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EW The West Wing

EW The West Wing

EW The West Wing
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More and more people are casting their votes for… Jed Bartlet? With The West Wing experiencing a new wave of popularity thanks to streaming, the editors of Entertainment Weekly dive deep into the secrets of the White House as they unpack Aaron Sorkin’s wonky political drama, which still resonates today. Including a cast reunion, a guide to the essential episodes, behind the scenes photos, an oral history of how the show was made, and much more, this is political programming we can all get behind.

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United States
Meredith Corporation

in this issue

3 min.
foreword: bartlet for america

AMID THE CYNICAL, DIVISIVE and frequently absurd political landscape of America in 2020, who among us couldn’t use a diversion? May we suggest: more politics? The West Wing—a hopeful, optimistic, earnest vision of American governance—is just the show for this moment, as comforting as the homemade cookies on Mrs. Landingham’s desk. Go ahead, binge a season or more. If you can, resist the call to click “skip intro” and let that Copland-esque credits anthem get you a little misty again. Though off the air for nearly 15 years, The West Wing has become, in its streaming afterlife, a source of reassurance to new viewers and to returning fans. Even veterans of the actual West Wing are soothed by this TV facsimile: A former White House communications director, Dan Pfeiffer, now a host…

43 min.
the bartlet administration

PRESIDENT Josiah Bartlet Martin Sheen THE PILOT EPISODE OF THE WEST Wing runs a full 36 minutes before we ever meet the man at the center of this churning vortex of power. We’ve heard, however, that POTUS (as the inner circle calls him, merging the man with the office) has that morning hit a tree on his bicycle, suffering a sprain. How fallible! How human! “He’s a klutz,” shrugs his chief of staff. It’s a sly bit of misdirection by the show’s creator, Aaron Sorkin, who will, a few scenes later, bring forth his Commander in Chief in one of the more memorable entrances in TV history. It’s late that same afternoon, and White House aides are meeting with some religious-right politicos who are upset over a staffer’s glib comment about God. The…

6 min.
the bartlet family

FIRST LADY Abigail Bartlet Stockard Channing SHE’S A WIFE, OF COURSE, THE defining characteristic of any First Lady. She’s also a Harvard-trained thoracic surgeon in favor of a national health care plan, a mother, a grandmother and a women’s rights advocate with the President’s ear. But the first time Dr. Abbey Bartlet appeared, seven episodes into season 1, some viewers called the network to complain: The plunging neckline on the gown she wore to a state dinner was “too sexy.” With that bit of real life intruding, the fictional First Lady seemed yet more like the actual one at the time: Hillary Clinton, a Yale-trained lawyer whose appearance —including in a bare-shouldered Donna Karan dress at an early White House event—could stir up as much controversy as her health care policy work. “Women talk…

8 min.
election year

U.S. SENATOR (R-CALIF.) Arnold Vinick Alan Alda MODELED AFTER TWO REPUBLICAN senators turned presidential runners-up, John McCain and Barry Goldwater, Arnold Vinick was a skilled political operator with a penchant for reaching across the aisle and forming his own views despite the party line. A Republican senator from California (a state that hasn’t elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate since 1988), he was also famously pro-choice and avoided aligning too closely with the religious right. And Vinick might have won the (fictional) election had things gone slightly differently. When The West Wing’s creative team originally mapped out the show’s seventh and final season, Vinick was expected to triumph over his Democratic rival, Matt Santos (played by Jimmy Smits). “I keep hearing all the time [from fans] that I’m gonna be President, but I don’t…

1 min.
command performances

27 min.
10 essential episodes

THE 156 EPISODES of The West Wing aired over seven years—nearly as long as a two-term Presidency. To settle on just 10 must-sees, our obsessed, opinionated writers and editors each made the case for pivotal plot points (the constitutional fallout from Zoey’s kidnapping beat the shock of her disappearance), for memorable performances (Stockard Channing’s Abbey Bartlet + wine was a unanimous favorite) and for outstanding guest stars—including two live turkeys. If you are coming to the series for the first time, we recommend starting with the pilot, a winner of three Emmys. Aaron Sorkin was nominated for writing that first episode but took home the award that year for another, “In Excelsis Deo,” which leads off our list. IN EXCELSIS DEO SEASON 1, EPISODE 10 One of the most astonishing feats of The…