A video news report from Cleveland's Channel 3 including short interviews with some cast members.
Washington Post Actor Profiles:
- Bradley Whitford
· Dirty little secret: Personally, Whitford wanted his character to end up with Amy Gardner (Mary-Louise Parker) rather than Donna Moss (Janel Moloney).
· Most memorable interaction with a real-life politico: Shaking former president Bill Clinton's hand after a dinner he held for the cast, while a heckler repeatedly screamed "Monica!" "He looked me in the eye and asked me what the guy said," Whitford says of Clinton. "And I said, 'Sir, I think he said 'Attica.' "
· Real-life politico Josh resembles: "This guy was a mix of Rahm Emanuel, Paul Begala and George Stephanopoulos, with a touch of James Carville's hair loss."
· Weirdest time he was mistaken for a real-life politico: "Some reporter once asked me about the trade deficit with China. And I was like, 'I wear makeup for a living. I have a favorite moisturizer.' "
· Funniest Martin Sheen anecdote: The time Sheen -- legendary on the set for mangling names and titles (Allison Janney remained "the tall one" all seven seasons) -- was asked to present an award (in real life) to Cardinal Roger Mahony and announced it as the "2002 Abortionist Award." (Um, that would be "abolitionist," Mr. President.)
· Thing he really, really wants people to know (in jest): "Josh Malina is a terrible actor."
· Dirty little secret: "There's more happening in her trailer than in most nightclubs," cast mate Josh Malina says. After wrapping the final episode, most of the actors drowned their sorrows in Janney's hospitality. "I eventually called it Club Flamingo after my Secret Service name," she says. "I have to say I'm a bit of a hedonist. A harmless one, but I like to have fun."
· On-set reputation: The Emmy queen (she's won four). The crew named brilliant takes after her -- a "Janney" was impressive, and the patented "Double Janney" really took the crew's breath away.
· Favorite things about trips to Washington to shoot exteriors: "We were like rock stars in D.C." Besides the people here, Janney also gives kudos to the Ritz-Carlton, Asia Nora and shopping in Georgetown.
· Funniest Martin Sheen anecdote: "I think the day we laughed most was when he called Toby 'Topol,' " she says. Richard Schiff, it seems, laughed so hard that it was 40 minutes before they could reshoot.
· Dirty little secret: Has crush on Alan Greenspan. "There's something kind of mythical about him," Moloney says. "He's so powerful. He and his wife watch the show. And I just thought, 'My God, Alan Greenspan is sitting on Wednesday nights watching me on TV.' "
· Coolest show-related perk: When ex-prez Clinton invited the whole cast out to dinner. "It was amazing," she says. "I don't think the cast of 'ER' is having dinner with Clinton."
· On Donna and Josh finally getting together: "He was a damn good kisser!" Writer-producer John Wells says Moloney "got into it with gusto" when that story line took off, and adds: "After all those years, she was fully committed to playing out sexual repression."
· Best on-set anecdote: Moloney was the mastermind behind a Valentine's Day practical joke played on Jimmy Smits and Brad Whitford. She took Whitford's stationery, attached it to a bouquet of pink roses and penned this ditty: "Dear Jimmy, Working with you has been a delight. Be my Valentine." (Smits responded, gamely, by kissing a baffled Whitford on-set.)
· Little-known Washington connection: The Brooklyn-to-the-bone guy was born in Bethesda and spent his first three months of life in Falls Church (his dad was in the Navy).
· Situation he'd like to set straight: No matter what those &;%$! scriptwriters make him say, Toby would never, ever have been the one to leak classified information about the space shuttle (See: Season 7). Says Schiff: "I don't think that Toby would betray the man he respects and loves most in the world," President Bartlet.
· Coolest show-related perk: The day he received an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, City College of New York, and former president Bill Clinton (also an honoree) joined him for the stroll to the graduation site, with tens of thousands of screaming fans lining the streets in Harlem.
· Coolest show-related perk II: The day he got to play basketball on the street in front of the White House with then-Wizard Juwan Howard.
· Dirty little secret: So maybe Toby didn't really hook up like Josh-and-Donna or C.J.-and--Danny or even Will-and-Kate. But the "WW" men are agog over Schiff's real love life: His wife, actress Sheila Kelley (once on "L.A. Law" with Smits), is known for holding in-home pole-dancing workouts. Hey, what better way to lose that post-pregnancy fat than do a striptease? "I think he was greatly admired for that," Malina says.
· Dirty little secret: When Whitford was not on the set, Malina would sneak into his trailer and steal stuff. Seriously. Like stationery for future embarrassing pranks. "I thought it would come in handy someday," Malina says. It did (See: Moloney, Janel).
· Career history: He admits he owes his career to "West Wing" creator Aaron Sorkin, who has cast him in just about everything he's written, including "Sports Night," Malina's breakthrough sitcom. Says Malina: "I clearly have some sort of pact with the devil . . . um, or pact with Aaron."
· On-set reputation: Famous for grade school practical jokes, like ripping out the last four pages of whatever book Whitford happens to be reading.
· Best practical joke he pulled: Stealing producer-writer Alex Graves's iPod, deleting 4,000 songs and resetting it to Mandarin Chinese. "Once your iPod is functioning in Mandarin Chinese, it's pretty hard to set it back," Malina says with relish.
· Thing he really, really wants to say back to Whitford: "I'll cop to being the most annoying person on the set and I'd like to say that I, personally, find Brad to be the most inspirational. He's a shining example that despite poor looks, advanced age and lack of talent, you can still make it as an actor."
· Most curious comment about a colleague: "What? Alan actually said that?" Smits says, laughing, when told Alda actually thought Vinick was going to win. "I find that very funny. Okay, whatever."
· On Santos vs. "Commander in Chief" President Mackenzie Allen: "At least we'd be able to see eye to eye." (Smits is 6-3; Geena Davis is 6-0, but she's got those three-inch pumps.)
· Real-life Washington politicos who most influenced his character: "The whole thing about charm and being able to work a room and making a person feel like you're one-on-one with the person of power? That was my experiences of being with the Clintons."
· About those Valentine flowers (See: Moloney, Janel): Call Smits a sap, but he thought Whitford was being genuine, albeit a little "intimate." He wasn't clued in for nine months. "I think that's what really got me hot under the collar," Smits says. "We're all working together and it takes nine months to admit it? But they were great flowers."
· Dirty little secret: Sorry, Jimmy, but apparently your beloved cast mates left you in the dark in more ways than one. "Wait, there was a bar in Allison's trailer?" Smits says. "I never knew that!"
· Biggest disappointment: "Right up until the end, I was so involved with the character that I really wanted the character to win. When I was watching it on television, right up until the last scene, I thought I had a chance."
· His explanation for the loss: The death of actor John Spencer, longtime "West Wing" character (and Democratic vice presidential candidate) Leo McGarry, of a heart attack during the final season. "They had decided that my character should win," Alda insists (for a competing viewpoint, see: Smits, Jimmy). "Then they changed their mind when John Spencer died."
· On what kind of president he thinks winner Matt Santos would make: "Fortunately or unfortunately, the television presidents have to leave when the audience turns them off. There's like a giant difference there. He's going to have a very short term."
· On working with Ron Silver (political strategist Bruno Gianelli), an outspoken Republican: "He's a very funny and smart guy. He has these new ideas that hit him probably because of a virus."
· The final word on the Alda-Smits presidential dispute: They're both rewriting history. Smits didn't have it in the bag, and it was never decided that Alda would win. But, yes, the death of John Spencer sealed it for the Democrats. "Let's just say they were two very competitive people who both seriously thought they should win," Wells says.
· Real-life Washington politico he couldn't get rid of: Ted Stevens. Many politicians liked to write the show and compliment or correct it. But no one could keep up with the distinguished Republican senator from Alaska, who became something of a pen pal. "I was complimented that he was watching the show," Wells says, "but I got a lot of corrective letters from his office, telling us why there really should be this bridge in Alaska and so forth."
· Funniest Martin Sheen anecdote: When Wells and Sorkin met with Sheen to talk him into doing the show, Sheen acknowledged that he knew and liked Sorkin from their work together on the 1995 film "The American President" -- but said he was skeptical of Wells because he didn't know anything about him. Wells's reply: "Well, we just wrapped a movie together" ("Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story").
· On the drinking in Allison Janney's trailer: Cue "stern" voice: "As an executive, I have to say that drinking in the workplace is frowned upon by everyone at Warner Brothers and John Wells Productions."
From the Washington Post:
"Allison Janney caught a glimpse of politics-meets-Hollywood when she appeared in "Primary Colors," the 1998 satiric story of a Clintonesque presidential campaigner.
"When it came out, the [Monica] Lewinsky scandal broke," she said. "That's probably why it didn't really go anywhere. But I got 'The West Wing' because of that movie."
Janney, 45, spent seven seasons as C.J. Cregg, press secretary and chief of staff for the Bartlet White House, through wars, elections and personnel changes. Janney talked to TV Week recently from her Los Angeles home.
What was the most enjoyable thing about doing this show?
The fun, the opportunities came about in the beginning when most of us had come from theater or small parts in movies. It was exciting going to Washington and having the red carpet rolled out, to be invited to the correspondents' dinner and go to the Russian Embassy. It was all very heady.
The series underwent some changes . . .
It became a bit splintered and different after Aaron [Sorkin, the show's creator] left. But it was a great ensemble, and we still had fun together as actors and as friends.
John Spencer's death last December had to be tough, both on and off the set.
It was devastating. Brad [Whitford] called to tell me, and we were all in shock. John certainly had his health problems and we figured, at the least, he'd be in the hospital awhile. But it was so unexpected, you don't know where to put it in your mind. He is irreplaceable and was such an essential part of the group for seven years [playing Leo McGarry, chief of staff and vice presidential candidate]. Doing the shows about Leo's death, that was reliving the grief over and over.
Talk a little about C.J. and all she went through over the years.
Oh, C.J.'s romances! She was so busy working she couldn't make anything happen in that department, because of how much she gave to her job. It was all about that relationship with her work, and that kind of explains everything.
In fleshing out your character, did you talk to any of the others who have had that job in the White House?
We had conversations with Dee Dee [Myers, President Clinton's first press secretary] and it was nice to hear her take on it, but I wanted to make the character my own. And certainly C.J. has inspired a lot of women, from what people have said to me, and things like that are the icing on this job. I have always had an affinity for women who are strong and capable and can hold their own against anybody. It's the very opposite of the way I am in real life. I want to be like them. And I will miss getting to step into her shoes.
What will you do for fun?
Right now I'm looking forward to reading books -- I got a big stack of them the other day, a lot of guilty-pleasure reading -- and visiting my family. I'm not big for travel. I love to have people over. My fiance [actor Richard Jenik] and I love our rescued dog, Chauncy; he's the best dog on the planet. Part retriever, part Great Dane. He's 130 pounds, and we created a thing in the back yard for him to play and run around, so we have friends over and have fun out there.
Other "West Wing" memories?
Monica Lewinsky rowed me around in a canoe. This was way back when we first started, the end of the first season. Camryn Manheim had a party in Venice, and there I was in a canoe, and Monica and Camryn paddled me around this canal in Venice.
What did you and Monica talk about?
We talked about her handbag line and about everything except the white elephant in the room. And I had lunch with Linda Tripp. We were filming out in Virginia and we all were having lunch . . . and she sat there at another table, engaging us in conversation. So "The West Wing" really brought me to meet people I otherwise would not have met. I can't imagine ever regretting the ride."
From the Washington Post:
"C.J., Josh, Toby, Sam -- the men and women of TV's "West Wing" arrived in 1999, and Washington greeted them like rock stars. We tried to elbow into their entourage; we yearned to get inside their faux-D.C. bubble. We even managed to make it a bipartisan event.
Rep. Tom DeLay crowed about plans to add a House majority whip to the cast. Madeleine Albright made a late-night visit to a taping in Georgetown. Alan Greenspan professed his addiction to the program. And Mayor Anthony Williams managed to get his name linked to "The West Wing" by announcing that the show had "pumped $2.6 million into the local economy" in its first season.
