To some, Danica McKellar will always been sweet little Winnie Cooper, Kevin's girlfriend from The Wonder Years.
So playing a career woman on The West Wing may be a shock to some viewers.
"This is something new. I'm very excited. It's a very grown-up role, a chance to be a young professional," says Ms. McKellar, 27.
On Wednesday (9 p.m., Channels 5, 22), she plays a campaign worker for Horton Wild, the fictional Orange County congressional candidate who suffered a fatal heart attack this fall.
White House Deputy Communications Director Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe) goes to Southern California on the show to meet with Wild's campaign staffers Elsie Snuffin (Ms. McKellar) and Will Bailey (Joshua Malina, Sports Night).
She can't say much about her scenes with Mr. Lowe, because creator Aaron Sorkin doesn't "like things to be revealed," says Kristi Strupinsky, West Wing publicist. But we'll see Elsie again soon.
"It was supposed to be a one-episode deal, but they said I'm coming back for several more," the actress says by phone from Los Angeles.
"I'm just thrilled to be working on this show. I'm a huge fan. If I could pick any show to work on, it would be this one," she says.
Since The Wonder Years ended its 51/2 year run in 1993, Ms. McKellar has been busy with other things.
She graduated summa cum laude from UCLA with a degree in mathematics in 1998. She co-authored a research paper on a new problem in the area of statistical mechanics, now known as the Chayes-McKellar-Winn theorem. She also had a Web site offering on-line help for solving math problems.
In recent years, she has worked on both sides of the camera. She has directed and written two short films, speechless... and Talking in Your Sleep, and acted in Bathroom Boy; Reality School; Hip, Edgy, Sexy, Cool; XCU: Extreme Close Up; Even Stevens; and The Division. She also has done cartoon voices for the Justice League and Static Shock.
When she auditioned for The West Wing, Mr. Sorkin told her, "I'm crazy about you," she says. "It was the coolest moment."
She hopes The West Wing will revive her prime-time TV career. Too often Hollywood producers pigeonhole performers into certain roles they've seen them do over and over. Her goal is to be a regular on a drama series, while devoting her free time to writing and directing.
"Mostly the roles I play are still high school students or love interests," she says. "This role is something quite grown-up, and it's a strong transition for me being seen as a professional woman."
`West Wing' vote: Have you stopped watching The West Wing?
Ratings are down 23 percent this fall for NBC's White House drama, despite winning a third consecutive Emmy for best drama in September.
The ratings drop has been attributed to competition from The Bachelor on ABC, and baseball playoffs on Fox. Viewers obviously are disenchanted with the show, and I want to know why.
E-mail your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or send them to The West Wing, c/o John Kiesewetter, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202, or fax to (513) 768-8330.
TV tonight: PBS' Nova presents Galileo's Battle for the Heavens, a two-hour special (8 p.m., Channels 48, 16) based on Dava Sobel's best seller, Galileo's Daughter.
Simon Callow (Four Weddings and a Funeral; Shakespeare in Love) stars as Galileo, who studied the Moon and planets to arrive at his controversial notion that the Earth was not the center of the universe.
His publication of Dialogue on the Two Chief World Systems in 1632 resulted in the scientist being hauled before the Inquisition by Pope Urban VIII.
"Remember, Galileo came of age at a time when they didn't just burn books, they burned authors," says producer David Axelrod, who also produced Mr. Sobel's best seller Longitude for Nova.
The clash also strained Galileo's relationship with his illegitimate daughter, a cloistered nun.
"Galileo took on the (Catholic) church and in doing so, lost his freedom, his health, the daughter that meant everything to him, though in the process he gained immortality," says Paula Apsell, Nova executive producer.
TV renewals: Networks have issued votes of confidence to shows before November sweeps start Thursday. Full seasons have been ordered for Hidden Hills and Good Morning, Miami (NBC), The George Lopez Show (ABC) and The Twilight Zone (UPN).
ABC has renewed NYPD Blue (10 p.m. today, Channels 9, 2) for an 11th season next fall.
E! Entertainment has ordered a second season of the Anna Nicole Show starring former stripper and model Anna Nicole Smith. The first season ends Sunday (10 p.m., E!).
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