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April 13, 2006

ABC to Cancel "Commander in Chief"

Finally. I honestly thought this show should have been cancelled after the first commercial break. The idea of Geena Davis as the first female president is so far beyond ridiculous that is makes me want to validate the "pro-Hillary Agenda" conspiracy theories.

Drudge has the story.

Making her wear glasses to look smarter is about as useless as making Rocky Balboa wear glasses in Tango & Cash

Now, Glenn Close or Stockard Channing or Meryl Streep, those chicks could play president. But Geena Davis? I mean get serious. Hell, Marisa Tomei would've made more sense.

Paul Westerdawg
Keeper of The West Wing Flame

(I gave ya a Herschel story this morning. I'm entitled a self-indulgent non-dawg reference)


Anonymous said...

I had no idea you were a West Wing fan.
--Iron Chef Turducken

C. Paul said...

Bartlett for America!!

Anonymous said...

Commander and Chief is a great show. Its writing was crisp, the acting was incredible, and the stories were compelling

Jmac said...

The West Wing is far and away the superior show.

Still, what in the hell happened to this particular show? Last fall it was all the rage, and now it's getting canceled? I thought it was terrible, so, all the better ... but still.

Have we seen a faster fall from grace? Maybe Kobe Bryant? Or that WWE wrestler John Cena (folks boo that dude something fierce now)?

Unknown said...

Dear Iron Chef Turducken,

Me and RoyOrbisonDawg are both HUGE, HUGE fans. There are more DVR episodes of West Wing than anything else on our box. Last night I was re=watching "In the Shadow of Two Gunmen" again.

As for Jmac - the show started to slip last year. It has always gotten huge critical acclaim, but the ratings the past 3 years have been on a slow decline. They show was kept for 1 final year because the ratings for the highly educated, affluent buyer are so high.

However, they moved the show to Sunday nights and it killed it. Then Leo died in real life and they had to re-write the last 2 months worth of episodes. NBC just stepped in and did the inevitable.

I'm a republican, but that show has had some of the best writing of any thing on TV in years.


Kyle King said...

I'm with Paul; as a conservative, I disagree with Aaron Sorkin quite often, but his writing ("Malice," "A Few Good Men," "Sports Night," "The West Wing") is excellent.

Sorkin's departure is what started "The West Wing" on its slow downward spiral. Although there were some good episodes after he left (particularly the outsourcing episode, the Supreme Court nomination episode, and the episodes about the presidential campaign), the writing simply wasn't as crisp. The story arcs generally remained strong, but the dialogue wasn't as sharp.

There was too much retooling of the show, as well. Over the course of the last year, every major character except the president changed jobs: Leo McGarry resigned as chief of staff, C.J. Cregg replaced him, Toby Zeigler was fired, Josh Lyman left to run Matthew Santos's campaign . . . the show ran into a bit of the "M*A*S*H" problem of too many characters being shuffled around and too many vacancies being filled by characters who were less interesting and entertaining than the characters they replaced.

On the plus side, for a show that was about a liberal Democratic administration populated by New Englanders, New Yorkers, Midwesterners, and Californians, the portrayals of Southerners and conservatives became more fair and nuanced over time.

Sorkin's great flaw used to be that he portrayed Southerners and conservatives as caricatures rather than as characters.

In "Sports Night," for instance, he depicted a fictitious Southern school that caused a controversy by flying the Confederate battle flag on the flagpole outside the football stadium. That situation simply bore no resemblance to reality, but it made for an easier target than a fairer portrayal of a school like Ole Miss.

In "The West Wing," he created characters such as the white superintendent of the Atlanta school district who suspended students who prayed at football games while raising test scores above the national average.

In another segment of the show, Sorkin designed a DeKalb County district attorney who was determined to seek the death penalty for a 15-year-old who committed a murder under circumstances which most likely would not have made him eligible for the death penalty under Georgia law . . . yet, when asked what chance there was that the D.A. would not seek the death penalty, Josh snorted, "It's Georgia!"

Eventually, though, Sorkin and his successors began to give Southerners---who, after all, were chiefly responsible for the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights (not to mention the United States' victory in the Revolutionary War, in which the British Army's "northern laurels turned to Southern willows")---their due.

