The West Wing 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 show began on September 22, 1999 on television network NBC. It ran for seven seasons over seven years, and ended its run on May 14, 2006.
Six actors were credited as regulars in all seven 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 main cast member until Season 2. Stockard Channing joined as a main in the third season, with guest appearances in seasons one and two. Rob Lowe left the series in the fourth season, but returned for two guest appearances in season seven. Joshua Malina became a main in season four. Jimmy Smits, Alan Alda, and Mary McCormack became series mains in season six and Kristin Chenoweth became a main 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 main 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 was that they went to "Mandyville", Mandy being 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. It won "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.
Relation to the real world
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 in the middle of the first year into President Bartlet's first term. The senior staff were 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. The attempt failed, but the President and Josh Lyman were hit instead. Flashbacks revealed how the senior staff came to work for the administration and the whitehouse. Then, following the mid-term elections in 2000, 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 long time 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, a two-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 assassination that came at the end of season three. The season ended in a three 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 two-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 was also 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 was 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 two-part episode in which the President managed to negotiate a tentative peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians--with American troops as the peacekeepers, over Leo's strong objections. The stress of this falling out combined with the stress of his job caused Leo to suffer a near-fatal heart attack and leave his post as Chief of Staff, C.J. Cregg taking his place. The President attended a summit with Chinese Leaders during which he experienced an extreme episode of his MS which left him partially paralyzed and physically incapacitated for weeks. Josh grew disillusioned with the potential Democratic Presidential nominees and realized that whoever won the nomination would have little chance of winning the general election, so he left the White House staff to convince Matthew Santos to run for President, and to help guide the inexperienced but savvy congressman through the turbulent waters of a dark-horse, underdog candidacy. The season fast-forwarded through the year to the start of the 2006 primary season as Republican Senator Arnold Vinick became the front-runner, and Presidential nominee, of the Republican Party. Meanwhile, Leo worked to convince the rest of the White House Senior staff, many of whom already were looking toward future careers, that they still had work to do in the final year of President Bartlet's term. Much of the second half of the season was devoted to the primary fight among the Democrats. The season culminated with the final day of the Democratic party's convention, which was still without a confirmed nominee, as the White House learned that a senior staff member leaked the classified information that a secret Military Space Shuttle existed 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 was selected as the Democratic Nominee for President, with Leo as his running mate.
The seventh and final season followed the campaigns of both Arnold Vinnick and Matt Santos in their day-to-day post-convention operations. The season featured a special debate episode between the two which aired live both on the East and West Coasts. The White House, meanwhile, had 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 married her boyfriend in a hastily arranged White House ceremony after she revealed she was expecting. The season also showed the romantic joining of Josh and Donna. The election culminated in a two-part episode, in which Matt Santos earned a narrow victory. Leo McGarry died, actor John Spencer having died earlier in the season. His friends and family gathered together in the White House to remember him the next episode. The remaining five episodes dealt 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 show, ended with the inauguration of President Matthew Santos.