This episode is the series premiere of The West Wing.
There are no ordinary events in the life of the nation's Chief Executive. A minor bicycle mishap becomes a mini-crisis for his staff, while a remark Josh made on TV may get him bounced from his job.
Sam Seaborn is sitting with reporter Billy Kentworthy in the bar at the Four Seasons Hotel. Billy is pressuring Sam into saying something on the record regarding Josh Lyman's future in the White House after a recent on-air misstep. After refusing several times, Sam notices a woman staring at him and shares a smile with her.
The following morning, Leo McGarry is complaining to his maid Ruth about an error in the New York Times crossword puzzle (the spelling of Muammar Khaddafi's name) when his wife informs him that he's got a call from POTUS. Meanwhile, C.J. Cregg is using the morning to exercise in a gym and hit on a man exercising next to her when her pager goes off, causing her to fall off the treadmill. Josh Lyman is still at work, asleep, and awoken by his beeper going off -- and a member of the cleaning staff vacuuming around him -- and Toby Ziegler is aboard an airplane antagonizing a stewardess over his use of his laptop (and lack of peanuts) during landing when a message was delivered to the cockpit for him: POTUS in a bicycle accident.
Sam, we find out, ended up going to the apartment of the girl he met in the bar, Laurie. As Sam discusses the impressive shower facilities she owns, Laurie mentions that Sam received a page in the shower: POTUS in a bicycle accident. Sam immediately starts dressing, to Laurie's horror, and asks for her number saying he has to get to work despite it being 5:30 in the morning. As he's leaving, Laurie tells him to tell POTUS that he has a funny name, to which Sam replies "He's not my friend, he's my boss and it's not his name, it's his title.... President of the United States."
Leo walks into the West Wing of the White House and has a brief word with the security guard, Mike. He is approached by Bonnie, who requests he not "kill the messenger". Leo says good morning to Emma, Wilson and Jeffrey, but calls Jeffrey Joe. Leo doesn't seem to care. He is going to the desk of Donna Moss, who he asks if Josh is in yet. She says yes, and yells for him. Donna asks about the accident, but Leo insists it was a mild sprain, asks if she is from State Farm, and that he will be back later.
Leo enters Josh's office, and Josh is on the phone with the Coast Guard. Leo asks Josh for information on the Cuban refugees. Josh has very little information. Leo says, "True or false: if I were standing on high ground in Key West with binoculars, I'd be informed as I am now." Josh replies that is true, leaving them to muse over the intelligence budget being "[money] well spent."
Josh finally asks if "he" said anything, and Leo says the President is "pissed as hell" and so is he. Leo says they need these people, and while Josh says that they need and want Al Caldwell, they don't need Mary Marsh or John Van Dyke. Leo makes a reference to football and walks off. Josh admits it was stupid, but says he was right. Leo agrees.
Leo walks into a room where Dolores Landingham, the President's personal secretary, is waiting. She asks about an X-Ray as they enter the Oval Office, and Leo says the only thing that is broken is the $4,000 touring bike he loaned to the President. He then calls the President a klutz and a geek, to which Mrs. Landingham requests he keep that talk out of the Oval Office. He walks into his office, and talks to Bonnie about some meetings. He then asks Margaret to call the New York Times about the misspelling in the crossword puzzle.
The senior staff begins to enter Leo's room, where they begin a meeting. C.J. asks if there's anything else she can say about the President's accident, to which Leo says he has nothing. They discuss the situation with the Cubans, to which Josh still wants to help them while Toby is more concerned about what happens once they land. Sam suggests they send in the military, and the staff is shocked. Toby said it's a miracle they got elected, and Sam leaves to talk to his guy from the Center for Disease Control. Leo says they have to talk about Josh.
Billy walks up to Bobbi in the briefing room and tells her that Josh is going to be fired. Bobbi says he won't fire Josh, but Billy says he has to. C.J. walks in and begins a briefing. She says that Dr. Randall Haymen looked at the President's ankle and diagnosed it as a mild sprain. She then passes out photos of the President refusing help from the Secret Service, then falling down again. Chris tries to ask a question, but C.J. says to wait for the end of the briefing.
Josh is in his office watching the tape of him and Mary Marsh arguing on Capital Beat. Donna walks in, bringing him coffee. Josh sees through this and tells her to shut the door. He tells Donna if he gets fired, he gets fired. Donna asks if Josh thinks he'll get fired, and Josh says no. The door knocks, it's Toby.
Toby walks in and yells at Josh for getting "cute with Mary Marsh," but offers him a way to save his job, and mentions a Presidential address of family values. Josh is upset that the event is even scheduled, but Toby says it's his fault. Toby says that Mary and Al are coming for coffee, and that Josh should come and be nice. Josh protests, but Toby says that it's the only way for Josh to keep his job. Toby hands Josh a newspaper clipping about someone they obviously both know (Mandy Hampton). She's starting a job in town. Josh says that the photo is a good one.
