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Alan Alda to Join 'West Wing' Cast

Alan Alda (search) might give Martin Sheen's "West Wing" president a run for his money.

The beloved, five-time Emmy winner is returning to series television for the first time in more than five years — he got an Emmy-nod for a short "ER" stint in 1999 — and "The West Wing" (search) will be his largest network TV job since his star turn in "M*A*S*H" (search) ended in 1983.

Alda will play a California Republican, possibly a senator, who might run for president. Sheen's character on the show, President Bartlet, is nearing the end of his second term in the White House.

"The West Wing" has been showing signs of its age since it began in 1999. Although it once topped the ratings charts, the last few seasons have seen it tumble from the top.

The show is still an important part of NBC's lineup, though, because it attracts the kind of wealthy, young audience prized by the advertisers who buy commercial time on the network.

Adding high-profile actors to aging dramas is an old TV strategy to add some juice to the ratings. "The West Wing" producer John Wells has successfully employed the tactic in the past with his other high-profile NBC drama, "ER."

Aside from a few small TV roles, since "M*A*S*H" ended, Alda has focused mainly on movies and the stage, but he can still be seen on PBS hosting the documentary show, "Scientific American Frontiers."

Mary McCormack ("Private Parts"), who appeared on "The West Wing" last year as a guest star, is also joining the cast permanently this season. She plays the new Deputy National Security Advisor. Also joining "The West Wing" is Marley Shelton ("Uptown Girls"), who'll play a reporter who becomes the White House deputy press secretary.

Even with the Alda deal sealed, "The West Wing," producers are still reportedly in talks with former "NYPD Blue" star Jimmy Smits to play a Houston congressman with great political ambitions who may also want to run for president.

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