The West Wing television

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Template:Infobox television The West Wing is a popular and widely-acclaimed American television serial drama created by Aaron Sorkin for NBC which has aired since 1999. The show is currently airing episodes on Sunday evenings at 8:00p (E/P), and is in its seventh season. 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 (Martin Sheen). 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.

Show's evolution

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President Bartlet (second from left) talks with a Navy officer who is in the middle of a hurricane while (from left to right) Toby Ziegler, Abigail Bartlet, Sam Seaborn, and Leo McGarry look on.

The series has its roots in the 1995 theatrical film, The American President, for which Aaron Sorkin wrote the screenplay. Sorkin took unused plot elements from the film and created entirely new characters around them. These plot elements and characters became The West Wing.

Initially, the character of the President was intended to be an unseen or a secondary role. The series was intended to center around the character of Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe), Bartlet's Deputy Communications Director. Sheen's screen time gradually increased, and his role 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]

For the first four seasons, Sorkin wrote nearly every episode of the series. Sorkin reused many of the same plot elements, character names, and even actors from his first series Sports Night.[2] The stress of meeting deadlines may have 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 many 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 actively campaigning for the show to be cancelled, citing Sorkin's departure as the sole cause of the show's "decline".[3] However, most viewers continue to enjoy the show, stating that despite Sorkin's departure it is still far superior to other shows, and, in its theme, unique among drama 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.

The Left Wing

The West Wing, often derided as The Left Wing, portrays the administration of an ideal liberal president. The show is often perceived as having a strong following of Democrats and being widely disliked by Republicans. Many Republicans view the show as a revisionist look at the Clinton presidency, an attempt to solidify the Clinton legacy and make America forget the Whitewater and Lewinsky scandals. However, some Republicans do enjoy the show. Even before the departure of Sorkin and the show's resulting shift toward the center, many Republicans admire the show.[4] In his 2001 article, "Real Liberals versus the West Wing", Mackubin Owens points out,

"Although his administration is reliably liberal, President Bartlet possesses virtues even a conservative could admire. He obeys the Constitution and the law. He is devoted to his wife and daughter. Being unfaithful to his wife would never cross his mind. He is no wimp when it comes to foreign policy--no quid pro quo for him."[5]

Many Republicans watch the show because they realize that if the show were written from the opposite perspective, Republicans would be infallible and Democrats would be the "bad guys". Some praise the show for helping to bridge the gap between the left and the right in America. By showing Democratic views on issues and the debate surrounding them, the show has provided a many Republicans with a useful inside to the views of the left.[6]

Exploration of real world issues

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Popularity of the series has lead to publication of Aaron Sorkin's scripts

The West Wing often features extensive discussion of current or recent political issues. With the real-world election of Republican President George W. Bush in 2000, many wondered whether the liberal show could retain its relevance and topicality. By exploring many of the same issues facing the Bush administration from a Democratic point of view, the show continued to appeal to a broad audience, both Democrats who agreed with the fictional administration's methods and Republicans who did not.

The show gained notoriety early in its second season when the fictional President Bartlet admonished fictional radio host Dr. Jenna Jacobs for her views regarding homosexuality during a meeting of radio personalities at the White House. Dr. Jacobs is a caricature of Dr. Laura Schlessinger, who also disagrees with homosexuality and has a call-in radio show where callers ask her for advice on moral issues. Many of the president's biblical references in his comments to Dr. Jacobs, which can be heard here, are thought to have come from a letter circulated online in early May 2000.[7]

The Bartlet administration experienced a scandal that has been compared to the Monica Lewinsky scandal during the second and third season.[8][9] President Bartlet was diagnosed with a case of relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis (MS) in 1992, before he decided to run for President in 1998. The scandal centered around the fact that President Bartlet did not disclose his illness to the electorate during the election. He is investigated by an opposition U.S. House of Representatives and eventually accepts a Congressional censure, unlike President Clinton, who was impeached for perjury. Multiple sclerosis advocacy groups have praised the show for its accurate portrayal of the symptoms of MS, and especially stressing that it is not fatal. The National MS Society commented:

For the first time on national television or even in film, the public encountered a lead character with both an MS diagnosis and the hope for a continued productive life. Because [The] West Wing is a fictional drama and not a medical documentary, writers could have greatly distorted MS facts to further their story line.[10]

Following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the third season premiere was postponed a week, as most American television premieres were that year. 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 received mixed critical reviews, it nonetheless illustrated the show's flexibility in addressing current events.