Even the First Fan (then-President Bill Clinton) was compelled to summon series creator Aaron Sorkin to the White House.
Why such reactions? Because they made us look good. They made us feel incandescent instead of battery-operated. Theirs was a Washington where power brokers were deliciously Machiavellian instead of merely malevolent. Watching the show was like looking into the Reflecting Pool -- only the reflection seemed more luminous.
And when the actors came to visit (only a few times per season, alas), we hoped some of that star power would rub off.
The glow, though, has dimmed -- actually, it had been fading for a while. Clinton left office and, as show stalwart Allison Janney puts it: "I have a feeling President Bush has never seen 'The West Wing.' " After 9/11, there was a distinct dialing-down of the humor, the pratfalls, the quirky repartee, because it just no longer seemed right . The ratings sagged. President Bartlet -- and the show itself -- became a lame duck.
The red carpet grew so threadbare that at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner last month, not one "West Wing" star was in attendance.
Now the political party's over-- after seven seasons, the series finale airs tonight at 8 on NBC. Still, we couldn't let it go without a last attempt to slip inside that world, that fantasy Washington. Fortunately, some of the show's power players are now willing to tell (almost) all, before the "West Wing" motorcade pulls away one last time.
"As you might guess," says writer-producer John Wells, who ran the show after Sorkin left, "we laughed a lot.""
Hollywood Reporter Cast Interviews:
In Character: Josiah "Jed" Bartlet
Sheen almost certainly is the only "West Wing" castmate whose next role will be as a student -- and a real one at that. At age 65, he'll be a collegiate man for the first time, enrolling this fall at the National University of Ireland, Galway, taking English literature, philosophy and oceanography courses. It's hardly the typical thing to do for a veteran performer coming off a seven-year stint playing the president of the U.S. But Sheen has little left to prove in his chosen craft and presumably has enough money socked away thanks to a job that has paid him upward of $300,000 per episode.
"Trust me, we had no idea when we started out that we'd be around this long," Sheen says. "We just didn't know if you could sell cars and insurance in primetime by projecting images and politics and issues. We were a show that had no fistfights or car chases, no bullets, no explosions. And we were confined mostly indoors with a lot of dialogue. But -- surprise! -- we pulled it off."
Timing surely helped, Sheen agrees, as the show premiered at the tail-end of the Clinton administration. "I think that gave us more freedom to project a vision of what we might hope for in our leaders and public servants," he believes. "We got to explore an awful lot of socially relevant issues, and you don't get to do that in TV terribly often. So all that I'm feeling right now is tremendous gratitude to have been able to play with this kind of team."
In Character: Abbey Bartlet
Channing remembers the first time she came into contact with "West Wing." Not yet hired for the show, she was watching the pilot episode in a hotel room and thought the show was "fabulous." Getting the call three weeks later to be on the series was a no-brainer. So, while the actress only was a recurring player during the drama's first two seasons, she finally would become a regular in Season 3.
"It may be a crappy thing to say, but I never thought the show would last," Channing admits. "I figured it was just too good. But it just goes to prove you should never underestimate or talk down to an audience. The production values on this show consistently remained so extraordinarily high that we all used to kind of marvel at it even as we were shooting it."
Most recently, Channing has been working in London as one of the recurring players in a production of Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen's "The Exonerated" and has shuttled back to Los Angeles for the finale. And while she'll be busy in the future, it's not the same as having a steady role on a long-running quality drama. "Even though we were expensive, we really earned our keep," she believes. "With economics in this business the way they are, it's going to be tough ever to achieve what we were able to achieve again."
In Character: Claudia Jean "C.J." Cregg
No member of the "West Wing" cast -- and few series actors, period -- have been honored as regularly and resoundingly as has Janney. As Press Secretary-turned-White House Chief of Staff C.J. Cregg, she has been nominated for Primetime Emmys in five of the show's six seasons and has won four -- twice as lead dramatic actress and twice for supporting. Janney isn't shy about saying it: This show has been an utter revelation for her.
"This role, this show, will always be something I consider one of my proudest achievements," Janney says. "I had never won anything as an actress before this. To get the recognition has been incredibly overwhelming. But the true reward is to have been part of such a magical collection of writers and actors and directors."
Although Janney will be heard -- if not seen -- in a film that opens next Friday, Paramount and DreamWorks Animation's animated release "Over the Hedge," in which she supplies one of the voices, she admits, "Now, I'll have to go out and look for a steady job again. But the truth is, I'm kind of tired, and I have a home, a relationship and a dog to help me recharge my batteries before I find out what's next."
In Character: Josh Lyman
It's easy to tell from chatting with Whitford that his emotions are running all over the map as "West Wing" ends.
"Everybody is very sad," says Whitford, who portrayed Deputy White House Chief of Staff-turned-presidential campaign manager Josh Lyman during all seven seasons. "It's so hard to unglue all of these years of intimacy. But you know, this show is too special to stretch the taffy too thin. It's time. That became clear after John (Spencer) passed away (last year). We all felt strongly that we didn't want to go on without John."
Whitford, a political animal in his personal life as well, emerges from this "greatest creative experience" he has ever had with a particular sense of pride about two things. One is his belief that the writers, producers, cast and crew never got to the point where they were simply going through the motions and mailing it in. The second is Whitford's contention that they all did some of their finest work during the difficult transition following the departure of executive producers Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme after Season 4.
"The expectation was that we always had to care a lot to make this show work," says Whitford, who has a role in the Sorkin-Schlamme pilot for NBC, "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip." "That level of dedication never fell off, from what I saw. Our reward is to be able to go out on our own terms.
In Character: Toby Ziegler
Until signing on to play White House Communications Director Toby Ziegler in 1999, Schiff had carved himself a nice little niche as a steadily employed stage thespian and film and TV character actor. But that part of his career life has been hindered by dint of his working as a regular on such a demanding series throughout its seven-year run.
"Not that I'm complaining," Schiff points out.
"For the most part, I've loved working with this cast. It's a great ensemble. I got to direct a few times. I won an Emmy. When you spend more waking hours with a group of people than you do your loved ones, they really do become your surrogate family. We'd be together 15-18 hours a day sometimes. It helps that I love all of those with whom I shared the trenches."
Yet, as much as he is grateful for the high-profile job and the doors the show has opened in terms of people wanting to work with him, Schiff is just fine with moving on.
"The truth is that I wanted to leave earlier," he says. "I'd been doing fine in the movies when 'West Wing' came along. A job this time-consuming obviously limits you greatly, though I was able to do (2004's) 'Ray' and (2002's) 'I Am Sam' during hiatus. I loved this. But seven years is a long time in a person's life. I'm ready to get back into warrior mode and relearn how to hunt.
In Character: Arnold Vinick
As if "West Wing" already didn't enjoy enough cachet as television's most-honored series, it earned an extra boost when it signed Alda in 2004 for his first regular TV role since "M*A*S*H" left the air in 1983.
"I never really thought about it in terms of going back to TV," Alda says. "The material I got to do on 'West Wing' was as good as anything I've done in film. The actors, the directors, the writing, the production values -- they're all first rate. And it was fun coming onto a moving train. We made the same thing on 'M*A*S*H,' adding people, replacing people. It always gave us a shot in the arm."
Is this the right time for the show to leave the air? Alda figures that it is, arguing that "everybody wants to go out before they run out of steam. And I think we still have plenty. There's almost no end to the stories you can tell about the White House." But that doesn't mean he won't miss it. "I got to work with such sensational people. It was an honor. But, you know, weekly TV takes a lot out of you. My plan now is to sleep for three months."
In Character: Matthew Santos
Although he was a part of the "West Wing" cast only for the past two seasons in the memorable role of Congressman (and President-elect) Matthew Santos, Smits boasts a claim to fame that might just be unprecedented. He has been a regular on three different primetime hours -- "L.A. Law," "NYPD Blue" and now "West Wing" -- that have won Emmys for outstanding drama series.
"Well, that's just luck, pure and simple," Smits says. "They didn't need me. They had a deep bench. But I'm proud to have been able to contribute."
It piqued Smits' interest to work on a show in which he would have a chance to run a presidential campaign, and he believes it "really upped my game as an actor."
And now, it's time to say goodbye, which Smits is none too pleased about. "I'm not sure what it says about the TV landscape when a topical show that hasn't lost its luster at all is forced to drift away. But I'm glad we're ending on a high note. This show surely deserves it.""
From the Hollywood Reporter:
"When NBC's "The West Wing" ends its two presidential terms with Sunday's series finale, it won't be just another show putting out the "closed" sign. Throughout its 156 episodes, "West Wing" has held office during one of real-life America's more contentious and controversial periods -- and attempted to mirror parts of that reality back to its viewing audience -- while stepping through another kind of minefield: the politics of television.
Until "West Wing" surfaced in 1999, no series in the history of scripted TV entertainment had really made a go of telling an inside-the-White-House story. The president was merely a gray, shapeless figure onto whom dialogue beyond the most basic of orders was rarely projected; his staff seemed almost impossible to imagine as flawed, striving human beings. But the Warner Bros. Television-produced hour has proved through the years that it is possible to be artful and innovative with a subject as dry as politics -- while reinventing the ensemble drama in the process.
Creator, executive producer and -- for many of the show's episodes -- writer Aaron Sorkin already had enjoyed success with his humanistic approach to the Oval Office in his screenplay for 1995's "The American President." Plus, developing the concept for the small screen would give him a place for all of his unused plot elements.
"Television tends to cling to the artificial rules of drama, if only because the real rules of drama are much harder to master," he asserts. "Twenty-five years ago, you couldn't do a show about a divorced person, a Jewish person or someone from New York. But those unwritten rules are made to be broken."
Breaking them is what Sorkin did, crafting an inside-baseball look at those who fight the good fight in the nation's highest office. Assisting him were Thomas Schlamme, his fellow executive producer and primary director, and a talented cast headed up by veteran leads Martin Sheen (as President Josiah Bartlet), Stockard Channing (first lady Abbey Bartlet) and Rob Lowe (Deputy Communications Director Sam Seaborn). Immediately, the show shot into the ratings top 20 during its first season, remaining in the top 5 thereafter as a Wednesday night network anchor.
In 2003, the series managed to weather the disruptive and controversial exodus of Sorkin and Schlamme, which forced a midstream emphasis shift in the series from Sorkin's snappy dialogue and sharp banter to executive producer John Wells' more story-focused approach. Wells, who had previously demonstrated his writer-producer chops on the late-1980s drama series "China Beach" and NBC's current hit "ER," made it his life's mission not to drop the ball (or at least, not fumble it too badly).
"My real difficulty was trying to live up to the standards Aaron set for writing the show," Wells acknowledges. "He's one of our greatest living writers -- you don't just easily step into those shoes. I have to believe we've done pretty well under the circumstances. While I don't think we've done as well as Aaron did, at least we got to the runway without crashing the plane."
With any change that major, turbulence was expected -- and having the network move the show to Sunday night in 2005-06, which resulted in a drastic ratings drop, didn't help matters. But then again, the plane was never expected to get airborne in the first place. In 1999, a show about politics was a hard sell in a market that knew ratings could only be squeezed from cops, doctors, detectives or lawyers. But Sorkin didn't want to play it safe, and the larger story of "West Wing" is about revitalizing the serial ensemble drama. The series' seasonlong story arcs and its large and vibrant cast of appealing characters ultimately would allow the pendulum to swing back from procedurals and allow programs such as ABC's "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives" to flourish.
Also notable in "West Wing's" style: the "walk and talk" device (pioneered by Schlamme), which continuously tracked in front of characters over long sequences as they strode down hallways and from room to room. It was a stylistic conceit borne out of Schlamme's refusal to allow scene cuts that relocated characters without explanation of how they got there.
"You almost never see how anyone travels from point A to point C (on most TV shows)," he says. "I wanted the audience to witness every journey these people took. It all had a purpose, even seeing them order lunch. It just seemed to be the proper visual rhythm with which to marry Aaron's words. I got lucky that it worked."
