The West Wing (television)

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The primary cast of The West Wing (from left to right): John Spencer, Dul Hill, Allison Janney, Stockard Channing, Martin Sheen, Bradley Whitford, Janel Moloney, and Richard Schiff

The West Wing is a popular and widely acclaimed American television serial drama created by Aaron Sorkin for NBC, airing since 1999. The show is set in the White House—which serves as the residence of the President and his family—during the fictional Democratic administration of Josiah "Jed" Bartlet. The West Wing of the White House is the location of the President's Oval Office and the offices of most of his senior staff. The show is produced and co-written by John Wells.


The West Wing universe

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In an unprecedented plot twist, guest star John Goodman appeared as the Speaker of the House, temporarily seated in The West Wing as Acting President

The West Wing parallels the real world in many ways, yet also has several key differences. Sorkin, the show's creator, has noted in a DVD commentary track for the second season episode "18th and Potomac" that he has tried to avoid tying the show to a specific period of time. Despite this, real years are occasionally mentioned (usually in the context of elections, see below) and the show's events take place during President Bartlet's two-term administration.

Some real-world leaders such as Queen Elizabeth II, Fidel Castro, and Yasser Arafat exist, or have existed, in the show's universe, but most foreign countries are given fictional rulers, as well as fictional names—"Qumar," a terrorist-sponsoring Middle Eastern state based in part on both Taliban Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, is repeatedly a source of trouble for the Bartlet administration. According to maps shown on the show, Qumar appears to consist of a small part of southern Iran, including the important Strait of Hormuz. Another hotspot is "Equatorial Kundu," an African nation blighted by AIDS and civil war, resembling that of Sudan and Somalia. The September 11, 2001 attacks did not unfold in the same way in which they did in the real world, but the country has entered into a variation of the War on Terrorism, which began with the end of Season 4 when Zoey Patricia Bartlet, the president's youngest daughter, was kidnapped by Muslim extremists. Like 9/11, this act sparked an invasion and bombing campaign of a terror-supporting Muslim country. Osama bin Laden exists on the show as of Season 2 and he is apparently still at large; it is unclear if he has prominence in terrorism. Some recent concerns have also been reflected in the show; in the West Wing universe, for example, North Korea has nuclear ambitions similar to those it has in the real world. Iran also allegedly pursues nuclear weapons, and the International Space Station is faced with problems recirculating oxygen.

Main characters

Main article: Characters on The West Wing

White House

Former White House staffers

2005 Presidential Nominees


Show's evolution

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A Saturday Night Live skit featured former Vice President Al Gore with West Wing cast members on the Oval Office set.

The series had its roots in the 1995 theatrical film The American President, for which Aaron Sorkin wrote the screenplay. Sorkin took unused plot elements from that film and created entirely new characters around them. From all of this The West Wing was created.

Initially, the character of the President was intended to be a secondary role, but it was expanded as the series progressed. Positive critical and public reaction to Sheen's sometimes Clintonesque performance raised his character's profile, sidelining Lowe's Seaborn. This shift is one of the reasons for Lowe's departure from the show during its fourth season [1] (

The West Wing often features extensive discussion of current or recent political issues, and with the real-world election of Republican President George W. Bush in 2000, many wondered whether the show could retain its relevance and topicality.

Following 9/11, the third season premiere was postponed a week. A script for a special episode was quickly written and filming began on September 21. "Isaac and Ishmael" finished shooting in about a week, an incredibly quick turnaround time for a TV drama. The episode aired on October 3 and addressed the sobering reality of terrorism in America and the wider world, albeit with no specific reference to September 11. While Isaac and Ishmael didn't get universal critical acclaim, to say the least, it nonetheless illustrated the show's flexibility in addressing current events.

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Popularity of the series has lead to publication of Aaron Sorkin's scripts
For the first four seasons, Sorkin wrote nearly every episode of the series. The stress of meeting deadlines no doubt contributed to his increasing personal problems, including a very public arrest for possession of illegal drugs followed by a couple of unsuccessful attempts at rehab. Although he eventually appeared to get his life back on track, he opted to leave the show after the fourth season, leading many to expect that the show would develop a more bipartisan footing. Plot themes centering on foreign policy (perhaps mindful of overseas syndication), for example, have grown more common, arguably making the show more approachable. Though it is still occasionally derided as The Left Wing, the show's award-winning writing, high production values, and acclaimed standard of ensemble acting, plus an unprecedented accuracy in showing how the presidency operates (demonstrated in a special documentary episode interviewing actual past West Wing staffers which aired during Season 3), have earned The West Wing respect. Even those who do not share its unambiguously expressed views admit to the educational value of the series.