In the sixth and seventh season, The West Wing explores a leak of top secret information by a senior staffer at the White House. This leak has been compared to the alleged leak investigation in the Bush administration in the Valerie Plame affair.[11][12] In the storyline, the International Space Station is damaged and can no longer produce oxygen for the two U.S. astronauts and one Russian cosmonaut to breathe. With the shuttle fleet out of commission, as in the real world, and the Soyuz capsules unable to be launched in time, the President is faced with a difficult decision. There exists in The West Wing universe a fictional military space shuttle which could be used to save the space station crew. However, its existence is top secret and using it in this respect would alert every other nation in the world of its existence. Following inaction, a source in the White House leaks the shuttle story to a White House reporter, Greg Brock (analogous to Judith Miller), who runs a story in the New York Times about the military shuttle. Brock will not reveal his source and goes to jail for failing to do so, as did Miller. The source is discovered to be someone in the White House, and an investigation ensues. The fictional story has already ended as Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff) admits that he was the one who leaked the shuttle information to Greg Brock. The Plame affair is still under investigation, but charges have been brought against Lewis Libby, the vice-president's chief of staff, who has since resigned.

Some other issues from the real world explored in The West Wing include:

Legitimacy and the broader impact

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A Saturday Night Live skit, which can be seen here, features former Vice President Al Gore with The West Wing cast members on the Oval Office set.

The West Wing offers a rare glance into the everyday life of the United States government's most powerful address, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Many opinions have been weighed and considered as to whether or not this insider's view is entirely accurate or beneficial to the general viewing public.

A documentary special in the third season featuring multiple former West Wing denizens, including advisor David Gergen, press secretary Dee Dee Myers, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Chiefs of Staff Leon Panetta and Karl Rove, and former Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton, among others, attempts to lend legitimacy to the show's depiction of the real West Wing.

Staci L. Beavers, associate professor of political science at California State University, San Marcos, wrote a short essay, The West Wing as a Pedagogical Tool, concerning the viability of The West Wing as a teaching tool.[13] She concludes, "While the series’ purpose is for-profit entertainment, The West Wing presents great pedagogical potential." The West Wing, in her opinion, lends a real face to political view points usually espoused in stilted talking points on shows like Face the Nation and Meet the Press. She also notes that usually the liberal point of view wins the day, because the show is given a liberal slant. The merits of a particular argument may be obscured by the viewer's opinion of the character holding them. Often characters with opposing viewpoints are set up to be "bad people" in the viewer's eyes because they are assigned undesirable characteristics that have nothing to do with their political opinions, such as a character being a possible suitor of a main character's love interest. This and other aspects of the show's political views can be analyzed through a critical viewing, and, in Beavers's opinion, can present a worthwhile learning experience to the viewer.

Awards

The West Wing 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 at nine which it accomplished in its first season on the air. Winning the Emmys for Outstanding Drama Series in its first four seasons, The West Wing is tied 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 for The West Wing Opening Theme which can be heard here. 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.

Main characters

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

Note: The following characters are considered "main characters" in that they have appeared as stars in the opening titles for the series. Other important characters are listed in the main article: Characters on The West Wing.

Episodes

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, and the show's events take place during President Bartlet's two-term administration.

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 at the end of the fourth season when Zoey Bartlet (Elisabeth Moss), 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.

Some recent historical events from the real world that are mentioned in The West Wing include the U.S. invasion of Grenada in 1983, the Gulf War, U.S. military operations in Bosnia, and the 1998 Irish Good Friday Agreement.