Luck, Schlamme adds, has been a proven factor in creating the "West Wing" phenomenon. "Shows that work are like needles in haystacks," he reasons. "If one ingredient goes wrong, it can transform a really great show into a good or even mediocre one. Something in the zeitgeist has to come together for you."
And luck aside, there also was Sorkin and his mighty pen. Prolific in an almost superhuman way, he wrote nearly every episode during the show's first four Emmy-winning seasons (87 scripts in all), crafting an unabashedly idealized depiction of a virtuous Democratic administration that inspired some to dismiss the show as "The Left Wing."
"I wanted the show to define patriotism as something other than a bumper sticker," Sorkin recalls. "I also wanted to give a little sex appeal to the idea of trying to do the right thing. We were used to our leaders being portrayed in popular culture as either Machiavellian or complete dolts. It was nice, I think, to see them once a week as extremely capable, hard-working, dedicated public servants who thought about the country before they thought about themselves. And they were funny. In its own way, it was very romantic."
Critics were nearly unanimous in their praise, despite a perception that "West Wing" carried an agenda that peered at the Clinton administration through a revisionist lens. The charge didn't diminish the notion that the show possessed the ambition, as well as the savvy, to turn political issues into compelling mainstream entertainment.
"It was pretty clear to us from the start that this show was going to be something unbelievably special," WBTV president Peter Roth recalls. "It has represented television at its absolute best: aspirational, educational, provocative, hugely entertaining and stimulating all at once. Reading one of the scripts for us here at the company was really like eating candy. A lot of shows have one or two elements nailed, but 'West Wing' had everything: great writing, brilliant story-telling, fascinating characters, superb acting."
But "West Wing" never promised anybody a rose garden: The show weathered salary holdouts among its regular players and the departure of original cast member Lowe in a financial dispute after Season 3. (He returned this campaign to reprise his role in several episodes.) And that, coupled with the creative exodus of Sorkin and Schlamme, made many believe the series would not survive.
Wells, however, has continued to keep the show interesting. He admits that this has been "the most challenging thing I've ever tried to do in my professional life," but the Wells era on "West Wing" has not been without its highlights -- in particular, this season's presidential election story line and November's much-praised live debate episode featuring candidates Jimmy Smits (as Congressman Matthew Santos) and Alda (Sen. Arnold Vinick).
Hanging over the show during the past five months, however, has been the death in December of the beloved John Spencer, who so memorably portrayed Chief of Staff Leo McGarry. McGarry had served as Santos' running mate, and Spencer's passing (mirrored in the story line by McGarry's) spurred a plot change that found Santos winning the election rather than Vinick, which had been the original plan. The writers decided it would have been too tough on viewers for them to swallow not only the bitter pill of McGarry's death but a loss as well.
For NBC Entertainment chief Kevin Reilly's money, the work of everyone on "West Wing" this year has been "as fine as anything the show has done and as good as television gets. I'm so proud to have had this series on NBC because it honestly never checked its ambition at the door. It obliterated all of the beliefs about doing political drama -- that it's too complex, it's too dry, it's too inside, it's too talky. And it was also a great piece of wish fulfillment for the best of what our government can do and be. When the show was on my watch, John Wells kept the flow going and the quality high in such an impressive way."
As "West Wing" prepares to take its final bow Sunday, Wells appreciates that praise. While he is reluctant to take too much credit for his contribution to the show's legacy, he will allow that "the fans of the show are still enjoying it, and I think we've managed to live up to the basic premise that Aaron and Tommy originally laid down."
It has long been commonly acknowledged among cast and crew that "West Wing" might likely be the best thing they'll ever be professionally associated with -- a sobering yet comforting idea. At a second season staff meeting, Bradley Whitford (who plays Deputy White House Chief of Staff Josh Lyman) noted, "Guys, no matter what we do for the rest of our careers, this show is the first line of our obituaries."
Today, Sorkin is perfectly comfortable with that idea: "I'd be very proud -- though also dead -- if that turns out to be true," he quips.
And like Sorkin, Wells also is comfortable with that concept. "We'll all remember and cherish this as a high point in our careers for the rest of our lives," he says. "When you start out in this business, you're never thinking about doing something that leaves a lasting imprint. You just want to be able to work, period. So, to be part of a 'West Wing' isn't just the cherry atop the career sundae. It's the whole sundae.""
The BBC features a video news report with short comments by Bradley Whitford and Richard Schiff.
NPR's Fresh Air featured a retrospective on the show by TV critic David Bianculli, which included old interviews with cast members.
NPR's Day to Day interviewed John Wells, who discussed his favorite episodes.
In Entertainment Weekly, Aaron Sorkin talks about how the show began:
"'The idea for The West Wing happened very much by accident. It never occurred to me to try to write a TV show. I had nothing against it — I just didn't know anything about it. I watched as much TV as anybody else, but I just didn't know anything about the world of making TV shows. My agent nonetheless wanted me to meet with John Wells, which I was happy to do because John was an important producer who had done ER and China Beach.
''The night before this meeting with John, some friends came to my house for dinner, including Akiva Goldsmith, who won an Oscar for directing A Beautiful Mind. I happened to mention I was having the meeting the next day with Wells, but said we were just having lunch to talk; I wasn't thinking about TV. At some point Akiva and I wandered into a little office I had, and the poster for The American President [which Sorkin wrote] was up on the wall. And he said, 'You know what would make an interesting TV series? That. Forget about the romance between the president and the lobbyist, and just sort of write it about the senior staffers.' I said, 'Akiva, that's a good idea, but I'm not doing a TV show. I'm just having this lunch with John.'
''So I showed up to the lunch the next day and I clearly misunderstood what the lunch was supposed to be about, because I walked into the restaurant and saw that it was John, three guys from CAA, and people from Warner Bros. who were expecting me to pitch an idea. Rather than say, 'Um, you know, I think there has been a misunderstanding' and say I didn't have any ideas to pitch, I said, 'I want to do a TV show about senior staffers at the White House.'
''There weren't a lot of questions because I was kind of spitballing, making it up as I went along. I didn't have a pitch prepared. What I did have was some tiny moments and little shards of stories I had to cut from the screenplay of The American President, or little stories I heard at the White House while researching the movie. Warner Bros. didn't ask for much in terms of 'Will it be this or that' — they just let me go away and write, which is always a really nice thing to do. Most of my time spent writing something is spent walking around the room not writing. Once I have an idea to start, it will start going very fast. The typing of the script I probably did in about five days, but there were a couple of months of not writing it, and just being scared of it. I beat Akiva up. I couldn't believe what he got me into.
''[Director and fellow executive producer] Tommy Schlamme was able to recognize right away that what I write, nothing is blowing up. Basically what I write are people in a room talking — but we are doing this in a visual medium. Tommy brought in the more talked-about visual elements of the show, like Steadicams and the walk-and-talks, which some people call pedi-conferencing. Tommy put a lot of glass on the set. In real life, the Roosevelt room doesn't have glass in the doors; it's a room with walls. But Tommy put it in glass right in middle of things, across from the communications bullpen where Toby and Sam worked, which is also enclosed in glass, so you can have a scene going on in Leo McGarry's office, and if the door is open, Tommy's camera can see out in the corridor, out into the Roosevelt room, across to the other corridor into bullpen, where all this kind of life is going on, while Leo and Josh are talking about soybean exports. It gave the show an extremely exciting look despite the fact that nobody was shooting at anybody.
''I didn't allow myself to think it would have the kind of success that it enjoyed over the last seven years, critically and publicly. I think the thoughts going through my head were the thoughts that always go through the head, which is I try to write something that I like that I think my friends are going to like, and then I cross my fingers and hope enough other people were going to like it so I'll earn a living from it. And I don't think that far beyond that.
''I remember at the first Television Critics Association press conference — and at this point critics had seen the pilot — I was getting questions like, 'Do you think this is too smart for network TV?' I'm not capable of writing something that is too smart for other people to understand. I felt like these were fun stories. I didn't have a political agenda, it wasn't meant to be angry in any way, and I didn't ever think of it as political. I thought of it as a workplace drama in an extremely exciting and interesting workplace. There was glamour — this was a place you could tell a lot of different stories.
''For thousands of years, people have been writing stories about kings and their palaces. Let's just do one that is our modern-day equivalent. Finally, the thing that appealed to me was that in popular culture, by and large, our leaders are portrayed as Machiavellian or dolts. I like to write idealistically and romantically. I thought, Let's write about government leaders who are extremely capable, who are trying to do the right thing but who fail sometimes. People who are flawed, but whose hearts are always in the right place. And let's make them all funny.
''As a matter of course, they don't tell you you are picked up until 24, maybe 48 hours before the upfront presentation [where the networks unveil their fall schedules to advertisers] in New York City in May. When I heard that West Wing got a pickup, there was no question that 99.9 percent of me was jumping for joy, but that one-tenth of 1 percent was saying, 'I have no ideas for episode 2 and I have to write another one now. This is going to be a catastrophe.'
''I remember the first time we screened it for the cast — there was a feeling of, 'Well, we did a great pilot, but we're not going to be able to do this every week. What will become of the show now?' There was a sense of pride that a great pilot had been made, but isn't it a shame that now it's going to turn into a bad TV show. And yet these guys all came back every week determined to make every episode as good as our best episode. And they kept it up for seven years.''"
From the Palm Beach Post:
"It didn't rely on sex or car chases or alien invasions. There were no lurid, ripped-from-the-headlines murders to solve. The characters were super intelligent Rhodes scholars who waxed poetically about such boring political topics as the use of corn-derived ethanol as fuel.
Despite those obstacles, The West Wing became an instant hit when it debuted in 1999 and immediately proved that millions of viewers would watch and actually enjoy a smart political drama that moved at the speed of light and forced you to pay attention.
The West Wing, which ends its seven-year term Sunday (8 p.m., WPTV-Channel 5), wasn't your typical workplace drama. The hyper-verbal White House staffers spoke at warp speed while almost walking just as fast. And thanks to creator Aaron Sorkin, the characters didn't recite dialogue, but Shakespearean soliloquies.
From the beginning, it was clear The West Wing wasn't the kind of show you could watch and, say, do the dishes at the same time. But viewers didn't mind. Almost 17 million watched the pilot, which won three Emmys. (The show won 25 overall.) The series averaged almost 19 million viewers during its glory days from 2001-02 and nabbed four consecutive Best Drama Emmys — an impressive feat only duplicated by Hill Street Blues and L.A. Law.
The West Wing resonated for a reason. The series painted an idealized, almost Fantasy Island portrait of the inner workings of the federal government — the kind of fair-minded government and dedication to public service we all like to think we have, but know we always don't.
When The West Wing premiered, then-President Clinton was mired in Monicagate. Threats of impeachment for lying swirled around him like a gang of sting-happy bees. Voters were losing confidence in their political leaders. So it was refreshing to turn on the TV to see an idealistic president in Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen) who loved his wife and always wanted to do the right thing politically. It didn't really matter if you were a Republican or Democrat.
Like all long-running shows, however, The West Wing hit several creative bumps along the way. Sorkin's departure in 2003 dealt the series a devastating blow. Sorkin, after all, was the show's singular voice. He wrote practically every script and rewrote those he didn't. ER vet John Wells took over and proceeded to dumb down the series to the dismay of the show's loyal fans.
"We had a lot of odd internal transitions going on," Alex Graves, one of the show's executive producers, told me at the time. "Aaron leaving was hard because everybody loved Aaron. It was hard to keep making the show with John."
Sadly, The West Wing finally had become the show NBC originally feared viewers thought it would be — a tedious civics lesson. It was like watching C-SPAN for an hour. No wonder ratings started sliding. I started taping The West Wing and watching it whenever.
But then a magical thing happened. The West Wing enjoyed a creative renaissance. Once the show began phasing out the Bartlet administration and started focusing on the compelling presidential race between Republican Sen. Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda) and idealistic Texas Congressman Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits), The West Wing felt like a brand-new series.
In a way, it was.
"The shake-up and all of the changes were really refreshing for everyone on the show and allowed us to do things we hadn't done before," Graves said. "We were bored with ourselves."