The perceived switch of emphasis from Sorkin's dialogue-centric style of writing to John Wells' focus on plot-driven drama has angered some of the show's fan base, a few of whom feel so passionately about the switch that they are [2] ( actively campaigning for the show to be cancelled, citing Sorkin's departure as the sole cause of the show's "decline". However, most viewers continue to enjoy the show, acknowledging that despite Sorkin's departure it is still far superior to other shows, and in its theme unique among drama series.

Season 6's plotlines, including the replacement of Leo McGarry as White House Chief of Staff by former Press Secretary C.J. Cregg, have lent themselves to more of the witty rapid-fire dialogue for which Sorkin's scripts were noted. This trend appears to be accelerating with the sometimes inadvertently-comic Toby Ziegler taking on new duties as acting press secretary, the transfer of Bartlet's bodyman Charlie Young to C.J. Cregg's staff, and departures from the West Wing of Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman and his senior assistant Donna Moss to the campaigns of opposing Democratic presidential candidates. The addition of Kristin Chenoweth as Cregg's potential replacement has also been a breath of fresh air for the series. Generally, the series has rebounded somewhat after a low point including most of the fifth season and the first two episodes of the sixth season. The recent episode "Faith Based Initiative", written by series regular Bradley Whitford (Josh Lyman), reminded some of the rapid-fire, politically intricate and yet dryly witty scripts from the first few seasons which made the Sorkin-created and penned drama such a big hit. Ironically, the episode chronicled Lyman's departure from the White House to run the presidential campaign of Congressman Matt Santos.

The passage of time on the show relative to that of the "real world" has always been somewhat ambiguous. When "The West Wing" premiered in late 1999, the Bartlet Administration was said to have been in office for a little less than a year, implying that Bartlet was initially elected in 1998. (In real life, U.S. presidential elections were held in 1996, 2000, and 2004.) In the second season episode "17 People", Toby Ziegler questions whether Vice President Hoynes will be dropped from the 2002 ticket, specifically mentioning the year. That election was held in the fall of 2002 in real world time, but it appears the show sometime between then and Season 6 moved a year ahead of time; the filing deadline for the New Hampshire primary (which in show time is January 2006) was in the episode "Faith Based Initiative", aired in January 2005. However in numerous interviews [3] ( given before the start of season 6, John Wells stated that the beginning of season 1 took place 1 1/2 years into Bartlet's first term and thereby implied that the election to replace Josiah Bartlet was being held at the correct time without a year being missing. This statement does not explain why only three years have passed since the election in 2002 or why an important event such as the midterm elections of Bartlet's second term was not addressed.

Presidential elections

Timeline Skew

The last real-life president to have existed in the show's universe is Richard Nixon, although during the first season portraits of Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton were seen in the White House Situation Room. To date, the program has never discussed how the election cycle was altered by 2 years from reality.

West Wing presidents following Nixon include Democrat D. Wire Newman (played by James Cromwell) and Republican Owen Lassiter (deceased). Newman served one term. Lassiter served two terms. While it never was clarified that Newman and then Lassiter's terms immediately preceded Bartlet's, it is implied in an episode which centered around Lassiter's funeral.

Bartlet's First Term (1998)

Bartlet's 1998 campaign in the general election to win the presidency never was significantly explained, though it is known that he was elected with 48% of the popular vote and with a 303-235 margin in the Electoral College. The campaign for the Democratic nomination was extensively addressed. In "In the Shadow of Two Gunmen" and "Bartlet for America," extensive flashbacks are used as a vehicle to tell how Bartlet defeated Texas Senator John Hoynes (played by Tim Matheson) and Washington Senator William Wiley. Also stated, as may be expected, is that there were additional less successful primary opponents. The former episode also revealed how Leo McGarry convinced Bartlet, then Governor of New Hampshire, to run, how Bartlet didn't expect to win, and how he came to ultimately select Hoynes as his choice for Vice President.

Bartlet's Re-Election (2002)

The West Wing's 2002 presidential election pitted Bartlet against Florida Governor Rob Ritchie (played by James Brolin). Bartlet was unopposed for renomination, while Ritchie emerged from a field of six Republican candidates.

Democratic Senator Howard Stackhouse launched a third-party candidacy as a more liberal version of Bartlet, but withdrew and ultimately endorsed Bartlet. Bartlet's staff contemplated replacing Vice President John Hoynes from the 2002 ticket with Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Percy Fitzwallace (played by John Amos) among others, but Bartlet vetoed the idea, declaring that he wanted Hoynes in the #2 spot, "Because I could die."

Throughout the season it was anticipated that the race would be close, but a stellar performance by Bartlet in the sole debate between the candidates gave Bartlet a landslide victory in both the popular and electoral vote.