Domestic

Politicians, cabinet members, and Supreme Court judges are all necessary characters to create a believable political drama. President Bartlet has made three appointments to the fictional Supreme Court: Associate Justice Roberto Mendoza (Edward James Olmos), Chief Justice of the United States Evelyn Baker Lang (Glenn Close), and Associate Justice Christopher Mulready (William Fichtner).

President Bartlet also maintains a full Cabinet, although the names and terms of all of its members have not been revealed in the show. Some Cabinet members, such as the Secretary of Defense, appear more often than others. The full Presidential line of succession for the Bartlet administration, including all Cabinet members, is available.

Foreign

Some real-world leaders exist, or have existed, in the show's universe, but most foreign countries are given fictional rulers. Some persons from the real world mentioned in The West Wing include Yasser Arafat, Fidel Castro, Queen Elizabeth II, and Osama bin Laden. However, when a peace accord was worked out between Israel and the Palestinian Authority at the start of the show's sixth season, the name of the PA's Chairman was given as "Farad," and the actor who played him bore little resemblance to Arafat.

Fictional countries are also invented for use in the plotline. Qumar, a terrorist-sponsoring Middle Eastern state based in part on both Taliban Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. Qumar 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. Equatorial Kundu is an African nation blighted by AIDS and a civil war resembling the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Presidential elections

Timeline Skew

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 are held in years divisible by four, i.e. 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 season featuring the 2002 election was shown in the fall of 2002 in real world time. However, it appears that sometime in the middle of the fifth season a year was lost; the filing deadline for the New Hampshire primary, which would normally fall in January of the election year, logically 2006, was in the episode "Faith Based Initiative", which aired in January 2005.

However, in interviews given before the start of the sixth season, John Wells stated that the beginning of season one took place one and a half 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.[14] This is demonstrably false, however, as numerous references in each season date the first season to the first year of office and place each subsequent season, at least until the fifth, a year later. This statement also 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. The only explanation is the large hole in the middle of season five.

Multiple theories have been put forward regarding the reason why the election cycle is off by two years, including the possibility that the Watergate scandal did not occur the same way in the West Wing universe as it did in the real world. For further discussion, please see timeline skew theories for The West Wing.

Bartlet's First Campaign (1998)

Bartlet's 1998 campaign in the general election to win the presidency has never been significantly explained in the series yet, though it is known that he was elected with 48% of the popular vote, 48 million votes and with a 303-235 margin in the Electoral College. It has not been made known who Bartlet's Republican opponent was, although in the first episode of season 4 the name Richards can be heard as an opponent during a debate. It's not clear whether this was a presidential debate or not.

It is known from some episodes, that Bartlet won Florida, New Hampshire and Oregon (by 10,000 votes), but lost in Maine, and Texas. Thanks in part to John Hoynes' presence on the ticket, however, Bartlet did very well in the rest of the southern states. Unlike the time leading up to the 2002 election, Bartlet faced three Presidential debates with his 1998 Republican opponent. The final debate was held in St Louis on October 30, 1998. Bartlet was elected on Tuesday, November 3, 1998. However, the episode where Leo establishes the October 30 date, "Bartlet For America," also has him give the date as "nine days before the election," which is one sign that the 1998 date may not be correct.

The campaign for the Democratic nomination was extensively addressed. In the episodes "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 (Tim Matheson) and Washington Senator William Wiley (who has never been shown on-screen) for the Democratic nomination. Also stated, as may be expected, is that there were other, less successful primary opponents. The former episode also revealed how Leo McGarry convinced Bartlet, who was then Governor of New Hampshire, to run for President around late October or early November, 1997; how Bartlet didn't expect to win, and how he came to ultimately select John Hoynes as his choice for Vice President.