But The West Wing is no longer boring. While most shows limp to the finish line, The West Wing is sprinting to it like a seasoned champion. Although the show's ratings are lackluster (it only averages 8 million viewers), the series has been one of TV's best the last year.
It was nice to see Josh (Bradley Whitford) and Donna (Janel Moloney) finally hook up after years of endless flirting and knowing glances. C.J. (Allison Janney) will also try her hand at a real relationship for the first time with White House reporter Danny (Timothy Busfield).
For seven years, The West Wing gave us an often interesting peek inside the Oval Office. It was a smart series for smart people. But nothing lasts forever — in life or on television. Presidents come and go, as do TV shows.
Despite some up-and-down seasons, The West Wing leaves a proud legacy. And it's a legacy that will be remembered for a long time."
From BBC News:
"After seven long years, through overseas crises in the Middle East, rising tensions with China and interesting romantic dalliances, The West Wing is ending its critically acclaimed - although recently low-rated - run in the United States.
The show's demise will surely bring tears to the eyes of liberals who sought refuge from the current occupant of the real White House by watching the romantic portrayal of Democratic president Josiah Bartlet.
Played by real-life Democrat supporter Martin Sheen, he gave liberals a parallel universe they would have far preferred.
Many of the cast make no apologies for the show's left-wing tilt - partly because they're Democrat supporters in real life.
Bradley Whitford, who plays the politically savvy Josh Lyman, says: "Does anybody want to watch a television show where the music swells at the end and we jump up and down and go, 'We're drilling on protected land', 'We got a tax cut for the rich people'? It wouldn't work."
In truth, the series took advice from both sides of the political divide in trying to make it as real as possible, and it has appealed to a much wider audience than just downcast Democrats.
But was there any concern as to what the current occupant of the real White House thought about the portrayal of his party?
That remains a mystery, says Richard Schiff, who plays former communications director Toby Ziegler.
"We met the support staff of the Bush administration very early on in their takeover and then we had tea at the White House with the staff.
"The president was walking with his wife and his dog on the lawn and didn't come over to say 'Hi'. I don't think he watches it.
The notion that The West Wing somehow transformed the American political landscape is of course as far-fetched as some of the drama's plot lines.
It was President Bush, the anti-Jed Bartlet, who came to power during the show's early heyday.
And even Sheen, never afraid to make his own opinion known, could not help his friend Howard Dean win the presidency in 2004.
Sadly for Democrats, their fairy-tale ending only came true in Hollywood.
Then again, even with the recent ratings dip which contributed to its ultimate demise, The West Wing still drew millions of viewers weekly.
And Joe Lockhart, a White House spokesman for former President Bill Clinton, thinks it may have had an even greater impact.
"If this show could make people want to get involved in government, that's great for government, and I think it actually did.
"I think there's more enthusiasm now for working in government and getting into public service and - ratings aside, awards aside - that's a service that this show provided."
To quote President Bartlet, the show may have contributed to a new generation of Americans aiming to serve in government to "ensure that the promise of this country is the birthright of all the people".
The West Wing ends in the US on Sunday with the inauguration of a new president."
From the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
"Even in this heady company, "The West Wing" stood head and shoulders above the rest. It was smart. It was provocative. And it moved at a breathless pace through the corridors of power and political intrigue.
Many wondered at the time how it could keep going at that pace. Well, it couldn't. "The West Wing," truth be told, hasn't been at the top of its game for the last three seasons.
Like many presidential administrations, it began with an era of warm, hopeful feelings. It began with a sense of purpose, energy and optimism.
Still, even if "The West Wing" never quite regained its top form, it also never completely lost its sense of purpose and optimism. And, wonderfully enough, it experienced a renaissance of sorts in this final season, which ends with the episode airing at 8 tonight on WKYC Channel 3.
There has been a late surge of excellence from this White House drama about President Josiah Bartlet (Dayton native Martin Sheen) and his Oval Office team. There were some silly turns and clumsy missteps, to be sure, yet "The West Wing" recaptured much of the old magic in the Santos-vs.-Vinick campaign to decide Bartlet's successor.
So having steadily declined in the ratings over the last few seasons, the once-mighty drama leaves the prime-time scene bloodied but unbowed. It ends tonight with Santos (Jimmy Smits), having asked Vinick (Alan Alda) to be his secretary of state, being sworn in as president.
Bartlet's presidency is officially over, and we are the poorer for it.
"We all felt going in that we had something very special," Sheen said. "The only real doubt we had was whether or not it would work on network television. It was a political show. There were no car chases or special effects. The action was in the word."
"The series has celebrated, from the beginning, the remarkable strength of American democracy," executive producer John Wells said. "And one of the things that's most dramatic about American democracy is the peaceful passing of power from one leader to another. We thought that was a really wonderful way to end the series."
It is the right decision. It is the wise decision. It is the kind of decision we expect from a show that has displayed as much dignity and intelligence as "The West Wing."
From the Post Gazette:
"As NBC's "The West Wing" (8 tonight, WPXI) ends its seven-year run today, policy wonks and fans of quality drama alike will bid the series goodbye.
At a January news conference, star Kristin Chenoweth recalled being quizzed by former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor about which candidate would win the show's recent election. Series regular Bradley Whitford recalled his own encounter with a Washington power broker.
"Alan Greenspan once said to me, with that face that is just trained not to express anything, he said that he was really upset that when our Fed chairman died, nobody cared," Whitford said. "It wasn't even the 'A' story."
Martin Sheen, who starred as President Jed Bartlet, said he was proud the series showed American viewers the hard work done by government employees.
"If the show had any effect on the country at all, I think it was a positive one for all public servants," Sheen said.
Executive producer John Wells, a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, agreed.
"Nobility doesn't make for good ink. ... It's not news," Wells said. "People I've met in both Democratic and Republican administrations are people I deeply admire. ... If we showed anybody that's what a lot of the people actually are in public service, then I think we did something good."
From the Sun Sentinel:
""If the show had any effect on the country at all," said Martin Sheen, who played beloved President Jed Bartlet, "I think it was a positive one for all public servants. I think if we achieved some level of grace to the country, it would have been that we made the average American appreciate the level of service that the three million government employees supply, that they are good and decent people, everyday people, who take their job seriously, who serve their country anonymously and they do it out of a sense of patriotism and service."
"We were a fantasy, there's no question," Sheen said. "We had a parallel universe to reality and it changed drastically when the Bush administration came in and then 9-11. The country moved much further away from the center," at least the politically active Sheen's center, which is far to the left. "We felt we were dead in the center and that we would give everyone a fair shot and be honest in what we did. We would reflect a kind of hope that this was possible and we should aspire to this always. We were like a novel and the real world was reality. But people were reading the novel and they were getting good ideas and kind of having a hope, faith and trust in their leadership."
"It's so infrequent in a series life that you actually have a chance to decide when it's going to end," said executive producer John Wells, who has been with The West Wing since the start. "That's usually decided for you. Oftentimes you've already finished shooting and everybody is gone. You just don't come back. We had the great luxury of actually deciding, `What's the best story to tell? What's the most compelling story we can think of that will serve the series and viewers best?'"
From the moment these discussions began, the inauguration of a new president was the front-runner. "This series has celebrated from the beginning the remarkable strength of American democracy," Wells said. "One of the things that's most dramatic is the peaceful passing of power from one leader to another. We thought that was really a wonderful way to end the series.""
From the Gannett News Service:
"When the first script for "The West Wing" arrived, people knew this was something special.
It flowed with big words and big subjects. It was intelligent and important. Chances are, no one would watch it.
"There were no car chases or fires or special effects," actor Martin Sheen recalls. "The action was in the word ... The only real doubt we had was whether or not it would work on network television."
For many years, it did. "The West Wing" departs today as an audience and financial success.
Critics raved and voters gave it four straight Emmys as best drama series. Ratings also surged.
"The West Wing" caught on after a slow start in 1999. In its second season, it tied for No. 11 in the annual Nielsen ratings; in its third, it reached its peak, No. 8.
"I don't think any of us thought for a moment it was going to do what it did," says actress Allison Janney.
Even when its audience declined, the show was a success. It had DVD sets and Bravo reruns; Nielsen said it had the wealthiest audience of any fictional TV show.
This show about a populist, Democratic administration had rich people watching. "We have a very, very large Republican audience that loves to kind of watch the show and throw things at the screen," says John Wells, the show's producer.
That includes key people from both parties, cast members say. Kristin Chenoweth recalls Sandra Day O'Connor (then a Supreme Court justice) and then Sen. Tom Daschle pumping her for information on who would win the show's election. Bradley Whitford has had lobbyists trying to get their issues mentioned.
Whitford also recalls a conversation with Alan Greenspan, retired head of the Federal Reserve Board. "He was really upset that when our Fed chairman died, nobody cared."
Chenoweth didn't reveal secrets, so O'Connor and Daschle learned at the same time as everyone else: Matthew Santos (Jimmy Smits) won. In the final episode, he'll take office and the Josiah Bartlet administration will depart."
From the Chicago Sun Times:
"Martin Sheen plans to be a loud political agitator again now that his presidential terms have expired on "The West Wing." He once got arrested for protesting the Star Wars missile-defense shield. But he toned down his activism after that so he could keep portraying President Bartlet on "The West Wing."
"I faced six months in jail if I lost at trial, so I plea-bargained and got three years probation and a heavy fine. And then the war in Iraq broke out in 2003, so I protested," he says. "But I was afraid of being arrested, because it would end my time on 'The West Wing,' and that was my first commitment."
His probation ended last fall. "The West Wing" ends tonight.
"So I'm now free to go back to the thing I love!"
Conservatives can breathe easier knowing Sheen will have less time to politic in America come fall, when he plans to attend the National University of Ireland in Galway. He's set to study English literature, philosophy, theology and oceanography.
t's not always right-wingers who wish celebrities wouldn't express themselves politically, as if First Amendment rights don't apply to famous citizens. It just seems as if naysayers are often Republicans who conveniently forget that the only recent actor-politicians have been in the GOP -- Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sonny Bono.
Even Bradley Whitford, who has played Josh Lyman on "The West Wing," understands the cringe factor when stars speak out -- he just doesn't it let it stop him.
"My heart sinks just instinctively when an actor starts yapping about politics," Whitford says, "and I was concerned about that. And then I thought, 'Well, you know, I want the oil executives to shut up, so we're even. The least-democratic thing you can do is to tell somebody else to shut up."
With the end of "The West Wing" -- a show so liberal Bill Clinton visited the set, and Al Gore appeared with the cast in a "Saturday Night Live" scene -- liberals can no longer take solace in knowing one of them is president somewhere in America, even if it is in a fantasy.
Also, maybe fewer people will ask Martin Sheen if he'll turn his role as President Bartlet into an actual run for office.
"There have been occasions where people have asked me if I was interested in public life," according to Sheen. "And I thought, 'My God, are we in that bad a shape?' "
Sheen realizes how hard it would be to politic and govern for any party. "I can't even imagine going through the real thing -- the campaign, the job itself, the demands, the time away from family and friends," Sheen says. "It is a real, deeply personal sacrifice, and it's very costly. It's not something we [actors] are trained for. You've gotta have some skills. You've gotta lead, and come from a place that's positive and inspire people."
He's been quite disappointed by today's most high-profile actor-politician, Schwarzenegger. Sheen, who volunteers for Homeboy Industries, which trains and employs gang members, was "crushed" when the Governator denied clemency for Stanley Tookie Williams, a Crips gang creator who claimed to be innocent of murder charges and who worked to dispel gangs.
"It would have just said something about our humanity," Sheen says, "if he had stood up as a governor of a huge and powerful state and said, 'You know what? I don't think killing another person is going to make us any better than we are.' ... That's the kind of leadership I look forward to."
I ask Sheen if he perceives political disappointments as coming from a lack of courage.
"It's basically a lack of heart," Sheen responds. "You have to be human -- this above all. You're serving other human beings. I think you have to be in touch with your own basic humanity. You have to be more fully human. And it has to cost you something. Otherwise, it's not worth anything."
Sheen doesn't believe actor-politicians so far have had the best intentions.
