The West Wing is and was a political drama created and produced by Aaron Sorkin. It centered around a fictional Democratic Presidential administration led by President Josiah "Jed" Bartlet, a former governor from New Hampshire portrayed by Martin Sheen.
The series ran for seven years on NBC, from 1999 to 2006, and was widely distributed in syndication. Repeat episodes still air daily on weekdays on the cable TV network Bravo
Six actors were credited as regulars in all 7 seasons: Martin Sheen, Allison Janney, John Spencer, Bradley Whitford, Richard Schiff, and Dule Hill. Janel Moloney was in every episode of Season 1, although she was not credited as a regular cast member until Season 2. Stockard Channing joined as a regular in the third season, with guest appearances in seasons one and two. Series regular Rob Lowe left the series in the fourth season, but returned for two guest appearances in season seven. Joshua Malina became a regular in season four. Jimmy Smits, Alan Alda, and Mary McCormack became series regulars in season six. and Kristin Chenoweth became a regular in season seven.
A number of other actors also had repeated guest appearances throughout all seven seasons, but none of them were ever listed as regulars. Moira Kelly was a regular cast member in season one, but her character disappeared from the show after the first season and no explanation was ever given for her departure. An inside joke about those characters in the show who suffered similar fates is that they went to "Mandyville" (Mandy was Kelly's character on the show).
The show won 26 Emmy awards over the course of its run, nine in its first season alone (a record that still stands for most wins by a TV series in a single season), including Oustanding Drama Series, Outstanding Supporting Actor and Actress in a Drama Series, and Outstanding Main Title Theme Music. The show also won 2 Golden Globe awards, as well as dozens of other critics' awards.
The West Wing universe exists totally outside the "real world", even to the extent that Presidential elections are held in what would normally be mid-term years in the real world. No real world presidential administration is acknowledged after President Richard M. Nixon's. Despite this separation, a number of episodes referenced real-life issues and incidents. The show was sometimes called "The Left Wing" by conservative critics for its often liberal treatment of real-life political, economic, and social issues.
The First Season began a year into President Bartlet's first term. The senior staff was still getting used to their positions, and were making a number of media blunders. After a full-time media consultant (Mandy) was hired, things began to run more smoothly, until evidence of Chief of Staff Leo McGarry's past prescription drug abuse came to light, causing more media problems. A number of "real world" issues were explored, including hate crimes, the death penalty, the census, and election reform. The season ended with a cliffhanger episode showing an assassination attempt.
The Second Season began with a two-part resolution to the Season one cliffhanger, in which the target of the assassination was revealed to be Charlie Young, but the President and Josh Lyman were hit instead. The episodes also revealed how the senior staff came to work for the administration and the whitehouse. Then, following an episode detailing the mid-term elections in 2004, the remainder of the season would deal with the administration's dealings with the new congress, culminating in a five-episode arc that detailed the inside plan on how to deal with the President's eventual revelation to the country that he had Multiple sclerosis, in preparation for his running for a second term. Season two also featured the introduction of recurring character conservative Republican Ainsley Hayes as an employee of the White House counsel's office. The addition of her character was generally believed to be a nod to conservative critics of the show who felt that their views were not being fairly represented. The season ended on a two-episode arc and a cliffhanger, with the President suffering a personal tragedy with the death of his longtime secretary in a traffic accident, after which he was then asked in a news conference if he would seek a second term.
The Third Season began with a Special episode written to deal with the tragedy of September 11th. Following that was a 2-part episode which followed the staff's preparations for the President's formal announcement that he would seek a second term. Subsequent episodes followed the investigation by both a special prosecutor and Congress of the President (and the First Lady) to find if any laws were broken by either. The issue would be resolved by congress censuring the President. Subsequent episodes dealt with the staff's reaction to learning that the President's opponent would be Florida Governor Robert Ritchie. The season ended with the president ordering the covert assassination of an official of a "friendly" foreign government who was responsible for planning terror attacks in the United States.