Bartlet's Re-Election (2002)

See also: U.S. presidential election, 2002 (The West Wing)

The West Wing's 2002 presidential election pitted Bartlet and Vice President John Hoynes against Florida Governor Robert Ritchie (James Brolin), and his running mate, Jeff Heston. Bartlet was unopposed for renomination, while Ritchie emerged from a field of seven other Republican candidates (who were named Simon, Daniel, Kalmbach, O'Rourke, Ross, Stephens, and Western).

Democratic Senator Howard Stackhouse launched a third-party candidacy from the left of Bartlet, but withdrew and ultimately endorsed Bartlet. Bartlet's staff contemplated replacing Vice President John Hoynes on the 2002 ticket with Adm. Percy Fitzwallace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (John Amos), among others. In April, 2002, after it was clear Ritchie would be the Republican nominee, Bartlet vetoed the idea, declaring that he wanted Hoynes in the number two 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.

Santos vs. Vinick (2006)

See also: U.S. presidential election, 2006 (The West Wing)
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Matt Santos and Leo McGarry at the 2006 Democratic National Convention.

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. However, recent press articles have indicated that the timeline may again be altered in order to have the election occur later in the season, thus allowing the Bartlet administration to remain in office for several additional episodes and placing the climax of the season at the end of the February sweeps. The altered schedule for the show has the election episode airing in March. The seventh season featured a live episode centering around a debate between Santos and Vinick, which aired on the evening of Sunday, November 6, 2005.

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 the omission of the 2004 midterm elections and 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, and will slow the timeline down again to concentrate more on the general election race. The upcoming November 2006 election will take place in March of 2006 in real time.

Santos/McGarry

Texas Congressman Matthew Vincente Santos (Jimmy Smits) was nominated on the fourth ballot by the Democratic Party at their convention, staged as the 2004-2005 season finale. After many allusions during the Bartlet administration, Josh Lyman, now Santos's campaign manager, convinced Leo McGarry to become Santos's running mate. 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.

Vinick/Sullivan

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

West Virginia Governor Ray Sullivan (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 was portrayed throughout the 2004-2005 season as virtually unbeatable due to his popularity in California, moderate views and wide crossover appeal. In fact, just 63 days before election day, the polls showed Vinick leading Santos by nine percentage points. One notable example of his crossover appeal is the fact that the Women's Alliance for Choice, a pro-choice political action committee usually associated with the Democratic Party, considered endorsing Vinick.

Broadcasters and home video releases

See also


Notes

  1. ^  "Lowe confirms West Wing exit" BBC News. 25 July 2002.
  2. ^  Overlaps between West Wing & Other Sorkin Writings West Wing Continuity Guide.
  3. ^  Don't Save Our Show Group of West Wing fans dedicated to ending the show after the departure of Aaron Sorkin.
  4. ^  ‘West Wing’ goes more bipartisan MSNBC.com. September 18 2003.
  5. ^  Owens, Mackubin T. "Real Liberals versus the West Wing". John M. Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs at Ashland University. February 2001.
  6. ^  A Republican's View of The West Wing WestWingRepublican.com. 2002.
  7. ^  Mikkelson, Barbara Letter to Dr. Laura. Snopes.com. 2004.
  8. ^  Rewriting the Clinton Presidency TheConservativeGuy.com. 12 March 2002.
  9. ^  Sepinwall, Alan "Exit poll: West Wing is sinking. Why?" NJ.com. Reprinted at Bartlet4America. 6 November 2002.
  10. ^  Kerr, Gail "'West Wing' aids MS awareness" All About Multiple Sclerosis. 24 December 2001.
  11. ^  Clabby, Consuela " Leaky Politics: The West Wing versus The Bush Administration" SMRT-TV. 31 October 2005.
  12. ^  Leak Investigation "The Ticket" FootnoteTV. 25 September 2005.
  13. ^  Beavers, Staci L. "The West Wing as a Pedagogical Tool" PS: Political Science & Politics. 24 December 2001.
  14. ^  Elber, Lynn "'West Wing' Eyes Successor for Bartlet" Yahoo! Entertainment. 13 October 2004.

External links

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Official websites

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