"I think their thing was where they could win, not what they could do," he says. Reagan's motivation, "for the most part, I don't think it really came from any core values about 'How can I best serve my country?' "
Another actor on TV has been portraying a president, though Geena Davis' "Commander in Chief" looks to be canceled on ABC. Sheen says he knew another West Wing show would be a tough sell. But he was thrilled the president was a woman -- even if was one more fantasyland.
"There are so many more-than-qualified, overqualified women for that office. And I hope we have that grace descend on us before long," Sheen says. "My God, Dostoevsky said that the world would be saved by beauty. I think he meant women. It's the women that always seem to pull us through. The women give life and sustain life and do most of the work on the planet and get very little compensation or credit."
That literary-philosophy bent could be the biggest knock against a Sheen candidacy right there. When was the last time you heard a politician quote a Russian existentialist?"
From the Press Register:
" On the set of "The West Wing," during the storied political drama's first acclaimed season on the NBC airwaves, the late John Spencer's inviting hospitality made Alabama-born actor Michael O'Neill feel welcome at once.
O'Neill, 54, is a Montgomery native, a graduate of Auburn University and a frequent player on prime-time television shows and in feature films. Since "The West Wing" debuted seven seasons ago, he has returned to the fictional White House again and again to reprise his role as Secret Service Agent Ron Butterfield.
He was there at the end, too, in early March -- shooting scenes in Washington, D.C., with star Martin Sheen and other cast members for the final episodes.
His final portrayal of Butterfield will be televised tonight, during the series finale showing at 7 p.m. on affiliate WPMI-TV15 and other NBC stations around the country.
The network will repeat the show's very first episode from 1999 at 6 p.m.
But Spencer, O'Neill's good friend, wasn't there in Washington for those final scenes.
Spencer, who played Chief of Staff Leo McGarry from the program's beginning, died Dec. 16 of a massive heart attack. Spencer's on-screen "West Wing" persona, who during the final season was running for vice president, died during the show's long-anticipated presidential election day late this season.
The last days of filming took the players to D.C. area locations including Cleveland Park, to Baltimore for McGarry's funeral and to the real White House.
"On our last D.C. day of filming the final episode of the series, Martin (Sheen) and I talked about how much we missed John," O'Neill said. "And I commented on how odd it seemed to be in Washington, in that place, on those marble stairs without him, and Martin said, 'Oh, he's here.' And he was."
Sheen has played President Jed Bartlet through the run of the series.
O'Neill's Secret Service character has played pivotal roles in episodes such as the ones involving an assassination attempt that was the first-season cliffhanger and the abduction of Bartlet's daughter later.
O'Neill and Spencer were colleagues before either actor worked on the same television series. O'Neill recalls doing a play with Spencer at the Yale Repertory Theatre, as well as a couple of movies in New York.
"He was my friend," said O'Neill. "My first day on 'The West Wing' back in season one, John took me by the hand and led me around to introduce me to the other cast members. (It was) his way of vouching for me. And, they, in turn, welcomed me with open arms."
The actor from Alabama, who has made his life and career on the West Coast, said Spencer and fellow "West Wing" castmate Bradley Whitford were the show's "unofficial ambassadors." He described Sheen as "the storyteller and authentic father."
Richard Schiff, he said, was "the fierce conscious" of the cast. Allison Janney? "Allison, well, Allison was amazing," he said.
"They knew every 'guest' actor comes in anxious and pressing, trying to raise his or her level of play to meet a cast that is already up and running and rich in shorthand," O'Neill said.
"The West Wing," created by acclaimed TV producer Aaron Sorkin and in later seasons under the stewardship of executive producer John Wells, has been credited with bringing to TV a political world in which public service is a noble cause. Emmy winner for best drama for four seasons, the show slipped in favor among many viewers and critics during its latter seasons, but O'Neill believes it has remained a class act.
He can't say enough good things about the cast.
O'Neill said, "They were, as a cast, not only immensely talented, but immensely gracious to their fellows. I will miss them all, their good humor, their thoughtfulness, their desire to raise the level of the discourse in this country, and their generosity. If it sounds as if I admire them, I do. They were a rare confluence of really fine actors and who turned out to be even better as people."
His work on "The West Wing" will remain a high point, however.
"It was hard to get through those last scenes," he said. "There was so much history in the air, and, of course, John's absence, though I suspect he was there. It's been a great ride, and I'll be forever grateful for it." "
From the San Jose Mercury News:
"On tonight's episode of ``The West Wing,'' there will be a change of government. The two-term administration of Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen) will come to an end; Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits) will be sworn in as the new president of the United States.
That, says executive producer John Wells, is how the White House drama should conclude and depart, after seven seasons.
``From the beginning, the series has celebrated the remarkable strength of American democracy, and one of the things that's most dramatic about American democracy is the peaceful passing of power from one leader to another,'' says Wells. ``We thought that was a really wonderful, totally appropriate way to end.''
In other words, the last installment (8 p.m., Chs. 8, 11) is one final fantasy in the politics-and-government-as-we'd-like-them-to-be world of ``The West Wing.''
When the series made its debut in the fall of 1999, few people thought it would work for more than a handful of episodes. ``We all felt going in that we had something very special,'' says Sheen. ``The only real doubt we had was whether or not it would work on network television. It was a political show. There were no car chases or fires or special effects. The action was in the words.''
But the show did work, with critics and, for much of its run, with viewers. At its high point, it was one of the most-watched and certainly most-discussed shows on television. It has been nominated for 89 Emmys, winning 24 including four straight (2000-2003) for best drama. It leaves the air with its place in TV history assured.
While the trappings of the show were an extremely accurate reflection of the real White House -- particularly in comparison with such ``West Wing'' pretenders as ``Commander in Chief'' -- much of the show's appeal came from its portrayal of flawed politicians and public servants who, despite their shortcomings, most often tried to do the right things for the right reasons.
In a second-season episode, conservative Republican Ainsley Hayes (Emily Procter, now on ``CSI: Miami'') is offered a job by the Bartlet administration. When her friends dis the president and his advisers, Hayes snaps back, ``Say they're smug and superior, say their approach to public policy makes you want to tear your hair out. Say they like high taxes and spending your money. Say they want to take your guns and open your borders. But don't call them worthless.
``The people that I have met have been extraordinarily qualified. Their intent is good. Their commitment is true, they are righteous, and they are patriots.''
That was the underlying belief that Aaron Sorkin, the show's creator and the man most responsible for the show's triumphs (and occasional failures), brought to the series. In a comparison often used by both those who loved ``West Wing'' and those who hated it, Sorkin brought the same view of the American way of life to the drama that director Frank Capra brought to such films as ``Meet John Doe'' and ``Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.''
``Capra evoked the mythic image of America as a `lighthouse of freedom' in a darkening world,'' wrote television and film historians John E. O'Connor and Peter C. Rollins in 2003.
``In our time, it seems clear that the fundamental attraction of `The West Wing' for Americans is its promise that, despite our failings and lapses, our system is still such a lighthouse.''
Even those involved in the series acknowledge that, like Capra's best films, the series is set in a world that doesn't exist, reflective of but divorced from today's often poisonous political atmosphere.
``We were a fantasy, there's no question,'' says Sheen. ``We were like a novel, and the real world was like reality.''
Wells adds, ``We always try not to take ourselves too seriously because that can be very dangerous when you're trying to entertain people. But people have connected to the idea of what the White House could be, even though they know we made it up and they know it's idealized.''
Of course, the ideal expressed in ``The West Wing'' didn't connect with everybody. The Bartlet administration was Democratic and the show wore its blue state liberalism with pride. Even conservative Republicans -- notably Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda), the GOP presidential candidate who lost to Santos -- were filtered through that prism.
That led some commentators, like John Podhoretz in the Weekly Standard, to view ``The West Wing'' as ``political pornography for liberals.''
As a piece of television entertainment, ``The West Wing'' had two very different periods: the one from the fall of 1999 to the spring of 2003 when Sorkin did almost all of the writing and the three seasons following his departure.
The early period was its heyday, with a string of superb episodes mixing rapid-fire dialogue that wouldn't have been out of place in a 1930s screwball comedy, discussions of ideas ranging from the politics of the census to the federal deficit and some of the most memorable characters in recent television history.
It made stars and Emmy winners out of such unknown actors as Allison Janney (press secretary C.J. Cregg) and Bradley Whitford (aide Josh Lyman) and gave veteran actors Sheen and the late John Spencer (Leo McGarry) defining roles. A string of excellent actors -- Stockard Channing, Mary-Louise Parker, John Amos, Marlee Matlin -- took on small recurring roles just for the chance to be on the show.
``It's a pinnacle for an actor because the writing is so fantastic,'' says Annabeth Gish, who played Elizabeth, Bartlet's oldest daughter. ``In my career, I was the most nervous guest-starring on that show because you have to speak politically, you have to speak eloquently and you have to speak rapidly.''
Problems with the show and its direction began to crop up following the election of President Bush and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. ``The West Wing'' was set firmly in a world where Bill Clinton had been president, and the Bush election shifted reality to a different place.
The overriding issues of the war on terrorism further complicated matters, with Sorkin finding it harder and harder to set a consistent tone in his writing.
``We had a parallel universe to reality, and it changed drastically when the Bush administration came and then 9/11 happened,'' says Sheen. ``The country moved much further away from the center, and we felt that we were dead in the center.''
Beset by some personal demons -- drug abuse, a failing marriage -- Sorkin struggled to produce scripts on time, and his disputes with Warner Bros. led to his exit with Wells taking over as the show's executive producer.
The fifth season of ``The West Wing'' was a mess as Wells and a new set of writers tried to replace Sorkin, and the viewership began to drop. The series made a significant comeback after that, though even in its worst days, it was still smarter than just about anything else on network TV.
But it soon was clear that when the Bartlet administration came to an end, so would the series. The death in December of Spencer -- the heart and soul of the cast and the series -- removed any thoughts of continuing into the Santos years.
``We honestly thought we wouldn't get past a couple of years with this subject matter. But we've gone seven years and gone through the entire Bartlet administration,'' says Wells. ``It's so infrequent in a series' life that you actually have a chance to decide when it's going to end. That's usually decided for you.''
There is no question ``The West Wing'' will leave a gap. As such other series as ``Commander in Chief'' have proved, it's difficult to intelligently mix politics, ideas and entertainment.
``The networks really should take a lesson from `The West Wing' that this stuff can work,'' says Lawrence O'Donnell, a former political consultant who became a long-time writer and producer on the series. ``I hope the business takes it as a lesson rather than an exception.
``My fear is that they will take it as an exception and no one will even try to make another `West Wing.' ''"
From the Montreal Gazette:
"Martin Sheen is philosophical about The West Wing's leaving office tonight (WPTZ-5, 7 p.m., ) as one of the most venerable, and venerated, ensemble dramas in the history of television.
The time has come, Sheen feels, to call it a day.
In private conversation, he is cheerful and talkative - he has aged physically, but he feels like a youngster again. The laughs come easily. Despite The West Wing's reputation for earnestness and his own, hard-won reputation as a firebrand political activist, he's quick to laugh at himself.
"I was constitutionally directed toward the exit," Sheen said wryly, about his own impending departure from the show. "I knew it was coming."
He thought until recently that Jimmy Smits's Matt Santos and Alan Alda's Arnold Vinick would pick up where the Bartlet administration left off, but veteran cast member John Spencer's sudden death in December hastened the end of the series, Sheen believes.
"It's probably the best way to go out. I think John's death signaled that it was time to leave, for all of us. We were the parents. We were the oldest guys. We had been around the longest and we lost one of us. It's hard to go on without a family."
As so often happens to actual U.S. presidents, Sheen has aged noticeably since that day in September 1999 when The West Wing aired for the first time, and a national television audience was introduced to President Josiah "Jed" Bartlet.
Nothing about The West Wing unfolded as it was supposed to.
Media analysts insisted a mass audience would never embrace a talky ensemble drama about politics, especially one that presented public service as a noble calling, driven by idealists.