The Fourth Season began as the campaign was in the heat of the late summer and fall campaign, and the first 8 episodes followed the campaign, culminating in a two-part election episode, which saw victory for both the President and a dead Democratic Congressional candidate, which resulted in Sam Seaborn being obligated to run for the seat in a special election as he had promised the man's widow he would. This would see the eventual departure of Sam's character and the addition of Will Bailey as a member of the Senior staff. The White House was forced to deal with an even smaller minority in Congress, while orchestrating a military intervention in Africa to prevent a humanitarian disaster. The White House was also forced to deal with the media's pending revelation of the assasination that came at the end of season three. The season ended in a 3 episode arc that saw Vice-President John Hoynes resign in disgrace after a sex scandal, followed by the abduction of Zoey Bartlet by a sleeper terrorist cell and the president turning over his power to the Speaker of the House to avoid having to make any heart-wrenching decisions regarding Zoey's fate.
The Fifth Season began with a 2-part episode culminating in Zoey's rescue from her abductors and the President re-claiming his post. Subsequent episodes dealt with the selection of a politically savvy Speaker of the House who was able to outmaneuver the White House at almost every turn, even to the point of forcing the President to accept a mediocre nominee to replace former Vice President Hoynes. The season also was the last one to feature a Christmas episode. Episodes dealt with the issues of judicial nominations, nuclear proliferation, saving Social Security, and the attempt by John Hoynes to rehabilitate his image for a future presidential run. The Season ended with a two part episode detailing an attack on an American Congressional Delegation in the Gaza strip, with former Admiral and JCS Chairman Percy Fitzwallace dead and Josh's senior aide Donna Moss critically injured. The President is faced with the double problem of dealing with the aftermath of the attack and trying to find a solution to the root cause of it.
The Sixth Season began with a 2-part episode in which the President manages to negotiate a tentative peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, with American troops as the peacekeepers, over Leo's strong objections. Leo suffers a heart attack and leaves his post as Chief of Staff, and C.J. Cregg becomes the new CoS. The President attends a summit with Chinese Leaders during which he experiences a bad flare-up of his MS. Josh, feeling marginalized and looking for a new cause to back, leaves the White House staff to convince new regular character Matthew Santos to run for President as a dark-horse candidate. The season fast-forwards through the year to the start of the 2006 primary season as new character Republican Senator Arnold Vinick becomes the front-runner (and Presidential nominee) of the Repbulican Party. Meanwhile, Leo works to convince the rest of the White House Senior staff, many of whom already are looking toward future careers, that they still have work to do in the final year of President Bartlet's term. Much of the second half of the season is devoted to the primary fight among the Democrats. The season culminates with the final day of the Democratic party's convention, which is still without a nominee, and the White House learns that a senior staff member leaked the classified information that a secret Military Space Shuttle exists to the media in order to save the astronauts on board the International Space Station. After a rousing convention speech, and some subsequent behind-the-scenes maneuvering on the part of President Bartlet, Matt Santos is selected as the Democratic Nominee for President, with Leo as his running mate.
The seventh and final season follows the campaigns of both Arnold Vinnick and Matt Santos in their day-to-day post-convention operations. The season features a special debate episode between the two which aired live both on the East and West Coasts The White House, meanwhile, has to deal with a number of crises, including averting a potential war between Russia and China, the revelation that Toby Ziegler leaked the information on the classified shuttle, and a potential nuclear disaster in California. On a lighter note, the President's middle daughter Ellie Bartlet marries her boyfriend in a hastily arranged White House ceremony (after she reveals she is expecting!) The season also showed the romantic joining (Finally!) of Josh and Donna. The election culminates in a two-part episode, in which Matt Santos earns a narrow victory. Leo McGarry, played by series regular John Spencer, who had died earlier in the Season, dies in this episode (off camera, of course). His friends and family gather together in the White House to remember him the next episode. The remaining five episodes deal with the transition to the new administration, including choosing a new cabinet, finding a new senior staff for the White House, and exploring the incoming first family's adaptation to their new lives. The season--and series--ends with the inauguration of President Matthew Santos.