Friday, June 15, 2012

Guest Post: West Wing Rewatch

My good friend Chris has decided to offer us a peek behind the curtain of his summer viewing habits and of the special features on some of his West Wing DVDs. Seems Chris is spending his summer rewatching The West Wing and has gleaned quite a few factoids from the special features. I can hear that soaring theme song already....

I’ve just about finished up my first season rewatch of The West Wing, and Maggie Cats has invited me to write up a guest post for only the second time (I’m starting to think she doesn’t fully appreciate my television choices…otherwise, there’d already be posts on Storage Wars, Parking Wars, Pawn Stars, well, you get the idea). 

I started rewatching it simply to have something to do on plane rides.  But, then, episode after episode, I realized just how much I loved the show when it was originally on.  For one, I find the theme song tremendously inspiring.  Plus, it doesn’t hurt that their politics line up with my own, and it’s nice to think of an administration actually fighting for what it believes (more on that below).  I appreciate the fact that the writers weren’t afraid to touch hot button issues…gun control, education, gays in the military, etc.  The scene when Admiral Fitzwallace (the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and a black man) walks into a meeting between White House staff and Representatives, agrees that allowing gays to serve openly would disrupt unit discipline and cohesion, but then says:

That's what I think too…The problem with that is that what they were saying to me 50 years ago.  Blacks shouldn't serve with whites.  It would disrupt the unit.  You know what?  It did disrupt the unit.  The unit got over it.  The unit changed. I'm an admiral in the U.S. Navy and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff...Beat that with a stick.

Seriously.  Great television.  Just wish it didn’t take so long to become a reality.  I can’t wait to watch the next six seasons again, and continue to be inspired.

I hope you’re prepared for some random facts…I just watched the extra features.

The West Wing sort of came about as an accident.  Aaron Sorkin went to a lunch meeting with producer John Wells unprepared.  Wells was expecting a pitch for a new show, while Sorkin thought it was a social visit.  In a panic, and having just finished The American President (which happens to be one of my favorite movies), Sorkin threw out the idea of a television show focusing on senior staff at the White House. It took a little convincing (who would watch a drama that wasn’t based in a hospital?!?), but NBC finally picked up the series.

If you’ve ever watched the show, its hard to imagine that casting could have gone any differently.  In fact, Bradley Whitford (Josh) was originally cast as Sam Seaborne.  Janel Maloney (Donna) originally auditioned for the role of C.J. (played by Allison Janney).  Donna, Josh’s assistant, was originally not meant to be a recurring role.  And, believe it or not, Sorkin was within hours of casting someone else as President Bartlett (Alan Alda) before he thought of Martin Sheen.  In fact, Sheen didn’t audition for the role until two days before filming started.  Before the pilot, the President was meant to appear an average of one out of four episodes.  Sorkin was afraid the series would veer too much towards focusing on the presidency instead of the senior staff. 

The West Wing won nine Emmys in its inaugural season, a record that still stands.  It went on to win the next three Emmys for best drama series, along with multiple acting, writing and directing awards. 

There are many, many, many other examples of info swimming in my head, but you’re probably already bored of reading about a show that’s over a decade old.  Needless to say, I love The West Wing.  Its somewhat amazing how political history repeats itself. Either that, or Sorkin is prophetic.  Picture a Democratic president, enthusiastically elected, but one that veers heavily towards the center after inauguration and facing an opposition Congress.  He focuses more on reelection than making bold changes his base had hoped for.  Reelection isn’t a sure thing, because the Republicans call him a radical while Democrats complain he’s not radical enough.  Any of this sound familiar?

If you’re interested in watching West Wing again, or for the first time, let me know. I have all seven seasons on DVD.  Or heck, we could just have a rewatch party with all of our favorite episodes!


Jeff said...

I've been watching this with my government students this year and they are utterly enraptured, despite me being very aware that their political leanings might be elsewhere.

Wait until you get to Season 6 and then you'll really start to see some real life meets fiction.

Maggie Cats said...


Start young with the liberal agenda.

Monkey Sri said...

Rewatch party for sure!

Monkey Sri said...

Rewatch party for sure!

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