Sheen, a career actor who now counts The West Wing's Bartlet as one of his three defining roles - the others are Capt. Willard in the 1979 Francis Coppola war classic Apocalypse Now, and spree killer Kit Carruthers in Terrence Malick's 1973 social allegory Badlands - was supposed to appear as a peripheral character only.
The West Wing was ostensibly about policy wonks, overworked White House staffers and neurotic speechwriters, and it was all that.
From that first scene where Rob Lowe's Sam Seaborn is paged by the White House, though, it was clear to West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin and executive producer John Wells that everything that happened in the program, from the policy directives to the backroom deals to the rapid-fire discourse in the corridors of power, flowed down from the man at the top: Sheen's President Bartlet.
Sheen, 65, thought he had signed on for a part-time gig. Instead, The West Wing became all-consuming. For four years - Sorkin's period of tenure with the show - Bartlet, and Sheen, became The West Wing's most readily identifiable face, its heart and soul.
In The West Wing's heyday - the years between 2000 and '03, when it won an unprecedented four consecutive Emmy Awards for outstanding drama series, putting it in the same league as Hill Street Blues and L.A. Law - it was the focus of occasional attention from the actual White House, Sheen recalls with a wry chuckle.
"Mr. Clinton was a big fan of the show. He made no secret of it."
Former President Bill Clinton visited The West Wing set. Sheen and Clinton filmed a public service announcement together for victims of the 9/11 terror attacks and their families.
Clinton welcomed The West Wing cast to the White House on several occasions.
That didn't prevent Sheen from attending political protests, however. He admits there was a moment, in October 2000, when he became seriously concerned that his activism would clash with his responsibilities to The West Wing.
Sheen was arrested at an anti-nuclear peace demonstration at California's Vandenberg Air Force Base and charged with trespassing and failure to disperse.
"I had signed on for three years to The West Wing, and I faced six months in jail if I lost my case. So I plea-bargained and got three years probation and a heavy fine. The war in Iraq broke out in 2003. I protested and went to many rallies and was publicly vocal in my opposition, but I was afraid of being arrested because it would end my time on The West Wing. That was my first commitment, and that's why I remained out of jail. That probation ended last fall, so now I'm free to go back to the thing that I love."
Bartlet's screen time was whittled down in later years, but Sheen said that had nothing to do with the network's nervousness about his activism.
"I wasn't a kid any more," he said, "and I needed the three-day weekends. The amount of work and the hours were overwhelming, and I found my energy depleted. I needed more time. So that was given to me in lieu of more money - which was far more valuable to me, frankly."
The years have not softened his activist leanings - "The best thing about (California Governor Arnold) Schwarzenegger is Mrs. Schwarzenegger," he said cheerfully, "and I'll settle for him as long as she's there," - but he is not about to throw himself back into the protest movement any time soon.
"I plan to do what is necessary," Sheen said, suddenly pensive, "and I hope I'm guided by a true spirit. I don't know when I'm going to be called, and to do what. I just hope I have the courage to speak truth to power, to do justice, to walk humbly and to serve."
He is not looking to land that one great role, either. Instead, he is going back to college, he says, to earn the degree he never had, at the National University of Ireland in Galway.
He hopes to study English literature and philosophy, "and maybe theology, and maybe oceanography. They have a great oceanography school there.
An old guy like me has to start somewhere."
Sheen says only a fool would think a television actor would make a good president - he has ruled himself out as a candidate for political office - but he holds strong feelings about leadership just the same.
"I have a great respect for anyone who goes through (public office), no matter what their age," Sheen said, "because it'll make a man out of you. I can't even imagine going through the real thing - the campaign, the job itself, the demands, the time away from family and friends. It is a real, deeply personal sacrifice, and it's very costly."
"Leadership is example. Leadership is taking risks, being more fully human, not being afraid to fail. You have to go above your constituency. You have to go to the future.
"There's the old Hebrew adage: 'He that hath offspring giveth up hostages to the future.' If you are a leader, the best thing you can do is inspire people to be better than they are, to say, 'We're better than this.' If The West Wing did anything, as a TV show, it was that it provided a sense of hope, a sense that we're better than this, that there are better days ahead."
Great leaders are rarely recognized in their own time, Sheen says.
"I hear Eisenhower now called a great president. When I was a kid, he was called everything under the sun, but not that. He was not appreciated until he was gone. I think that's true of most our leaders."
Sheen says he has not seen the political drama Commander in Chief, although he wished Geena Davis well in person at the outset as she tackled the role of president of the United States.
"It's a tough sell, politics (and TV). I thought it was great that there was a woman president. I had hoped that we would have one in my lifetime, and I still hope that we'll have one. There are so many women who are qualified - who are overqualified - for that office, and I hope to God we have that grace descend on us before long. Dostoevsky said that the world would be saved by beauty. I think he meant women."
For now, Sheen hopes to get through life day by day.
"Every day is a risk and a blessing, of equal measure, as you know." Sheen said, and laughed. "You give thanks and praise, and hope you get through it.""
From the Lansing State Journal:
"When the first "West Wing" script arrived, people knew this was something special.
It flowed with big words and big subjects. It was intelligent and important. Chances were, no one would watch it.
"There were no car chases or fires or special effects," actor Martin Sheen recalled. "The only real doubt we had was whether or not it would work on network television."
For years, it did. "The West Wing" departs tonight as an audience and financial success.
Critics raved and voters gave it four straight Emmys as best drama series. Ratings also surged.
After a slow start in 1999, "The West Wing" caught on. In its second season, it tied for No. 11 in the annual Nielsen ratings; in its third, it reached its peak, No. 8.
"I don't think any of us thought for a moment it was going to do what it did," actress Allison Janney said.
Even when its audience declined, the show was a success. It had DVD sets in stores and reruns on Bravo; Nielsen said it had the wealthiest audience of any fictional TV show.
Yes, this show - about a populist, Democratic administration - had rich viewers. "We have a very, very large Republican audience that loves to kind of watch the show and throw things at the screen," producer John Wells said.
There were key fans from both parties, cast members say. Kristin Chenoweth recalls Sandra Day O'Connor (then a Supreme Court justice) and Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) pumping her for information on who would win the show's election. Bradley Whitford has had lobbyists trying to get their issues mentioned.
Whitford also recalls a conversation with Alan Greenspan, retired head of the Federal Reserve Board. "He was really upset that, when our Fed chairman died, nobody cared."
Chenoweth didn't reveal secrets, so O'Connor and Daschle learned at the same time as everyone else: Matthew Santos (Jimmy Smits) won; tonight, he'll take office and Josiah Bartlet will depart.
"One of the things that's most dramatic about American democracy is the peaceful passing of power," Wells said. "We thought it was a really wonderful way to sort of end the series."
Wells had never expected to be presiding over this. "The West Wing" was Aaron Sorkin's show.
A successful young playwright ("A Few Good Men"), Sorkin had written the 1995 movie "The American President," spending a lot of time in the real White House. He wanted to make a series about the staffers there; the president would mostly be an unseen presence.
"I was the last actor to join the cast for the pilot," Sheen wrote in "The West Wing" (Warner Bros. Publishing, 2002). "The character of President Bartlet was a sometime thing, only appearing in about 20 percent of the episodes."
That soon changed. Bartlet grew; new characters arrived. Sorkin made this up as he went along.
Actors got used to that, Whitford and actress Janel Moloney recalled after the first season. If rehearsals and filming started on a Monday, Sorkin would cut it close.
"It will be Friday and ... he'll look like he's been beaten up," Whitford said. "He'll say, 'I'm on Page 10. Does anybody have any ideas?' He'll look like a plasma donor."
That's no exaggeration, Moloney said. "He's like wearing his pajamas, strolling around the set like a crazy guy."
he production company (Warner Bros.) and network (NBC) weren't amused. Ratings fell, particularly after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001; scripts continued to be late. In 2003, Sorkin was fired and Wells took over.
The praise and the awards stopped for a while. Then, as the fictional election campaign settled in, "West Wing" seemed to find its stride again.
Tonight's wrap-up has been planned ever since the show was moved to Sundays this season and its ratings collapsed, Wells said.
In this fictional world, some of the staffers will stay in the White House and some will retire. Bartlet will retire, sort of.
"He's not going to go out quietly," Sheen said last year. "He's going to rage against the darkness."
From USA Today (includes 2 "West Wing" quizzes, an easy one and an advanced one):
"As "The West Wing" approaches Sunday's finale, it leaves a broadcast legacy presidents might envy: The Bartlet administration saga won four straight best-drama Emmys early in its seven-season tenure, averaging nearly 19 million viewers for new episodes at its 2001-02 peak.
More important, it is seen as groundbreaking in depicting politics and government on TV.
"There's a little, unpublished TV handbook about verboten areas. (Politics) led the list. But "West Wing" took that page and shredded it up," NBC entertainment president Kevin Reilly says.
Allison Janney, who won four Emmys portraying press secretary/chief of staff C.J. Cregg, says "West Wing" might not have worked in the hands of someone other than creator Aaron Sorkin, who left after writing 87 episodes over the first four seasons.
"Aaron did the right mix of reality and drama and comedy. He was always able to ride that edge," she says.
Sorkin, interviewed via e-mail, says he'll leave legacy talk for others. He notes, however, that perceptions changed after Sept. 11.
"Rooting for fictional heroes so soon after the attacks was hard because there were so many real ones to root for," he writes. "And because the perception of Bartlet was that was he was liberal and the perception of George Bush is that he's conservative, it became slightly un-American to like "The West Wing.""
An October 2001 episode that alluded to a similar type of atrocity in the drama's parallel world was "too soon," he says. But "the show had to bow its head somehow before it moved forward."
After Sorkin left in 2003, "West Wing" suffered negative reviews, which the actors and Reilly attribute to a transition of producers. Some luster returned with this year's presidential campaign.
Ratings, like some presidential polls, have plummeted in recent years, averaging 8 million viewers in this non-rerun season.
Cast and crew also faced the shock of actor John Spencer's death. His character, Leo McGarry, was eulogized in April.
The series offered a hopeful vision at a time when so many are downbeat about government, says Bradley Whitford, who won an Emmy in 2001 for playing presidential aide Josh Lyman.
"I think it succeeded in attaching a shred of humanity to a process people have become very cynical about," he says.
In the end, Whitford believes "West Wing" lived up to its mission: "We wanted to do a television show that showed that government really matters."
From Black Entertainment:
""The lone African American cast member, Hill said he was a nervous wreck during the first day of shooting in 1999, but Sheen was quick to put the young Orange, N.J. native at ease – taking him aside early on and teaching him the soul brother handshake that a teenaged Laurence Fishburne taught him on the set of 1979’s “Apocalypse Now.” Dule says he and Sheen have been tight ever since.
“The last scene that was shot was a scene that’s going to air in the season finale with myself and Martin,” says Hill. “That was very personal to me because he was such an important figure in my life for the last seven years. To be able to end my run on the show with Martin, I couldn’t ask for anything better. What was exchanged in the scene, I took it home as my little keepsake.”
“John Spencer would always say, ‘You would never experience this if you were on a cop show.’ And it’s the truth,” Hill explains. “I mean we’ve met presidents, we’ve met ambassadors, we’ve been to the White House. Some of us have even played basketball on the top of the Supreme Court. I played basketball in front of the White House in front of Pennsylvania Ave. It’s like, that’s pretty much never, ever gonna happen again. So, I’m definitely thankful for the ride.”
The scrapped retrospective episode, however, doesn’t diminish the seven years of pure bliss experienced by Dule Hill. The actor believes firmly in the old cliché – that all good things must come to an end. “I think it was the right time for the show to end,” he says. “It’s better the show ends when the people are still enjoying it than for the show to end where it’s trailed off and people have been over it. I think we were still a show that people paid attention to and were aware of what we spoke about. I just gotta give thanks for having that ride.”"
From the Pittsburgh Post Gazette:
""It's no secret that TV critics can be a cynical lot. We slobber all over quality programs only to rail against them a few years later when their quality begins to decline. Then we curse the Emmys for recognizing the same tired old show, even when, just a few years earlier, we were championing it ourselves.