His and Her Pagers
Mandy is speeding along the streets of D.C., talking on her cell to "Bruce". She runs a red light, and is pulled over by a motorcycle cop. The cop becomes very irritated as she ignores him while continuing to talk on the phone.
Leo is meeting with a group of economists. He asks two of them where the Dow will be a year from today. One says up 1000, the other says down 1000. "A year from now, one of you will look pretty stupid." The defecting Cubans run into a storm.
Josh tells Leo that Lloyd Russell is putting together an exploratory committee to run against the President in 2002 with Mandy at its head. Leo storms off, telling Margaret to get him Senator Russell. Sam and Josh both notice they are both wearing the same clothes they wore the day before, but neither of them knows it is for different reasons.
Josh is having lunch with Mandy, and 2 female fans of Josh ask for his autograph. One of them remembers that Mandy and Josh had a relationship. Mandy tells Josh that he will be fired, and wants him to come to work for Lloyd Russell. Josh realizes that Mandy is dating Russell. She tells him that the latest polls indicate that the President's unfavorables are up to 48%.
Leo is on the phone (anonymously) with the editor of the New York Times crossword puzzle when C.J. enters. She asks him if the President has made a decision on Josh, and Leo honestly has no idea.
Sam is talking with Ed and Larry about an upcoming speech about gun control. Cathy comes up to him and tells him that Leo's wife called requesting that Leo's daughter's 4th grade class is coming to the White House and needs a tour. He gets a page, and returns the call, finding himself connected with "Cashmere Escorts." He realizes he accidentally traded pagers with Laurie, and asks his assistant to page him and punch in his personal number. Laurie returns his call, and Sam asks to meet with her.
CJ talks to a gaggle of reporters and tells Toby that she, Sam, and he will be meeting with some leaders of the Religious Right to try to smooth things over.
Tour de farce
Al Caldwell and Leo are having a conversation. Leo tells Al that the President is a deeply religious man, who believes abortion is wrong, but that it is not the government's place to regulate it. Al asks Leo why the President dislikes him, and Leo tells him that Al is friends with Mary and John Van Dyke, and that it's hard not to tar them all with the same brush. He then tells Al that it's "six to five and pick 'em" whether Josh will still have a job at the end of the day.
Sam arrives at Laurie's apartment and she confirms that she is a high-class call-girl. He tells her that the sensitivity of his job means that he will -- reluctantly -- be unable to see her socially again. They give their pagers back to each other.
Mary Marsh, Al Caldwell, and John Van Dyke arrive at the White house for a meeting with the senior staff. Mallory O'Brien's class arrives in the Roosevelt room, and Sam is reluctant to try to give them a tour, since he knows little about the history of the White House. He tries his best to fake it but Mallory calls him outside, and calls him a moron. He then asks her which of the kids is Leo's daughter, describing his extraordinarily bad day that started with him accidentally sleeping with a prostitute, and asking her to show him some compassion. She tells him that she is Leo's daughter and that she is not inclined to show him any compassion. "Well this is bad on so many levels" he replies.
CJ, Josh, and Toby meet with Mary, Al, and John. Josh is apologetic to Mary for his remarks. Mary asks what else do they get. In the Presidential Radio address, will the President talk about public morals, school prayer, or pornography. Condoms in public schools will also work. Toby tells her that the Surgeon General has determined that condoms prevents pregnancy and STD's. John says that showing condoms to teenage boys inspires lust. Toby says that showing lug wrenches to teenage boys inspires lust.
Josh tries to break in, but Mary smugly tells him that he'll be gone before the day is over, and she'd prefer to negotiate with someone whose voice still matters. She makes a thinly veiled anti-Semitic remark, and is offended when Toby, getting increasingly agitated, calls her on it. John thinks that they should begin to honor the 1st Commandment, "honor thy father and mother" which Toby angrily declares to be the 3rd commandment. John asks angrily what the 1st commandment is. President Bartlet enters and loudly declares, "I am the Lord your God. Thou shalt worship no other god before me."
"Boy, those were the days."
The president, casually clad and walking with the assistance of a cane, walks into the room, and greets everyone warmly, Van Dyke asks if that pornography is available for $5 on every street corner, isn't that too high a price to pay for free speech? The president tells him no, that's too high a price to pay for pornography, and casually asks for coffee from an assistant. Sam & Leo enter, having heard about the President being back in the building.