At 11:01 EST on election night the popular vote stood at:

  • Bartlet (D): 53,766,221
  • Ritchie (R): 42,992,342

Bartlet won an unusual victory for a modern Democratic presidential nominee. He carried all of the states of the Great Plains, but in the South he only carried Louisiana, North Carolina, and South Carolina, losing Hoynes's Lone Star home state just as he had in his first race.

Santos v. Vinick (2005)

See also: U.S. presidential election, 2005 (fictional)


A speed-up in The West Wing's timeline (in part due to the expiration of many cast member's contracts and a desire to continue the program with lower production costs) has resulted in an election during the 2005-2006 season. The recently concluded 2004-2005 season extensively detailed the primary campaigns, while the 2005-2006 season will cover the general election and transition to a new administration. While the upcoming November election will take place in November of 2005 in real time, on the 'one year jump ahead' schedule of the show, it will be November of 2006. Similarly, the inauguration while taking place in real time in 2006 will be actually in 2007 in The West Wing's universe.

Texas Congressman Matthew Vincente Santos (played by Jimmy Smits) was nominated on the fourth ballot by the Democratic Party at their convention, staged as the 2004-2005 season finale. Santos, who was planning to leave Congress before being recruited to run by Josh Lyman, polled in the low single digits in Iowa and was virtually out of the running in New Hampshire when a last-ditch direct television appeal vaulted him to a third place finish with 19% of the vote.

Polling behind incumbent Vice President and early front-runner "Bingo" Bob Russell (played by Gary Cole) and former Vice President Hoynes, Santos surged late in the primaries, picking up delegates (winning among others the California primary). A late disclosure of an alleged sexual harassment incident, from over eight years ago involving Hoynes effectively dropped him from serious contention, but no candidate had the 2,162 votes necessary to secure the nomination going into the convention.

The convention featured a plot twist as Pennsylvania Governor Eric Baker (played by Ed O'Neill), who earlier in the season had announced he would not seek the nomination, announced that if chosen he would accept the nomination after all. Following the first ballot, delegates flocked to Baker from the camps of all three other candidates, and briefly it seemed as if it would be Baker, not Russell, Santos or Hoynes, that would be the nominee. But a disclosure about Baker's wife's health -- more correctly (as characterised by news reporters on the show), the fact that Baker had failed to disclose the health problem, rather than the problem itself -- slowed his momentum considerably, and a rousing speech by Santos ultimately threw the nomination to him. In a move that stunned many West Wing fans, following a refusal by Baker, Santos turned to Leo McGarry as his running mate.


California Senator Arnold Vinick (played by Alan Alda) secured the show's Republican nomination, defeating Glen Allen Walken (played in previous seasons by John Goodman, but unseen during 2004-2005), Rev. Don Butler (played by Don S. Davis) and a host of other, known but not mentioned by name candidates.

West Virginia Governor Ray Sullivan (played by Brett Cullen) was chosen as his running mate after Butler essentially refused the nomination due to a disagreement with Vinick on the issue of abortion. Vinick has been portrayed throughout the 2004-2005 season as virtually unbeatable due to his popularity in California, moderate views, and wide crossover appeal.

According to series producer John Wells, the upcoming election will occur in November of the 2005-2006 season (for United States viewers), with the inauguration happening in January. Starting with the seventh season, Fall 2005, the show moves to Sunday nights. The seventh season is also likely to be its last.

Supreme Court appointments

Several episodes of "The West Wing" have focused on the President's power to fill vacancies on the United States Supreme Court by nominating justices, who take office if the United States Senate confirms them. To date, President Bartlet's appointments have been:

Cabinet and Presidential Order of Succession

PresidentJosiah Bartlet1999—
Vice PresidentJohn Hoynes1999–2003
 Robert Russell2003—
Speaker of the HouseGlen Allen Walken (John Goodman)????–2003
 Jeff Haffley (Steven Culp)2003—
President pro temporeJoseph Furman????—
Secretary of StateLewis Berryhill (William Devane)1999—
Secretary of the TreasuryKen Kato (Conrad Bachmann)1999–2004
 Teresa Browning (Marcie Lynn Ross)2004—
Secretary of DefenseMiles Hutchinson (Steve Ryan)1999—
Attorney GeneralDan Larson (Sherry Houston)1999—2003
 Alan Fisk (Dylan Baker)2003—
Secretary of the InteriorBill Horton (Edmund L. Shaff)1999—
Secretary of CommerceMitch Bryce (Alan Dale)1999—
Secretary of LaborCarl Reid????—
Secretary of AgricultureRoger Tribbey (Harry Groener)2000—
Secretary of Health and Human ServicesUnknown----–----
Secretary of EducationUnknown----–----
Secretary of Housing and Urban DevelopmentDeborah O'Leary (CCH Pounder)1999—2001
 Bill Fisher (Jim Jansen)2001—
Secretary of TransportationUnknown----–----
Secretary of EnergyBill Trotter1999–2004
 Gerald Deloit (Terry Bozeman)2004—
Secretary of Veterans AffairsUnknown----–----