Unlike most series that start strong and decline, "The West Wing" has reclaimed its former glory, not in ratings, but certainly in dramatic, engaging storytelling. This season the show has crackled with nearly the same intensity it had in the beginning, when series creator Aaron Sorkin oversaw the story of President Jed Bartlet (Martin Sheen) and his loyal staff. Given the strength of the current season, I wouldn't object to lauding "The West Wing" with a few more Emmys. "We try not to take ourselves too seriously, because that can be dangerous when you're trying to entertain people," said current show runner John Wells, a 1979 Carnegie Mellon University graduate. After a January press conference that included a loving clip reel from the series that left more than a few jaded TV critics misty-eyed (yours truly included), Wells was asked if such an emotional reaction from a bunch of grumpy sourpusses surprised him. "Any good, long-running television show works because you become connected to the characters in a way that you really care about them. If you don't get those kind of emotional responses, then the show isn't working." "The West Wing" certainly had its ruts, particularly immediately after the departure of Sorkin at the end of season four, but in its last two seasons, Wells managed to create something Sorkin could not: A credible campaign. In Bartlet's Sorkin-scripted season four re-election drive, which shot for five days around Western Pennsylvania in August 2002, the president faced off against a Republican candidate (played by James Brolin) who even executive producer/director Christopher Misiano called "a straw doll." But in the past two seasons, Democrat Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits) and Republican Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda) waged a fierce political battle -- either candidate could have won the election and both were deserving. Santos prevailed, but "West Wing" viewers were the real beneficiaries; we got to watch two noble, idealistic men spar over policy and debate governance. It was classic "West Wing." Sunday's series ender, not available for review, depicts Santos' inauguration as Bartlet leaves the White House. "The series has celebrated from the beginning ... the remarkable strength of American democracy," Wells said. "And one of the things that's most dramatic about American democracy is the peaceful passing of power from one leader to another. And we thought that was a really wonderful way to end the series." Some fans have questioned why the series won't continue, following the newly elected Santos. The answer is an easy one: While loyal fans remain, too many viewers abandoned the show. Ratings were already down when it aired on Wednesday last season, and they dipped further with the move to Sunday last fall. Wells said even if NBC hadn't moved "The West Wing" to Sunday, going up against ABC's "Lost" on Wednesday would likely have led to "The West Wing" ending, too. Wells and cast members have no regrets about the show's demise "If we had the opportunity, we would have kept going," Wells said, "but I don't think any of us, as storytellers, felt this was a situation where a ton of stuff pops into your mind [for another season]." "We all knew the writing was on the wall," said series star Allison Janney, who plays Bartlet's chief of staff, C.J. Cregg. "And especially with John's death we felt very much it was time to go."
"It's a miracle to make a living in a nonhumiliating way as an actor," said Bradley Whitford, who plays Santos' chief of staff, Josh Lyman. "And it is an incredible miracle to have a situation like this that both creatively, and on some cultural level, has material that is fascinating and an area where the stakes are high. It actually makes the work more frustrating because you're constantly wanting to rise to the level around you. But it hurts us in a certain way because it's hard to know that you'll never get this again. I'd rather get it when I'm 85." For Sheen, the show's success came as a huge surprise simply because it was about politics, which had never been staged in a prime-time drama to the extent that it played a role on "The West Wing." "There were no car chases or fires or special effects," Sheen said. "The action was in the word and we were public servants. Would an audience that had a choice, support us and would sponsors sell their products with us?"
No question, "The West Wing" will go down in television history as one of the best dramas of all time due to its writing and strong performances, but also because of the feelings it evoked in viewers. "We were like a novel and the real world was like reality," Sheen said. "But people were reading the novel, and they were getting good ideas and kind of having a hope and a faith and a trust in their leadership. And if we go out with that, I don't think we can ask for much more.""
From the Deseret News:
""When "The West Wing" was elected to NBC's schedule 1999, not much of anybody expected it to be re-elected for six more seasons.
"Well, I think that we all felt going in that we had something very special," said Martin Sheen, who played President Josiah Bartlet in this series about a sitting president of the United States and his staff. "The only real doubt we had was whether or not it would work on network television.
"It was a political show. There were no car chases or fires or special effects. The action was in the word, and we were public servants. Would an audience that had a choice support us?"
Executive producer Lawrence O'Donnell Jr. didn't expect anyone to tune in because, "as far as I (could) tell, in TV terms, nothing happened. . . . I just didn't think we had a chance."
Bartlet has served longer than seven of the nine real presidents since 1961.
"When I knew that (creator and former executive producer) Aaron Sorkin was writing it and I knew the pedigree of the people involved, I thought — if anything is going to make it and be an important series, this is," said Allison Janney (C.J. Cregg). "But I don't think any of us thought for a minute that it was going to do what it did."
But fans began to express "the passion they had for the show. . . . That was exciting for me to realize what an impact the show was making."
Tens of millions of viewers were passionate about the Bartlet administration. More passionate, it seemed, than about the Clinton or Bush administrations..
"One of the weirdest things about the show — and, honestly, the last thing anybody expected — was that it would be taken seriously," said Bradley Whitford (Josh Lyman). "I think a lot of people misinterpreted that Aaron must be this incredibly civic-minded guy who wanted to serve Americans their civic vegetables, so he wrote a show about the White House to show how great politicians are. Actually, it's a very impatient, entertainer-storyteller hitting this material that kind of made it work."
"Ironically, fictionally you can see people actually not know what they think about an issue, and you can carry an issue as boring as the decennial census for an hour and 15 million people actually watch it," Whitford said.
Sheen said "the most rewarding part" of the show was its positive portrayal of public servants. "We can be very cynical about the people that lead us. . . . No matter what administration is in, the government continues because of the people who care for the country."
If the cast and crew were surprised that America embraced the show, they were shocked when Washington insiders did. O'Donnell, a former aide to Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and chief of staff to two U.S. Senate committees, said that when he worked in Washington, "nobody watched any TV shows at all," so he was "very surprised" that capital insiders "latched onto this thing as quickly as they did."
"I actually would get lobbied by lobbyists," Whitford said. "I thought they wanted my autograph, and they were giving me their card because they wanted to get their issue mentioned on the show."
In the reality of "The West Wing," the characters rarely forgot they were public servants.
"We were a fantasy, there's no question," Sheen said.
And there was definitely a wish-fulfillment element — these were the kind of leaders we hope for and the kind a lot of real-life leaders could learn a few things from.
"I hope they were taking some behavior or lessons from it," O'Donnell said. "It was very peculiar for me the first time I had to type 'interior Oval Office, day' because in our show, this was inhabited by a good and decent person. And that had not been my experience."
But knowing the show would be ending gave the writers the opportunity to craft a satisfying sendoff at a "really beautiful place to end the series," Wells said.
"The series has celebrated from the beginning, in Aaron's conception, the remarkable strength of American democracy. One of the things that's most dramatic about American democracy is the peaceful passing of power from one leader to another. And we thought that was a really wonderful way to sort of end the series . . . at its natural place," Wells said. "It's so infrequent in a series' life that you actually have a chance to decide when it's going to end. That's usually decided for you, and oftentimes you've already finished shooting and everybody is gone and then you just don't come back.
"So we had the great luxury of actually asking, 'What's the best story to tell? What's the most compelling story that we think will serve the series and its viewers best?' "
Neither the show nor its loyal fans deserve less."
The Syracuse Post Standard interviewed Aaron Sorkin:
""Q. If you were asked to point out the greatest legacy of "The West Wing," what would it be? Was it raising the bar on the quality of TV drama, helping the public better understand the process of government, or something else?
A. I think it's probably for others to decide the show's legacy.
Q. After you left the show, was there any continuing involvement on your part in terms of providing notes, suggestions or other advice to the people in charge?
A. Larry David, who left "Seinfeld" before the end of its run, gave me a piece of advice. He said, "Don't watch the show ever again. Either it'll be great and you'll be miserable, or it won't be great and you'll be miserable." While I've stayed in close touch with all my friends from the show, I haven't seen it since I left at the end of the fourth season.
Q. Five or 10 years from now when NBC wants to make a "West Wing" reunion movie, would you be in?
A. With ideas like that I'm surprised you're not running a major network.
Q. What will you be doing at 8 p.m. May 14 when the final episode airs?
A. The timing's poetic because the next day NBC announces its fall schedule. I'll be in a hotel room in New York waiting for a call from (NBC Entertainment president) Kevin Reilly to tell me if I'm back on television with "Studio 60.""
From the Scripps Howard News Service (First Article):
"At its best, "The West Wing" roared into the brain and stuck like so few TV shows do, stamped there by a wildfire of dialogue and its now-famous "walk and talk" tracking shots.It was both symphony and cacophony, rolling out complex, finely honed and lively political stories that made the glum and ho-hum sparkle. Stacked up against an age of cynicism, glazed-over disinterest and scandals, "West Wing" succeeded anyway. It made Washington and policy wonks seem interesting and hip and human. Suddenly, civics, at least the way it was served up Wednesday nights, was entertaining."West Wing" became appointment TV, water-cooler fodder and, for some, a parallel universe. But "West Wing" wasn't so much fantasy as it was wildly optimistic hope.As it nears the end of its seven-year run with the May 14 series finale, "West Wing" will bow out as one of the most honored dramas in TV history. It has Emmy, Peabody and Golden Globe awards on its mantle.< href="http://www.shns.com/shns/g_index2.cfm?action=detail&pk=WESTWING2-TV-05-09-06">Scripps Howard News Service (Article 2):
"As the cast and crew shot the series finale of "The West Wing" on a Los Angeles set March 30, the doors to the famous address were thrown open. "We stayed up all night for the last shot, which was extraordinary," says Allison Janney, a four-time Emmy winner for her portrayal of press secretary C.J. Cregg (the character was promoted to chief of staff in 2005). "Around midnight, the lobby of the 'West Wing' area was just packed with tons of actors and people. We were all there as the president says goodbye to his staff for the last time. We stood there and clapped for half an hour.
Veteran actor Martin Sheen had become a father figure to his cast mates _ much as his fictional President Bartlet had been to the "staff." For Bradley Whitford, an Emmy winner as Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman, "It was tremendously disorienting and sad. It's like leaving a cult _ an unprecedented volume of intimacy and camaraderie." "West Wing" creator Aaron Sorkin and producer Thomas Schlamme returned for the group hug and ensuing wrap party."I think the show ended at the right time," says Whitford, whose wife Jane Kaczmarek's show, "Malcolm in the Middle," airs its own series finale Sunday. "It was such a special experience for all of us who worked on it, and you don't want to pull the taffy too thin on these things."One key to the show's early success, says Whitford, was Sorkin, who left the show after the fourth season: "Aaron assumes the audience is as smart and funny as he is. He's trying to entertain himself." It was a tightrope, Janney says, that could be hard to walk. "Aaron writes in this incredible rhythm," she explains. "Every word, every punctuation mark was put there for a reason. So if we added an extra 'uh,' we had to go back and re-shoot because it wrecked the rhythm of it. That drove people crazy sometimes. But it was worth it when we got it."
Janney, who voices a character in the animated film "Over the Hedge" (opening May 19), says she still feels as if the show is on hiatus. The idea of no more C.J. Cregg, she says, is "mind-boggling." "What am I possibly going to do that's going to fulfill me and satisfy me and challenge me as much as 'The West Wing' did?""
From the Wichita Eagle:
Alex Graves is amazed that NBC's "The West Wing" lasted seven years because "It was always too big for television." "It's a very expensive show to produce: $3.3 million an episode -- the largest in TV history," said executive producer Graves, a Kansas native from El Dorado who has been with the show since it launched in 1999. "It was like a mini-movie every week. We did large things for a very long time."