Most notably, Sorkin introduced the character of Ainsley Hayes, the gorgeous blonde right-wing lawyer with a Southern accent who, for some strange reason, appealed to me. While Ainsley was made to look ridiculous on occasion (dancing in her office in her bathrobe and suchlike), she argued her positions capably and provided an honest portrayal of a conscientious Southern patriot who just happened to be a conservative.

Politics aside, though, "The West Wing" was so consistently well-written and well-acted that it must be ranked up there with "Hill Street Blues," "St. Elsewhere," and "Twin Peaks" among the finest dramas in network television history.

Paul mentioned the outstanding two-part second season premiere, "In the Shadow of Two Gunmen." The last five episodes of that selfsame season---"17 People," "Bad Moon Rising," "The Fall's Gonna Kill You," "18th and Potomac," and "Two Cathedrals"---may be the finest five-episode stretch of any series ever.

Astronaut Mike Dexter said...

Wow, count me in with Iron Chef in being amazed (but pleased) that you're a WW fan. You'd probably have plenty to talk about with my friend Brian, an ex-Green-Beret turned rabid liberal who not only has every single episode on tape but has the commercials edited out with almost military precision (he has also been known to threaten physical violence against anyone who talks during the show). Back when it was in its previous time slot, he'd have "West Wing Wednesdays" over at his house and typically pack the place out with dozens of people.

I agree that the show kind of fell off in its last 2-3 seasons, but I think that was kind of inevitable -- whether the producers/writers liked it or not, Martin Sheen WAS that show to a large extent, and once the focus shifted from Sheen's administration to who his replacement was going to be, it kind of sucked some of the energy and clarity from the proceedings. I kind of wonder if, in their heart of hearts, the producers really expected the show to survive after Bartlet's presidency ended.

Yet weirdly enough, there was a part of me that was hoping they'd pull a shocker and anoint Alan Alda's character as the new president, and carry on for at least a season or two with a Republican in the White House. If nothing else, it would've been an interesting change of pace. (Nothing against Jimmy Smits, of course, nor Teri Polo, who would have been the undisputed hottest First Lady in history.)

Anonymous said...

First of all, let me say this: Don't mess with John Cena, he's a baaaaaaaaad man. (Just ask Bumpy Knuckles, baby)

Aaron Sorkin IS, in fact, a very talented writer. Sports Night was excellent. His obvious bias against the South and conservatives wasn't too appealling. I mean, the South gave the nation Cynthia McKinney, for gosh sakes. Sure, she's no Maxine Waters, but she's trying.

I agree that the West Wing was a far superior show to Commander in Chief, but to me, that's like picking the dog with the freshest breath. West Wing is a liberal wet dream: What if we had a Democrat as President who could keep his ICBM in the silo, AND who could outhink and outcharm the Evil Right Wingers Who Clearly Want To Sell Out to Halliburton? I mean, it's not much more farfetched than, say, the Ewok Village in Return of the Jedi, but Martin Sheen is equally cute and harmless.

On the other hand, WW is a documentary compared to the hallucination that is Commander in Chief.

CC makes all the same assumptions as WW, but throws in these likely occurences: What if all that stuff in WW was true, but the President was The Smartest Woman in the World, and 6 feet tall and hot? And, in perhaps the most tranparently ridiculous flight of fancy ever taken, the clear subtext of the show is: And we could have ALL of this if you red state goobs would just let us elect Hillary Clinton!

Pardon me while I try to stem the urge to projectile vomit up everything I've eaten since about 1979.

While I endorse the right of anyone to watch tv shows about whatever they like, this being one of those free market, laissez faire issues, for me, it was impossible to separate President Martin Sheen from Left Wing Nutjob Martin Sheen. As for CC, Geena Davis should stick to archery. Or maybe switch over to porn.

Kyle King said...

All School, you and I normally are on the same page, but I'm afraid I'll have to part company with you on this one.

Martin Sheen is a radical far-left nutjob, but the character he portrayed was a pragmatic liberal. Much of the appeal of the show was in the way a conscientious White House staff tried to balance political realities with personal ideals.

As in real life, the pendulum swung both ways. Josiah Bartlet personally opposed the death penalty, but, after agonizing over it for an entire episode, he chose not to commute the death sentence of a federal prisoner, allowing the execution to proceed. The episode on the compromises involved in replacing a liberal chief justice with a liberal chief justice while simultaneously replacing a conservative associate justice with a conservative associate justice was terrific.

