By the time The Newsroom aired the final episode of its controversial three-year run in December 2014, creator Aaron Sorkin had told the Los Angeles Times he was “pretty certain” he was done writing for television. Instead, he planned to focus solely on film, including the equally-controversial Steve Jobs, which failed to generate the Oscar buzz of his previous two movies, Moneyball and The Social Network.
In the middle of this remarkable political season, Sorkin has now expressed an openness to reviving the show that will always define his television career: The West Wing.
Seated amongst several of the show’s cast members — Martin Sheen, Rob Lowe and Allison Janney notably missing — during a 10 year reunion at the ATX Television Festival in Austin, Texas this week, Sorkin was quick to say he would be interested in bringing the show back in some way, shape or form.
"If there was a way to bring it back without harming its legacy, I would,” Sorkin told Today’s Hallie Jackson. Cast members, including Bradley Whitford, who played Josh Lyman, and Janel Maloney, who played Donna Moss, agreed, saying they would step back into their characters “in a minute.” And Joshua Malina, who played Will Bailey on The West Wing before joining the cast of Scandal, had a suggestion. Instead of Muppet Babies, they could do “West Wing Oldsters.”
Should Sorkin decide to return to the world of The West Wing, it would be all the more significant because of the fact that he departed the show after its fourth season and has never even watched the last three seasons that were made without his involvement, and widely viewed as inferior by critics.
His decision not to watch stemmed from advice he received at the time from Larry David, who left Seinfeld after its seventh season. "You can't ever watch the show again,” David told Sorkin, “because you're gonna watch it and either it's going to be great and you're gonna be miserable, or it's gonna be less than great and you're gonna be miserable. But either way, you're gonna be miserable."
Naturally, the hour-long conversation eventually turned to the real election year drama that is currently captivating the nation, with Jackson asking the group who the fictional President Jed Bartlet would endorse in 2016. While Sorkin said he has resisted answering hypothetical questions like this one in the past, he explained that because “we are in a terribly dangerous situation right now” in which the Republican nominee “doesn’t know anything,” Bartlet would “of course” endorse Hillary Clinton.
Sorkin went on to posit that there aren’t too many West Wing fans among Donald Trump’s supporters, but to the extent that there are, he said they believe that Trump “is their Jed Bartlet,” and like a television president, he will be able to solve any crisis “by the end of the hour.”
“He is fantastic television, and a lot of horrible things can be really wonderful television,” Whitford added.
Ironically, that statement represents why The West Wing may have trouble breaking through in today’s television climate. While viewers love watching political animals do “horrible things” on shows like Scandal, House of Cards and Veep, the characters on The West Wing were almost always pure and hopeful and almost never cynical about anything.
The West Wing may have represented a more idealistic view of Washington, D.C., but in our current political climate it feels more fictional than ever.