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By RD Heldenfels Published: October 30, 2005

A critic once summed up ''The Empire Strikes Back'' as a very long trailer for ''Return of the Jedi.'' Tonight I watched a ''West Wing'' episode that was an hour-long trailer for next week's ''West Wing.'' Most of the time I didn't mind.

As you may know, ''West Wing'' is going live on Nov. 6 for a debate between Santos (Jimmy Smits) and Vinick (Alan Alda). With ''West Wing'' struggling in the ratings, this is an attempt to get back viewers for at least a week. And there have been promotional efforts about it. In my office are buttons for both Santos and Vinick, a Santos flying disc and a Vinick mug -- all meant to make me pay more attention to the show.

Well, I pay attention anyway, at least when I remember to watch or record it on Sunday, and I've been much more interested in the campaign stuff than the White House scenes. So I watched tonight, as the two campaigns moved toward the moment -- already shown in the promos -- when the two candidates finally agree to debate.

Up until that moment, I also enjoyed the episode. Yes, the show is trying to keep us off-balance about these guys. Tonight's episode focused on Vinick being a pro-choice Republican, Santos a Democrat with a pro-life bent, and how those positions put each in an uncomfortable box relative to his political party. And while the boxes got tighter, the show was pretty good. Only, at the end, we didn't really see if they got out of the boxes -- or if they decided just to scrunch in -- because they decided to debate face-to-face instead.

In other words, stay tuned for next week's Very Special Episode. I knew we were basically headed in that direction, but it still felt kind of cheap, especially at the end of a telecast that was fairly entertaining. (I mean, we knew we had not seen the end of Donna, but what a nice way to bring her back.) But that's what shows trying to drag viewers along will do.

Still, ''West Wing'' was my main TV viewing today, aside from a little football. It was a gorgeous day, sunny and nearly warm. This was also the afternoon for trick-or-treating in the neighborhood, a fun couple of hours, and one where you can for awhile see kids just have fun -- and delight over getting a root beer-flavored lollipop.

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