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'West Wing' campaign wins a local following

This is what I'm thinking:

While the nation has chosen to pretty much ignore that presidential race between Arnie Vinick (Alan Alda) and Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits) now that "The West Wing" has returned to NBC's schedule, Buffalo viewers are hanging in there.

Last Sunday's episode had a respectable 7.1 rating here for an involving hour in which Santos' briefcase landed in the hands of Vinick's strategist, Bruno (Ron Silver). Sure, it seemed a bit contrived, and Vinick made some surprising and dangerous assumptions based on materials found in the briefcase. But it led to a great confrontation between the two candidates (actors) that addressed how seemingly scandalous secrets can impact presidential politics near the end of campaigns.

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No word on whether ABC will return "Commander in Chief" as scheduled on April 18. But Steven Bochco, the writer-producer who had been brought in to steer the sinking ship, has reportedly left the Geena Davis show. As Bruno or any "West Wing" strategist can tell you, the departure of a second strong producer gives the perception that the campaign to save "Commander" has hit some rough sailing.

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John Pauly, the former Channel 7 and Channel 2 reporter who is the media adviser to the Aruba Task Force, has been highly critical of the cable news reporting on the Natalee Holloway case.

But Pauly expects more from CBS News, which airs "48 Hours Mystery: Natalee Holloway, New Clues in Paradise" at 10 p.m. Saturday on WIVB-TV.

"We on the Task Force believe that CBS has come up with some critical new information and is going to present an interesting and balanced report," e-mailed Pauly, who has been helping CBS on the story.

According to a CBS release, Gerald Dompig, the deputy chief of police in Aruba, tells correspondent Troy Roberts that investigators believe the Alabama teen's body has been moved and reburied on the island. He added that the probe is "in the critical last phase."

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NBC's decision to move "Law & Order" up an hour to 9 p.m. Wednesday didn't sell in Western New York. It had a 9.7 rating on Channel 2, finishing fourth in the time slot behind the "American Idol" (20.6) show and the dreadful reality series, "Unan1mous" 11.9) on Fox; "Criminal Minds" (13.0) on CBS; and a slow-moving "Lost" episode on ABC (12.1) that played like part one of a two-part story. The rating for "Unan1mous" should come with an asterisk. It started with a 13.1 after "Idol" and finished with a 10.8 here.

The move of "L&O" didn't much help the premiere of NBC's new series, "Heist," on Channel 2. It had a 7.2 rating here, about the same as the premiere of ABC's "The "Evidence" (7.3) on Channel 7. The move of "L& O" did help the CBS series, "CSI: NY" (16.8), which had more viewers on Channel 4 than the two new 10 p.m. series combined.

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As expected, ABC's dryly-funny, off-beat new comedy, "Sons & Daughters," is having trouble finding an audience. Tuesday's episodes averaged only a 3.4 rating here, the kind of number that gets shows pulled early. It is being destroyed by "American Idol" (24.6 for two hours) the CBS' new drama, "The Unit" (12.0) and even NBC's funny but ratings-challenged comedy, "Scrubs" (6.2).

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How can you tell when a network thinks it has a hit on its hands? When it gives a program an extra minute of time. That's what ABC has done for the Thursday reality series, "American Inventor." It will run until 10:01 on Thursdays through at least April 13, taking a minute away from "Primetime."

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ABC has announced that many of its dramas will conclude with two-hour finales, which are designed to maximize advertising dollars. The two-part finale of "Grey's Anatomy" airs Sunday May 14 and Monday May 15 in a move designed to expand the network's Monday audience. "Boston Legal" (May 16) "Desperate Housewives" (May 21), "Alias" (May 22, a series finale) and "Lost" (May 24) all have two-hour finales, too.

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The newest addition to Channel 4's reporting staff is Rob Macko, who was most recently a reporter-anchor in Erie, Pa. A graduate of Penn State, he is expected to be on the air in a week or so.

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Thanks to its documentary unit, Channel 4 was the only upstate winner at the recent 49th annual New York Emmy Awards. Its Feb. 2005 program, "The Promise of 100 Years: The Pride of a People," won for outstanding historical/cultural programming. Rich Ersing, Mylous Hairston, Rich Newberg, Mike Mombrea, Joe Schlaerth and Chris Musial were honored. And the Sept. 17, 2004 program, "A Palace for Buffalo," won in the research category. Newberg, Mombrea, Musial and Michael Kocher were honored.

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I must admit it was nerdy Kevin Covais' time to go from "American Idol" Thursday. But I did root for him for awhile if only because he became one of the most famous people from my hometown, Levittown.

e-mail: apergament@buffnews.com