'West Wing' decline continues

There was a time, not that long ago, when "The West Wing" (8 p.m., NBC) was the "can't miss" drama on network TV. Two years ago writer/creator Aaron Sorkin and director Tommy Schlamme wowed fans and critics with an amazing season-ender in which President Bartlet wrestled with his faith and the memory of his father as he prepared for the funeral of his longtime assistant Mrs. Landingham (Kathryn Joosten). It seemed like "The West Wing" just couldn't get any better.

And it didn't.

To be fair, "The West Wing" is still an intelligent drama about three-dimensional characters who contend with real issues. But the drama never really recovered from Sorkin's decision to create a quick response to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Given the gravity of real events, the show seemed merely preachy and smug. Created during the last years of the Clinton presidency, "West Wing" has never fully adjusted to the zeitgeist of the Bush years, or more precisely, the post 9-11 era. With its apocalyptic overtones and conspiracy-laden atmosphere, the Fox drama "24" is much better suited to our Rumsfeldian moment.

Tonight's other highlights

  • Scheduled on "Dateline" (7 p.m., NBC): new trends in auto theft.
  • The votes are tabulated on "American Idol" (7:30 p.m., Fox).
  • Scheduled on "60 Minutes II" (8 p.m., CBS): a company that specializes in reuniting long-separated classmates.
  • The evil law firm makes a tempting offer on the season finale of "Angel" (8 p.m., WB).
  • Scheduled on "48 Hours Investigates" (9 p.m., CBS): a baby-sitter and high school honor student becomes a murder suspect.
  • Eric McCormack and Jack Black appear on "Primetime Glick" (9:30 p.m., Comedy Central).

Series notes

Arsenio Hall hosts "Star Search" (7 p.m., CBS) ... Fez faces deportation on "That '70s Show" (7 p.m., Fox) ... A frank discussion on "My Wife and Kids" (7 p.m., ABC) ... A wicked stepmother (Cristina) on "George Lopez" (7:30 p.m., ABC).

Movie production begins, against all odds, on "Dawson's Creek" (7 p.m., WB) ... Three become two on "The Bachelor" (8 p.m., ABC) ... Several stays of execution on "The Twilight Zone" (8 p.m., UPN) ... Under the knife on "Extreme Makeover" (9:05 p.m., ABC).

Late night

David Hyde Pierce, Amy Sedaris, winners of the Rube Goldberg Contest and Ziggy Marley appear on "Late Show with David Letterman" (10:35 p.m., CBS) ... Jay Leno hosts Dr. Phil, Shia LaBeouf and India.Arie on "The Tonight Show" (10:35 p.m., NBC).


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