Talking to Caldwell, the President asks him how many times he has been asked to denounce a Christian extremist group called the Lambs of God. When Caldwell responds that it's not his responsibility, The President tells him that's crap and that it is Caldwell's responsibility and furthermore, Caldwell knows that. The President then tells the group that he once came home from an extremely bad day in the state legislature and told his wife he was going for a drive, even though she advised him not to. He then proceeded to back his car out of the garage without first opening the garage door. He tells them that he was also advised not to board the bicycle he rode into a tree, but he was also very angry. He then relates the source of his anger. It seems that his 12 year old granddaughter gave an interview to a teen magazine, and that amidst "movie stars and makeup tips" she also talked about her views on a woman's right to choose. He then tells the assembled group that his (oldest) daughter had earlier called him in tears. Then he tells them why. "I love my family. And I've read my Bible from cover to cover. So I want you to tell me: from what part of the Holy Scripture do you suppose the Lambs of God drew their Divine inspiration when they sent my 12 year old granddaughter a Raggedy Ann doll with a knife stuck through its throat?"
He then tells Al that until he denounces the LoG publicly, "you can all get your fat asses out of my White House." The three conservative Christians leave, chastened, but not before Al promises Leo that he will "fix this".
The staff follows the President into the Oval office, chattering casually among themselves, until the President calls their attention: "Hello Mr. President. Did you have a nice trip sir? How's the ankle sir?" He relates a story about Annie and a press clipping she brought him about a tomato. The President tells them that they've all been taking a little break, thinking about their personal lives, and ignoring their jobs. He says that's fine, but "break's over!" He dismisses them all, but before Josh leaves he requotes Josh's gaffe on TV with Mary, and warns him: "Don't ever do it again." After they all leave, "Mrs. Landingham! What's next?"
- Rob Lowe as Sam Seaborn
- Moira Kelly as Mandy Hampton
- Allison Janney as C.J. Cregg
- Richard Schiff as Toby Ziegler
- John Spencer as Leo McGarry
- Bradley Whitford as Josh Lyman
- and Martin Sheen as President Bartlet
- Lisa Edelstein as Laurie
- Suzy Nakamura as Cathy
- Allison Smith as Mallory O'Brien
- Janel Moloney as Donna Moss
- The first words of the series are "Two Absolut martinis, another Dewers rocks.
- The iconic West Wing opening credits tune by Snuffy Walden is not heard in the pilot.
- Muammar Gaddafi is one of a number of current real-life heads of state to be made reference to on The West Wing; however, Fidel Castro in Ninety Miles Away was the only one to actually make an appearance. Queen Elizabeth is mentioned on multiple occasions, and King Olav of Norway at least once. Most other presidents and prime ministers were fictional characters.
- The Press Briefing Room shown early in the pilot is a different set than the one used in subsequent episodes.
- It is mentioned that the Roosevelt Room is named after Theodore Roosevelt. The Roosevelt Room is, in fact, named after both Presidents Roosevelt. Normally, when Democrats control the White House, the portrait of Theodore Roosevelt is replaced with the portrait of Franklin Roosevelt.
- "Honor Thy Father" is traditionally the fifth commandment in Jewish and Christian religions, though the fourth in the Catholic and Lutheran faiths. It is not the third commandment as suggested by Toby when he corrects John Van Dyke who had asserted it was the first.
- Near the very start of the episode Josh and Leo are talking and walking. They then stop and Josh rests his arm on the glass wall. The next shot is of Leo, through the glass and over Josh's arm, but when the shot changes again (into a wider one) Josh's arm has changed position into a higher one that would have blocked Leo's face.
- The US military doesn't use the Exocet, a french-built anti-ship missile whose uses against airplanes is limited, preferring sea-launched Tomahawk missiles.
- The Governor of Florida is named as Pat Thomas, but later on the series it is established that Robert Ritchie is Governor of Florida, having been elected in 1996. It's possible that Thomas died or left office for unknown reasons, though it's most likely an oversight by the writers.
- The reference Toby makes while on the flight (that the L-1011 "came off the line 20 months ago") is incorrect given that Lockheed produced that aircraft from 1968 to 1984. Likewise most US carriers had retired the L-1011 from their fleets before 1999.
- Sam says "Alger Hiss just walked in with my secret pumpkin". Hiss was a State Department official in the 1940s accused of spying for the Soviet Union. His accuser was Whittaker Chambers, who hid copies of government files in a pumpkin on his farm before giving them to then Rep. Richard Nixon, a member of the House Un-American Activities Committee. The line most likely refers not to the original incident, but to North by Northwest (1959), in which Cary Grant's character asks, "Did you get the pumpkin?" 
- The Lambs of God are based on a real life group "The Lambs of Christ".
- 'The West Wing' First Episodes: THR's 1999 Review (September 2014)
Notes and references
- NOTES Several minor roles were unnamed in the credits of this episode but named in dialogue. The "woman's voice over" role is Leo's wife telling him that he has had a phone call, identifying the character as Jenny McGarry. The role was recast when the character appeared on screen. The Flight Attendant voice over was identified as "Flight Attendant #1" in the script but no actress was cast to do the voiceover and the lines were given to Wendy Blair playing "Flight Attendant #2", throwing off the numbering of the flight attendants.