On another occasion, as the fictional president's popularity plummeted, there was an outstanding episode ("Let Bartlet Be Bartlet") in which Leo McGarry forced Jed Barlet to say aloud, "This is more important than re-election. I want to speak now." Anyone who wasn't inspired by that episode needed to check his patriotism, because it was about a quart low . . . and, if Bill Clinton was watching that Wednesday evening, he was the most shamed man in America.

Aaron Sorkin, while certainly (and unabashedly) left of center, actually succeeded in becoming less preachy as time went on; during the first season, there was usually one diatribe in every episode that made me want to throw things at the T.V. screen, but, starting with the excellent second season, he became a good deal more subtle.

Beyond that, since when has Geena Davis been hot? Even in her younger, prettier days, she was freakish, height-wise and otherwise, and the bloom certainly is off the rose. On the other hand, Doug is right: Teri Polo is smoking hot, both as a blonde (in "The West Wing") and as a redhead (in "Sports Night").

As for the Alan Alda/Jimmy Smits storyline, I was somewhat surprised by the turn that took. When Matthew Santos's character was offered the vice presidency by Bob Russell, I thought he would take it and that the November election would be deadlocked, resulting in the Republican House electing a Republican president (Alan Alda) and a Democratic Senate electing a Democratic vice president (Jimmy Smits).

Unrealistic? Perhaps . . . although, given the closeness of the last four presidential elections in the popular vote, not altogether outrageous. In my lifetime, several elections (1968, 1976, 1992, and 2000) have come remarkably close to producing such a result, so that seems far less unrealistic than the idea that two consecutive dark horse idealists (Jed Bartlet and Matthew Santos) would win not only the nomination, but also the election.

The tension would have been great. Two principled adversaries---the Republican president and his Democratic vice president---would have had to have found a way to work together to build consensus.

This could have set up some quality storylines. In the first season, we saw an episode in which the vice president (John Hoynes, an excellent and often wrongly maligned character played by an underrated actor, Tim Matheson) was called upon to break a tie in the Senate over an issue on which he and the president disagreed. What would happen if the same thing occurred with a vice president who belonged to a different party from the president?

The season-ending cliffhanger would have been set up nicely, as well. Arnold Vinick was getting on up there in years. How about if he had a heart attack or a stroke on the last episode of the season and Matthew Santos, his Democratic vice president, had to assume the duties of the presidency temporarily, flip-flopping the partisan changing of the guard that occurred when Jed Bartlet temporarily stepped aside?

It seemed like a natural way to go. I'm not sure they made the right call when they went the way they did.

By the way, it's interesting that Doug points out (correctly) that Martin Sheen in many ways defined the show. Sheen appeared in only one scene in the pilot and it was expected that he would appear only intermittently, making brief cameos every third or fourth episode.

Prior to that, the original idea for the show had been for the president not to appear at all. Sorkin has always been a master at knowing what to leave off screen, having his characters respond to, comment on, and prepare for moments the audience never actually witnesses. When he first came up with "The West Wing," his intention was to focus on the staff to show how they got from the problem to the policy. The president's actions seemed almost anticlimactic.

Eventually, though, Sorkin's ideas evolved and he realized that he couldn't very well have the president be like Carlton the doorman from "Rhoda," Charlie from "Charlie's Angels," Jenny Piccolo from the early seasons of "Happy Days," Maris from "Frasier," or Wilson from "Home Improvement" . . . characters we see either vaguely or not at all.

So it was that a show whose stars were intended to be Rob Lowe and Moira Kelly (whose names appeared first on the opening credits during the first season, out of the alphabetical order in which the other characters were presented) became more a show about the president they served and the two characters thought to be at the show's center were the first to go: Rob Lowe was released from his contract at his request so he could pursue other projects and Moira Kelly's character was written out of the show without so much as a mention. She's seen walking to the car with the rest of the staff at the end of the first season's last episode, she doesn't appear at all in the second season's first episode (which began literally minutes after the previous episode ended), and no one ever mentions her absence.

Since a shooting had just occurred, it always seemed to me that they should have killed her character off rather than letting her disappear without a word of explanation, but that may have detracted from the energy and flow of "In the Shadow of Two Gunmen."

