Alan Alda though, and Jimmy Smits in the "liberal" speech.moreless
  • Well written, and informative debate depicting both candidates and their respective views on the issues.

    I enjoyed this episode thouroughly. Both candidates had very good points on certain issues, so if I were to pick one of the candidates to vote on at this time, it would be a bit hard to do so. My vote before the debate, would have been on Santos, but Vinick made some very interesting points and suggestions during the debate. And so did Santos... What i\'m mostly curious about now, is Who won the debate?

    Well written episode for sure, and the candidates being noticeably nervous and at times, forgetful of what to say added a lot to the realism. I\'ve only seen the East Coast episode, so I don\'t know how it was for the West Coast people. I hope the West Wing \"powers that be\" makes more of these kind of episodes.moreless
  • Live from Los Angeles, it\'s The West Wing with Alan Alda and Jimmy Smits.

    I have to admit that I was more than a little skeptical when this idea was announced a few months back. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I got into this fake Presidential debate. Frankly, it was more intriguing and entertaining than all three of Bush and Kerry’s debates combined. I wish they had done their debate this way, as it might have made more people care about voting.

    With that being said, the only drawback I had for this entire episode were the fake reactions from the audience. You can tell that it was scripted and I didn’t really need it. Forrest Sawyer was a great choice as the moderator for this debate. He has the kind of forcefulness that was needed to control these two debaters as they fought it out against one another. Did anyone else notice on the live East feed that Alan Alda was laughing during the introductions at Jimmy Smits. It didn’t look like it was supposed to have happened as Jimmy had this really weird look on his face when the camera cut from Alda doing that to him.

    Lawrence O’Donnell’s writing and Alex Graves directing was some of the best of the series since Sorkin left. O’Donnell’s script was wonderfully done and didn’t even seem like it was a script at all, which is what a good script is supposed to be. Graves directed this show perfectly with all the camera moves and the shots to the audience as they were watching the debate. They should both be remembered come Emmy time as it is greatly deserved.

    I personally enjoyed Alda’s performance more than Smits’ because he seemed more Presidential and it seemed like he was actually debating a real debate; it was almost as if he wasn’t acting at all. I do have to admit that Smits was probably the most Presidential he has ever been during the entire time he has been running for President.

    It was clear to anyone that watched this show that before it even came on, the advantage would go to Santos as that’s the way John Wells wants it to be. I actually think Santos won barely, but it this was real I wouldn’t vote for him. They basically portrayed Vinick to the point that you know not many people would vote for him because of his actions.

    One of the best episodes of TWW in a really long time.

    Possible Emmy Nominations: Alan Alda (Actor), Jimmy Smits (Actor in a Drama Series), Lawrence O’Donnell (Writing in a Drama Series), Alex Graves (Directing in a Drama Series). Also this episode should be on of the ones sent out for Drama Series


  • Less an episode of television than a two-act play, this is still strong drama, with two characters (in character, damn it!) that are perfect for the material

    Live episodes are always a gamble, because they can be seen as little more than a ratings stunt. And there’s the strong possibility of a disaster should the planning be incomplete; consider what happened with the West Coast version of that “ER” episode several years back. The key, it seems, is in the execution and preparation. You need to get the right people into the right plot structure within a logical context.

    For me, the debate worked on two levels. First, I liked the fact that the writers didn’t try to overdo it. They could have tossed all kinds of back-stage scenes into the mix in some attempt to break up the format, but that wouldn’t have been as satisfying or risky. Far better to let it play out like the “dream debate”, where the candidates actually say something meaningful and clearly present their philosophical differences.

    A lot of people are already saying that this was supposed to mark a Santos turnaround, a victory for the Democratic candidate when he really needed one to close the gap. I’m impressed that it wasn’t so clear cut. I actually came out of the debate with a newfound respect for Vinick. I appreciate Santos’ idealism, which is different yet obviously related to Bartlet’s progressive roots, but there’s something to Vinick’s experience.

    Did Vinick come across as less polished and more petulant than one might have otherwise expected? Sure. This was a classic example of being careful what to wish for, because the open format came back to bite Vinick on more than one occasion. That said, Santos often looked tentative and unsure of how to answer. Both were entirely in character, which was aided by the format and the fact that both men had plenty of time to get comfortable in their characters’ shoes prior to this event.

    The second level of quality, for me, was the debate itself. I love a good debate, and I always get frustrated when the candidates in the “real debates” never stray from their rehashed stump speeches. The current governor’s race in New Jersey is a perfect example; the debates did little to inform the public beyond their cemented first impressions. Did we learn anything new about Santos and Vinick? Not much, perhaps, but enough to raise some interesting questions.

    Of course, the constant political battling may have been a little dry for some. I only wish it could have gone on for another hour, though that might have killed Smits and Alda! Talk about a tough script, though…all those figures and recitations had to be hard to memorize. But I really liked the fact that neither candidate was perfect, and neither candidate came across as a caricature. That was one of the weaknesses of the fourth season under Sorkin; that was less about presenting a credible contest and more about bashing a Bush-esque GOP candidate.

    Was it a ratings stunt? Perhaps, but it worked within the context of the season, and if this does mark the beginning of a turnaround for Santos, then it fits perfectly within a traditional season arc structure. Logically, the next 6-7 episodes will escalate and complicate the issues already raised in the first third of the season, leading into (presumably) an election during February sweeps. I, for one, like what they are doing this season and this risky experiment was a great example.

    Who else hopes they put both versions on the DVD?

Alan Alda

Alan Alda

Senator Arnold Vinick (Episodes 123-)

Jimmy Smits

Jimmy Smits

Matthew Santos (Episodes 114-)

Bradley Whitford

Bradley Whitford

Josh Lyman

Forrest Sawyer

Forrest Sawyer


Guest Star

Ellen DeGeneres

Ellen DeGeneres


Guest Star

Janeane Garofalo

Janeane Garofalo

Louise Thornton

Recurring Role

Ron Silver

Ron Silver

Bruno Gianelli

Recurring Role

Patricia Richardson

Patricia Richardson

Shelia Brooks

Recurring Role

Watch Online

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (1)

    • This is not the first time Alan Alda has ad-libbed as a TV character. When he played Hawkeye Pierce on M*A*S*H, an episode called "The Interview" showed the characters being interviewed by a war correspondent. The questions were scripted, but most of the replies were spontaneous.

  • QUOTES (0)

  • NOTES (6)


    • The moderator refers to a Republican governor in Illinois who declared a moratorium on the death penalty. He was referring to former governor George Ryan, who stopped executions in the state after several death row inmates were found to have been wrongfully convicted.