By DAVID BAUDER
The Associated Press
Sunday, January 22, 2006; 4:51 PM
PASADENA, Calif. -- The new president on "The West Wing" will be a real short-timer: NBC announced Sunday it was pulling the plug on the Emmy-winning political drama in May after seven seasons.
NBC, struggling to regain its footing after the worst season in its history, also outlined several midseason schedule changes - including the moves of popular dramas "Law & Order" and "Las Vegas."
"The West Wing" announcement wasn't much of a surprise. Although this season's story line with a presidential campaign involving a Democrat played by Jimmy Smits and Republican portrayed by Alan Alda has been strong critically, ratings have sunk with its move to Sunday nights.
The decision to cancel it was made before actor John Spencer, who played former presidential chief of staff Leo McGarry, died of a heart attack Dec. 16, said Kevin Reilly, NBC entertainment president.
"There's a point when you look at the ratings and say, it feels like it's time," Reilly said.
The series finale will be May 14, preceded by a one-hour retrospective. The campaign to replace the fictional Josiah Bartlet as president will be settled, NBC said.
Producers Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme, who created the show and guided it through its early years, will not be involved in the finale, Reilly said.
"The West Wing" won four Emmy Awards for best television drama in a row for its tales of political intrigue. At its prime, it also offered NBC two valuable benefits: critical acclaim and the most upscale audience on television, an important drawing point for advertisers.
NBC's revamped schedule offered veteran "Law & Order" producer Dick Wolf good and bad news. NBC is putting Wolf's new drama "Conviction," about young prosecutors in New York, on Friday's schedule starting March 3. But it is moving "Law & Order" up an hour to Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET - competing directly with ABC's blockbuster "Lost."
Wolf, who has had at least one show on NBC's schedule for 21 years, shrugged when asked about the move.
"It's like a long-term marriage," he said. "There are stresses and strains intermittently, but we are kind of stuck with each other."
NBC is also moving "Las Vegas" from Monday to Friday starting in March. Donald Trump is changing addresses again, with "The Apprentice" moving to Monday where it will be preceded by the Howie Mandel-hosted game show "Deal or No Deal."
The network has two more midseason shows: "Heist," a cops-and-robbers drama from the director of "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," and "Teachers," a comedy about a high school English teacher.
"The Office" will go off the air at the end of March so star Steve Carell can film a movie, Reilly said. He said he also hasn't figured out what to do with the ill-fated "Friends" spinoff "Joey," which has 12 new episodes done but no place on the schedule.
"NBC is stable and our vital signs are encouraging," Reilly said. "Most predictions were that we were going to go from bad to worse this year, and that hasn't happened."
It's an AP story, so it's everywhere. One source.