LD said...

There's too much in this thread to respond to it all...

But I too am a big West Wing fan, and I've actually been pretty impressed with the show this season. The focus on the campaign has been much better than the ridiculous plotlines (asteroids?) from a couple of seasons ago.

Anonymous said...

Kyle, my amigo. You are clearly a man of rare taste and an apprciation for subtle, penetrating wit...however, since you disagree with me here, I think you may have just misunderstood me.

You are entirely correct that President Martin Sheen had a different persona on the WW than Real Life Nutjob Martin Sheen. I recognize the difference between the character and the actor, though you've clearly put a lot more thought into the nuances than I.

My only point, other than to pepper my post with sarcastic observations about both shows, was this: In watching Martin Sheen the actor, I was unable to sufficiently distance my distaste for his personal views from his work to allow me to appreciate the way he animated the character he played.

It's kind of the same problem I have with Madonna. Her real life persona of a know-it-all commercial ho-bag prevented me from appreciating the nuanced, measured performance she gave in Shanghai Surprise. Given the relative lack of critical acclaim she receives as actress, perhaps film critics have this same problem. Or, she could just really suck.

I dont fault you for enjoying WW, but I think you missed the nature of my disinterest in Martin Sheen.
Vive le difference.

Kyle King said...

Thanks for the clarification, All School. Truly my bad for missing your point.

I feel the same way about Susan Sarandon, for whom I have a sufficiently strong personal distaste that I find it impossible to like her in a movie, even one as fine as "Bull Durham."

Of course, there's also the fact that a character like Annie Savoy should have been portrayed by someone good-looking.

Seriously, the prettiest woman in "Thelma and Louise" is Brad Pitt.

Unknown said...

Kyle - regarding....

"17 People," "Bad Moon Rising," "The Fall's Gonna Kill You," "18th and Potomac," and "Two Cathedrals"---may be the finest five-episode stretch of any series ever.

Of the top of my head, I don't remember much of this arc except for "17 People" and "Two Cathedrals". At least I don't remember them by name.

That said, Bravo will be at that point in the series by the middle of next week during the afternoon telecasts.

My favorite story arc in TV history is Commencement, 25, 7A WF 83429, and The Dogs of War. I've never seen a better directed episode of Television than the one where they abduct Zoey.

I've often said that I wouldn't have cast John Goodman as the Speaker of the House. However, I've never come up with a better suggestion.

The first time it came on at our house on Bravo (I missed the show entirely when it first came out) they showed the Speaker's feet walking down the sidewalk and RoyOrbisonDawg says "I can't believe the VP is Robin Williams." Baiting me. Comedy.

The Supremes is an excellent episode as was 2162, Memorial Day, and Game On (if only for the snappy debate).

The worst episodes were:
1. The astroid thing
2. The Wedding - pointless
3. Duck and Cover - the nuclear meltdown response was do damn preachy and heavy headed in comparing itself to the Katrina fallout that it was tough to watch.


Anonymous said...

PWD: As someone who's seen every single epidose of this show, I agree with you about "Commencement". My mouth was agapw through the last ten minutes of the show, and I still get chill bumps thinking about the ending as Leo ran to find the president.

Also, my least favorite episoes were "90 Miles", in which we learn that Leo and Kate met ten years ago (she totes a drunken Leo back to his hotel) and the one in which Bartlett and two other ex-presidents travel to another ex-President's funeral. Oh, and "Access" (the documentry style show about C.J.'s life as the COS) was terrible too.

I'm very impressed with y'all's discussion here - about the last place I'd expect it! If anyone checks back in, let me recommend a website called . GO there and look under shows for The West Wing. That site has great reviews of every show that ever been put out, and they also have some really good forums for discussion. It would be right up your alley.

Kyle King said...

Here's where my educational background comes into play and influences my tastes and opinions.

As someone with a baccalaureate degree in political science and a law degree, I loved the last five episodes of the second season, because they were all about the interplay between legal considerations and political necessities. The actions of the White House staff and of the White House counsel made for compelling and credible drama.

I agree with you about "Commencement," but "Twenty-Five" has always bugged me. For one thing, I didn't like the disservice that was done to John Hoynes an episode or two earlier in order to get him out of the way. I thought the vice president, who always deserved better than the condescension and distrust shown him by the White House staff, was treated shabbily in the way he was written out (although his subsequent attempt at a political comeback was well done).

