The West Wing considered one of the greatest shows ever to grace the silver screen, almost didn’t happen. Aaron Sorkin, the show’s creator and executive producer, explains why ahead.
Why The West Wing’ came ‘very close’ to not being made
At the ATX Television Festival in 2016, the show had a reunion of sorts during a panel discussion to celebrate the series a decade after the final episode aired.
Those on the panel included Sorkin, director Thomas Schlamme, executive producer Lawrence O’Donnell, and cast members Bradley Whitford (Josh Lyman), Richard Schiff (Toby Ziegler), Dulé Hill (Charlie Young), Joshua Malina (Will Bailey), Janel Maloney(Donna Moss) and Melissa Fitzgerald (Carol Fitzpatrick).
During the panel, Sorkin explained how the show came to be and revealed it almost didn’t happen.
He told the audience at the panel discussion that “a few minutes” after he finished writing the script for the pilot episode, the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke.
“We were OK sitting on it [after that],” Sorkin said. “[We knew] we simply can’t do this right now. People will giggle.”
NBC went ahead with production on the pilot episode but the outlook didn’t look good. Audiences who saw initial screenings felt the show was OK but didn’t love it.
Sorkin also revealed executives were worried that the show focused mainly on dialogue between characters without much action.
“‘This is just people talking,’” Sorkin remembered an executive saying in a note. “They had trouble with that,” he added.
Sorkin ‘grateful to the internet for getting this show on the air’
The creator and executive producer went on to say how the show got off the ground. Sorkin told the audience Warner Bros. Television came up with four demographics in which The West Wing would be well-received.
They were households with a minimum of one college graduate, households with a subscription to The New York Times, households with the internet (remember the show premiered in 1999), and households earning more than $75,000 annually.
“That’s what got us on the air, and if you were to go back and look at the episodes with the ads in them…well over half of our ads were for dot-coms,” he said. “I’m grateful to the internet for getting this show on the air.”
Sorkin left The West Wing after four seasons and went on to make the HBO series, The Newsroom, as well as Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, among other projects.
He revealed he doesn’t know how the series ended
On the advice of Larry David (the creator of Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm) Sorkin didn’t watch the show after he left. Although in one instance, Sorkin tried watching the Season 5 premiere episode.
“I put it in my VCR, I don’t think twenty seconds went by,” he said. “I’m sure that it was great, given this cast and given the people who came in behind me and given [executive producer] John Wells. But it just felt like I was watching someone make out with my wife. It felt horrible. I couldn’t do it again.”
Thankfully, we don’t have the same problem as Sorkin. We can watch The West Wing and enjoy every and all 155 episodes while pondering the idea of a reboot.
For those who are new to the show or would like to rewatch the series, it’s available on Netflix.
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