In Wichita, some of the show's biggest fans are members of the Wichita State University College Democrats, said the group's president, Lyndsay Stauble."About 80 percent of us are 'Wing'nuts," she said. "We've had 'West Wing' marathons. "It's an excellent drama and one of the best series that's ever been on television," said Stauble, whose group is planning a finale party. "Government is so complex that it's hard for people to understand, but 'The West Wing' took it and made it interesting and funny with its rat-a-tat style."Vickie Sandell Stangl, a political science instructor at Wichita State, is another fan." I thought it did an excellent job of bringing to life what I teach in the classroom," Stangl said. "It shows how complex the issues are.... There's more drama in the show than in real life, but you could learn things from it." While revered in many circles, the series has skeptics.Ed Flentje, who was secretary of administration for Republican Kansas Gov. Mike Hayden in the mid-1980s, dismissed the show as "showing a clear liberal bias." And Mel Kahn, professor of political science as Wichita State University, said he found it more entertaining than accurate."They do give some idea about what happens in government but I don't believe there is that much speed or action in the White House. The wheels of government turn slowly," Kahn said.
Eerily, some storylines from the show seemed to anticipate headlines, from Wall Street Journal reporter Danny Pearl's capture and execution by Middle Eastern terrorists to the outing of CIA spy Valerie Plame to America's escalating oil troubles."It's always been amazing but it's always been coincidental because our episodes are written four or five months before they air," Graves said."I guess if you travel the same territory as real life, you're bound to come up with some of the same things."
Now that the series end is near, Graves is philosophical that "It's time.""In a way, the series is leaving at the right time for everyone who has been working on it. We're tired," Graves said."It's a show that could have gone on artistically, even with a new president. There's so much material to draw from." This final season has centered around the campaigns of Democrat Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits) and Republican Arnie Vinick (Alan Alda) as they vied to succeed President Bartlet. Santos won, but it wasn't always planned that way, Graves said. The real-life death of Emmy-winning actor John Spencer in December changed the course of the show at the last minute and gave producers a way to wrap things up. Spencer played Chief of Staff Leo McGarry, who was running as Santos' vice president. Originally, Graves said, Vinick was to win in a squeaker of a race. "We figured there was a lot more story to tell if we put Vinick as a moderate Republican in the White House in a time of extremism," he said. "We wanted to show how difficult it would be for moderate Republicans to have a voice."But with John's death, we just didn't have the heart to have him lose the election, too. It would have been too depressing a note to end on." The final episodes, he said, are about the peaceful transfer of political power from one president to another. "We wanted to show the unification of power -- something we're missing in the real world," he said. "The division that has taken place in this country in the past six years is something I've never experienced before in my lifetime."It's too soon, he said, to determine the long-term effects of "The West Wing.""Our hope from the very beginning was to keep alive the idea that TV shows could aim high, not only in ideas but in production values. We wanted to be a positive thing in the culture. We invited people to think." The indelible effect on many fans is undeniable, he said."The reaction I've been getting from viewers is sadness that it's ending," Graves said. "Overwhelmingly, they are also saying 'Thank goodness this series happened. Thank goodness there was a 'West Wing.'"
From Entertainment Weekly(Entertainment Weekly's homepage also has a poll asking which television series will be missed the most):
""The end of ''The West Wing''
As the NBC drama prepares to say goodbye, join the cast and crew as they recall their first trek down Pennsylvania Avenue.
Time to pack up the china and ship it to the presidential library — The West Wing is closing its doors forever. The often brilliant political drama never lacked in its ability to generate headlines, and managed to overcome impossible odds — the premature departure of creator Aaron Sorkin, a late-in-the-game critical backlash, and ultracompetitive time slots — to last seven years on NBC. Along the way, it won the best drama Emmy an impressive four times, a feat matched only by L.A. Law and Hill Street Blues. Not bad for a show that relied on the (rapidly) spoken word rather than violence, nudity, explosions, or high concepts to engage its viewers.
As Josiah ''Jed'' Bartlet (Martin Sheen) prepares to cede the Oval Office on May 14 to the country's first Latino president, Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits) — oh, what we wouldn't give to watch his first 100 days! — EW asked the cast and crew to put down the fake policy papers and reflect on how The West Wing came together, from the early negotiations with NBC and the arduous casting calls, to Sorkin's uncanny ability to turn even the most mundane discussion about clean coal power initiatives into an oratorical work of art.
1. THE CAMPAIGN TEAM
In summer 1997, Sorkin — who'd written erudite mainstream hit movies likeThe American President and A Few Good Men — was readying his first TV script, ABC's Sports Night, when his agent suggested he meet with ER executive producer John Wells to discuss other opportunities.
SORKIN The night before the meeting, screenwriter Akiva Goldsman [A Beautiful Mind] came to my house for dinner and at some point wandered into my office where I had a poster from The American President up on the wall. Akiva said, ''You know what would make an interesting TV series? That.''
WELLS I'm always interested in ideas that sound impossible and haven't worked on the air before.
SORKIN I wanted to do a TV show about senior staffers at the White House. Our leaders are always portrayed as Machiavellian or dolts, so I thought I'd write about government leaders who are trying to do the right thing but who fail sometimes. I thought of it as a workplace drama — in an exciting place. Once I have an idea, it starts going very fast. I probably did The West Wing in about five days.
WELLS [Then-NBC Entertainment president] Warren Littlefield purchased the Wing script in the fall of 1997 under a deal I had with NBC. He had to make it by a certain time or give it back, but then he left.
SCOTT SASSA (NBC ENTERTAINMENT PRESIDENT, 1998-1999) My first day, I had a meeting with John Wells. John told us we've been sitting on [the Wing] script and if we don't do it, we wouldn't get his next project.
WELLS They were prepared to make Wing in exchange for me doing something they wanted: a companion piece for ER. I made it a condition of writing Third Watch that they also make The West Wing.
SORKIN I wanted to beat Akiva up. I couldn't believe what he got me into.
2. PRIMARY SEASON
In January 1999, Sorkin and director-exec producer Thomas Schlamme began casting Wing's fictional White House. Their administration: the Latin-speaking President Jed Bartlet (Martin Sheen), trusted chief of staff Leo McGarry (John Spencer, who died last year), cantankerous communications director Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff), sexy deputy chief of staff Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford), poised press secretary C.J. Cregg (Allison Janney), feisty assistant Donna Moss (Janel Moloney), and handsome deputy communications director Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe, who would not comment for this article).
SORKIN John was the first person we cast. I had to change the character's name, which was originally Leo Jacoby. I pictured Judd Hirsch playing the part, but John was obviously Irish. The role of Toby came down to either Richard Schiff or Eugene Levy.
SCHIFF Eugene told me later that he listened through the door to my audition and since he couldn't hear anything, he thought he was a lock for the role. I started giggling at my own performance. But for some reason I knew I was going to get it.
WHITFORD Aaron told me he wrote Josh for me. Auditioning is hell on earth. Aaron said I hit it out of the park, but then I started hearing that I wasn't funny or sexy. So I auditioned again with Moira Kelly [who was later cast as political consultant Mandy Hampton] and was told she blew me out of the room. I definitely wasn't going to get it.
JANNEY I've always gotten parts who are strong and the glue of the family, so I related to C.J. right away.
SORKIN Allison ended up testing against CCH Pounder, who was fantastic. It was agonizing.
MOLONEY I read for C.J. first, and they said, ''Do you want to read for this smaller role? There's no guarantee or anything.'' I wore gray slacks and a black turtleneck to the audition...which became Donna's outfit for the entire seven years.
The role of President Bartlet was originally intended to last no more than six episodes. According to Sorkin, ''I was worried that if Bartlet was the main character in the show, the show would become about him, and I did not want to do what I did with The American President.''
SORKIN The first person we talked about to play the president was Sidney Poitier.
SCHLAMME It got far enough to find out what his fee would be, which was very high.
WELLS It was more than just his fee — he didn't want to do it. His manager told me to stop calling.
SORKIN Another actor we thought would be great was Martin Sheen. As soon as he said he wanted to do it, we called off the search.
SHEEN I signed on immediately, and went off because I [thought I] would be available for other work.
Sheen ended up staying for the duration of the series, and his contract was renegotiated not long after the pilot was shot. According to Wells, however, NBC still wanted another marquee name.
WELLS NBC wanted to know who else was in the cast. If we are going to make something this unappealing to the public, could we get a bit of a star to drive it?
SORKIN I remember coming into the casting session one day and seeing Rob's name on the sheet. We never said we needed a young, sexy guy because we felt John Spencer could fill that role [laughs] . But there was some difficulty making Rob's deal, so we thought it would be easier to find another actor to play Sam.
WHITFORD My agent called and said they were offering me Sam. I called Aaron and said, ''That's not who I am. I want to be Josh.''
JANNEY It was very much supposed to be an ensemble show, which I think Rob ultimately didn't like. But he had the most experience in TV and I was deferential to him. He was responsible for getting us big trailers.
3. ELECTION DAY
Lowe wasn't locked in until the day before production, a development that would ultimately portend bigger problems. (Lowe left the series during season 4 to seek out bigger roles.) Nevertheless, on the morning of March 29, 1999, the cast gathered to begin shooting the pilot on Wing's Burbank set, a gigantic glass maze that best exploited Schlamme's kinetic shooting style and Sorkin's snappy dialogue.
WELLS I remember how much the set cost because it was screamed at me in loud volumes: $1.2 million.
SORKIN Up until the pilot aired, no one knew that the abbreviation for President of the United States was POTUS. Sam says it at the beginning.
WHITFORD I thought it was some sort of sexual euphemism.
SHEEN I said, ''I don't really know how you want me to play this — and who is this guy, Jed Bartlet?'' Aaron said, ''He's you, Martin. You don't have to go anywhere. You just have to go inside.'' That's what I did.
MOLONEY During my first scene, Leo comes in and asks for Josh, so I turn around and scream ''Josh!'' without getting up from my chair. Leo replies, ''I could have done that, Donna.'' We did a couple of takes, and afterwards John said, ''You're going to be here until the curtain comes down. '' He was the first person to say that.
SCHIFF I had to recite all this aeronautical nomenclature to the stewardess on a plane after she told me to shut off my cell phone. It was the beginning of a tradition of both drinking in Allison's trailer and being ambushed with a four-page monologue that you'd have to shoot that day after lunch.
JANNEY Martin was always eating. I think he took the job for craft services, because he always had food in his mouth while they were trying to shoot.
4. THE INAUGURAL BALL
NBC and the producers fretted that nobody would watch Wing's Sept. 22, 1999, premiere — after all, this was a wonky, dialogue-heavy drama about the inner workings of the federal government. Their fears were allayed when Wing grabbed nearly 17 million viewers. The pilot went on to win three Emmys, and Wing soon became one of the most critically acclaimed series of its time.
SCHLAMME When we turned the pilot in, everybody was like, ''It's extraordinary. But can it be on TV?''
SORKIN The first time we screened it for the cast, the [feeling was] ''We did a great pilot, but we're not going to be able to do this every week.'' Yet these guys all came back determined to make every episode as good as our best. And they kept it up for seven years.
SHEEN At our worst, we were better than anything else that was out there. We knew it. We couldn't use the F-word. We weren't allowed any overt sexuality. We had no special effects. We depended on the text, each other, and the intensity of that. It was like Shakespeare.
WELLS All good shows get made accidentally. I'm very proud of The West Wing. It was extremely hard to get on the air and extremely hard to make. Every moment — from beginning to end.
FIGURES OF SPEECH
EW picks a few of the best quotes from Wing's talky, Emmy-winning pilot.
''I'm a nice guy having a bad day.... As we speak, the Coast Guard are fishing Cubans out of the Atlantic Ocean while the governor of Florida wants to blockade the port of Miami, a good friend of mine's about to get fired for going on television and making sense, and it turns out that I accidentally slept with a prostitute last night.''
''I'm gonna make a suggestion which might help you out, but I don't want this gesture to be mistaken for an indication that I like you.''
''17-across is wrong. You're spelling his name wrong. What's my name? My name doesn't matter. I'm just an ordinary citizen who relies on the Times crossword for stimulation, and I'm telling you that I've met the man twice and I've recommended a preemptive Exocet missile strike against his air force, so I think I know how to.... They hang up on me every time.''"
What Kind of "West Wing" Has It Been - Part 2
Also see Reactions to "West Wing" Cancellation
And the reports from the announcement of the cancellation.