"Twenty-Five" irked me because I know my Constitution well enough to know how wrong they got it. The 25th Amendment only applies to the president handing over power temporarily to the vice president; there is no Constitutional provision for ceding power to the speaker of the House when the president is unable to fulfill his duties.

That knotty legal problem was compounded by the false dramatic tension created by the question, "What if we have two presidents and they both start giving orders?" That's simple: when the president signs the letter voluntarily surrendering power, he resumes it by signing another letter taking it back. Until Bartlet signs the second letter, he has no authority to give orders; as soon as he signs it, he has the same authority he had before signing the first letter.

It produced a good story arc and its ramifications (most notably, the ascension of Speaker Haffley, who was a perfectly believable character played by a fine actor who later showed up on "Desperate Housewives") made for some fine future plotlines, but the utter mess Sorkin made of the law in his final episode bothered me too much for me to enjoy it.

By contrast, William Safire wrote a novel in the late '70s called Full Disclosure, which provides an excellent analysis of the 25th Amendment in a dramatic setting. It's well worth reading.

Perhaps such things shouldn't bother me, but Aaron Sorkin did too good a job on too many other occasions of getting the law right---or right enough---for me to be able to look past the ham-handed way that episode was handled.

In "In the Shadow of Two Gunmen," for instance, there is a great deal of discussion about the 25th Amendment and the question of who was in charge. There was even a scene---unfortunately cut from the televised episode but included among the deleted scenes in the D.V.D. box set---in which John Spencer and Timothy Busfield are talking privately.

Leo lays it all out for Danny: we dropped the ball on getting the letter signed; everyone behaved like a patriot in a time of stress; the vice president wasn't power-hungry; the Joint Chiefs weren't trigger-happy . . . and, in the end, the chief of staff tells him, "If you're asking who was in charge, I was."

It was a wonderfully dramatic moment, showing Leo at his most noble and most human . . . yet also at his most terrifying, as the moment echoed Alexander Haig and foreshadowed Toby's righteous indignation in the Oval Office in "17 People," when he offered to bet all the cash in his pockets that the decisions were being made by a man no one elected, accomplishing a virtual coup d'etat while the president was in surgery.

That's the stuff I enjoyed most about "The West Wing," because it made for good drama about real issues in an honest and beleivable way. Where the show deviated from that---in "Twenty-Five" or with the asteroid, the Brian Dennehy negotiations-with-Castro episode, or the one about invading Canada---it lost credibility and I lost interest.

In an unrelated aside, can anyone think of a particularly good reason why Amy Gardner and Ainsley Hayes never got into a heated argument over public policy . . . or why, when they did, it didn't devolve into a catfight? 'Cause, like, I'd've watched that for sure.

Unknown said...

Kyle -- I agree that "90 miles" is just pointless and stupid. It's one of the few that I have only watched once.

As for 25, I think the issue with this comment:
"What if we have two presidents and they both start giving orders?"

They weren't talking about a constitutional ambiguity. Everyone knew what the constitution said. John Goodman would be in charge.

Instead, they were talking about a bigger picture problem.

What happens if Admiral Fitzwallace doesn't agree with what Rosanne's Husband wants to do? What if Barlett asks him to do something different and he agrees with that course of action.

What if he decides to follow Barlett's orders instead of Rosanne's husband? The cabinet member was basically hinting that constitution be damned, he would support Fitz and Barlett.

Thus creating a potential coup. Barlett knew that a coup of sorts was technically possible in this situation and rather than throw us into a constitional crisis he wanted every member of the Cabinet to commit to backing the Speaker of the House.

I liked the discussion, but I didn't appreciate what Barlett and the Cabinet were really talking about until I watched it again.

Unknown said...

Anon - I liked Access and the Reunion of ex-presidents was interesting to me. Only b/c I've wondered what those encounters must be like.

I found it interesting that some elected to call Jed by his first name.

I don't know the name of the episode, but the one where Josh sits down with Adam from Northern Exposure to talk about the shooting is outstanding.

As is the one where we meet Toby's dad. I've only seen that one once. I think.

