“No human being will ever again write 22 one hour episodes for four years. Beautifully written, complicated verbally, complicated personally, funny, about something [episodes]. That’s 11 feature films a years. It is extraordinary and will never never happen again.” So said Bradley Whitford about The West Wing Creator and EP Aaron Sorkin today during an ATX panel looking back at the series 10 years after it ended. Both men were joined on stage by Director/EP Thomas Schlamme, and cast members Dulé Hill, Janel Moloney, Joshua Malina, Richard Schiff, and Melissa Fitzgerald.
Sorkin, who left The West Wing after four seasons, confessed during the discussion that he’s never seen an episode from seasons 5 through 7. He said when his decision to leave was made public, he received a call from Larry David, creator of Seinfeld, who also left midway through a run.
“He said, ‘Listen, this is very important. You can’t ever watch this show ever again because either the show is going to be great without you and you’re going to be miserable or less than great and you’re going to be miserable. Either way you are going to be miserable.'”
Sorkin admitted at first he didn’t believe it “because Larry David is professionally miserable.” But before season 5 aired, he was sent a copy and couldn’t bring himself to watch. “It felt like I was watching someone making out with my wife.”
Added Sorkin: “I don’t know how the story that I started finished, or how anything else happened on the show.” He continued, “I was not trying to burn the earth behind me, I was trying to seed it.”
Sorkin also said the show was close to not making it on air. “The first time around I literally wrote ‘fade out’ on the pilot and a few minutes later the Monica Lewinsky happened. So we were okay sitting on it… People would giggle.” After shooting the pilot NBC was still hesitant. “The pilot did not test through the roof and NBC was on the fence about putting it on their schedule,” Sorkin recalled.
To ease the fear, Warner Bros “decided to invent four new demographics that had never been used on television before.” One new key demographic – in 1999 – was “households with internet access. It was right in the middle of the dot com boom… and those businesses wanted a place to advertise. That’s what got us on the air.”
Throughout the banter, the cast and creatives made it a point to pay homage to the late actor John Spencer. “The man was a gentlemen among gentleman besides being an extraordinary professional,” Schlamme said. “There was an internal, extraordinary loving quality that superseded the professionalism that he had.” He also praised Spencer’s performance. “If you look up the definition of an actor, you’ll see his picture. His craft was so important to him and that craft did not ever take away from him being a loving human being.”
Following the panel, ATX posted a photo from the event to its official Instagram.