Does 'West Wing' really differ from a Spelling soap?(By Tim Feran Columbus Dispatch TV-Radio Critic)
A new series premiering tonight revels in its soap suds, while a series returning for a second season continues to disguise its soap-operatic tendencies.
In the end, The West Wing is just as manipulative as the Aaron Spelling drama Titans.
One big difference is that The West Wing has an appeal based on an uplifting cluster of characters, thanks to creator Aaron Sorkin -- whereas Titans revolves around the types of characters an audience loves to hate.
And, oh, will viewers enjoy hating vixen Heather Lane (Yasmine Bleeth), the most conniving of the Titans gang.
In the premiere, 26-year-old Chandler Williams (Casper Van Dien) -- son of aviation tycoon Richard (Perry King) and his ex-wife, nightclub owner Gwen (Victoria Principal) -- returns home to help Dad run the business.
Among the nasty surprises awaiting Chandler: Heather has wormed her way into his father's heart while failing to mention her red-hot affair with Chandler only a few months before.
With such complications, Titans could catch on with the folks who adored Dallas and Dynasty -- assuming they can be diverted from Regis Philbin and Who Wants To Be a Millionaire.
Meanwhile, for all its high-toned attitude, The West Wing moves into "Who shot J.R.?" territory as it follows up a cliffhanger involving a hail of bullets and an assassination attempt.
Who lives? Who dies? Who offers plausible denial?
In the two-hour season opener, the fates of stalwart President Bartlet and his staff are revealed -- but probably not all at once.
Probably? Only because NBC hasn't sent advance tapes to critics.
As if it were dealing with a soap opera, the network supposedly fears having any secrets leak out.
In any case, much of the episode is expected to feature flashbacks explaining how the White House staff was assembled.
Fans should count on plenty of razzle-dazzle and revelation, including one or two last-minute deaths.
A safe bet is that the president doesn't get stuffed into a body bag.