My favorite all-time shows might be:

1. Cheers
2. Seinfield
3. Northern Exposure (except the final season)
4. West Wing
5. Family Ties


Kyle King said...

Yeah, I get the dramatic tension the show is designed to create. I just don't buy it.

No competent attorney general or White House counsel would even have allowed that superfluous Cabinet vote to have occurred. When Jed Bartlet---an economist and college professor, not a lawyer---said he wanted a unanimous Cabinet vote to bolster Glenallen Hill's authority, someone in the room who had a law degree would have said, "Mr. President, there are two ways presidential authority can devolve temporarily onto another officer of the national government while the president remains alive and in office: either by a Cabinet vote removing him or by his voluntary surrender . . . not both."

If Admiral Fitzwallace had chosen to follow an order given by President Bartlet while Acting President Hill remained in office and in authority, Admiral Fitzwallace would have been called before a court-martial, convicted, dishonorably discharged, and jailed. Fitz was too good a soldier ever to have considered such a course of action and it demeaned the ironclad integrity of the character that the episode even suggested that such a thing was possible.

"Twenty-Five" attempted to create the illusion of grey in areas the Constitution renders black and white. In a way, as an American and as a lawyer, I take some solace in that fact; Aaron Sorkin's exploration of the grey areas of this issue in "In the Shadow of Two Gunmen" was intriguing, both legally and dramatically, because it posited a plausible scenario for a Constitutional crisis.

The fact that "Twenty-Five" ventures too far afield to be believable, though, is a testament to the craftsmanship of the men who authored the 25th Amendment. They addressed these questions too well for the dramatic tension of "Twenty-Five" to hold together.

The bipartisan transfer of power from a Democratic executive to a Republican legislator under the 25th Amendment doesn't work because the Constitution allows for no such temporary transfer of power. The Cabinet vote to approve the voluntary surrender of presidential authority doesn't work because the 25th Amendment does not provide for a Cabinet vote in cases of such a voluntary surrender. The potential of a "two presidents" crisis was unconvincing precisely because the 25th Amendment draws the Constitutional lines so clearly and so well: when a president signs over authority temporarily, he can't exercise the authority until he signs the letter resuming it; when a president is relieved temporarily by a Cabinet vote, he can't be restored except through a second vote consistent with the Constitutional process.

As I said, William Safire effectively addressed the potential for a Constitutional crisis under the 25th Amendment in Full Disclosure and, to a lesser degree, Aaron Sorkin did likewise in "In the Shadow of Two Gunmen." The story arc of which "Twenty-Five" is a part often is dramatically compelling (although the suddenness with which Zoe was found at the end of the last episode suggested to me that they got most of the way through the psychological drama and realized, "Uh-oh! We only signed John Goodman to this many episodes, so we have to wrap this up in the next ten minutes!") but its underlying legal premise is fatally flawed.

It is to our Constitution's credit that "Twenty-Five" is so utterly lacking in credibility. The episode's Constitutional underpinnings fail so completely because the text of the 25th Amendment was written so clearly and so well.

Don't get me wrong . . . "The West Wing" is still a great show and that series of episodes still contained some extraordinary elements. The law, though, is flawed and, for me, that's why that one episode falls apart.

Then again, I'm a Constitution geek, so what do I know about good drama?

Unknown said...

Kyle - it's important to remember that Jed Bartlett is the President of the United States of TV America.

The United States of TV America might have a different 25th Ammendment to their Constitution.

Kyle King said...

By golly, you're right. I hadn't thought of that.

Your argument is bolstered by the fact that, although the actual U.S. Constitution scheduled presidential elections in 2000, 2004, and 2008, the presidential elections in "The West Wing" occurred in 2002 and in 2005/2006.

If the T.V. Constitution can have four-year presidential terms, just with different years, then it isn't much of a stretch to suppose that the T.V. Constitution's 25th Amendment covers basically the same ground in a slightly different way.

I stand corrected. It's a great story arc and I will now enjoy it considerably more than I did before. Thanks.

I'm not backing away from that whole Amy Gardner/Ainsley Hayes catfight idea, though. Seriously, that was an opportunity missed in a big way right there.

Unknown said...

I can't begin to tell you what a huge fan I am of both of those ladies.

Miss Hayes would indeed make a good dog break his leash to quote Sam.


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