The West Wing has won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series in 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003, along with 19 individual Emmys awarded for the writers, actors and crew. It holds the record for most Emmys won by a series in a single season (9) which it accomplished in its first season on the air. By winning the Emmys for Outstanding Drama Series in its first four seasons it moved into a tie with Hill Street Blues and L.A. Law for most Emmy Awards won in that category. The West Wing currently ranks 8th all-time in number of Emmy Awards won by a series.

The actors who have won Emmys include:

  • Allison Janney — Best Supporting Actress (2000, 2001), Best Actress (2002, 2004)
  • Richard Schiff — Best Supporting Actor (2000)
  • Bradley Whitford — Best Supporting Actor (2001)
  • John Spencer — Best Supporting Actor (2002)
  • Stockard Channing — Best Supporting Actress (2002)

W.G. "Snuffy" Walden (thirtysomething) received the Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Main Title Theme Music, 2000.

Martin Sheen, the central character and the most acclaimed actor on the show, has yet to win an Emmy, though he did win a Golden Globe for Best Actor.

The show has won two Screen Actors Guild Awards.



  • NBC (United States)
    • Season 1 22nd September 1999 - 17th May 2000 (Wednesday 9 PM ET)
    • Season 2 4th October 2000 - 16th May 2001 (Wednesdays 9 PM ET)
    • Season 3 3rd October 2001 - 22nd May 2002 (Wednesday 9 PM ET)
    • Season 4 25th September 2002 - 14th May 2003 (Wednesdays 9 PM ET)
    • Season 5 24th September 2003 - 19th May 2004 (Wednesdays 9 PM ET)
    • Season 6 20th October 2004 - 6th April 2005 (Wednesdays 9 PM ET)
    • Season 7 Fall 2005 - Spring 2006 (Sundays 8 PM ET)
  • Sky One (United Kingdom; pay-tv service, season 1 only)
    • Season 1 September 2002
  • E4 (channel) (United Kingdom; season 2 onwards)
    • Season 2 19th June 2001 - 20th November 2001 (Tuesdays 9PM GMT)
    • Season 3 Starting August 2002 - November 2002 (Tuesdays 9PM GMT
    • Season 4 July 2003 - November 2003 (Tuesdays 9PM GMT)
    • Season 5 20th July 2004 - November 2004 (Tuesdays 9PM GMT)
    • Season 6 20th July 2005 - November 2005 (Wednesdays 9PM GMT)
  • Rete 4 (Italy)
  • Nelonen (Finland)
  • RTÉ (Ireland)
  • CTV (Canada)
  • Nine Network (Australia) — stopped screening season 5 mid-season (2/1/2005).
    • Season 1
    • Season 2
    • Season 3
    • Season 4
    • Season 5 - 1 Feb 2005 ()
  • NHK (Japan)
    • Season 1 October 2002 - March 2004 (Saturday 11 PM JT)
    • Season 2 October 2003 - March 2004 (Saturday 11 PM JT)
    • Season 3 October 2004 - 15th March 2005 (Tuesday 10 PM JT)
  • TVNZ (New Zealand)
  • DR2 (Denmark)
  • Warner Channel (Latin America; pay-tv service)
  • SBT (Brazil; seasons 1–3)
    • Season 1
    • Season 2
    • Season 3
  • NRK (Norway)
  • SVT (Sweden)
  • RTL4 (The Netherlands)
  • TVB Pearl (Hong Kong)


  • Bravo (United States)
    • Season 1 - Season 4 Since August 2003
    • Season 5 Since September 2004
  • Distributed by Telepictures, check local listings for time and station in your area (United States)(Since August 2003)
  • Channel 4 (United Kingdom)
    • Seaason 1 March 2001 - August 2001
    • Season 2 24th March 2002 - 18th August 2002
    • Season 3 February 2003 - August 2003
    • Season 4 September 2004 - March 2005
  • Arena (Australia)
  • Canadian Learning Television (CLT) (Canada)
  • Zee Studio (South Asia)

Home video releases

A program of home video releases is underway; as of April 2005, the following seasons of The West Wing were available:

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While generally released first on R2 DVD, this has been at the cost of the special features which are included in other editions.

External links


fr: la Maison Blanche ja:ザ・ホワイトハウス


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