27 Surprising Facts About “The West Wing” You Probably Didn’t Know

Hail to the chief.

1. President Bartlet was initially only supposed to make occasional appearances in the show.

Warners Bros. Pictures / Via nrcc.org

The focus was originally going to be the senior staff, so Sheen was only signed on for four episodes before everyone realized how great both Sheen and the character were.

2. Sidney Poitier was offered the role of president.

Danny Moloshok / Reuters

The talks did not get very far, however.

3. Martin Sheen puts his jacket on like a boss because of an arm injury he suffered as a newborn.

Warner Bros. Television / Via gph.is

When Sheen was born, his left shoulder was injured by forceps, leaving him with limited use of his left hand.

4. President Bartlet is meant to be a descendant of Josiah Bartlett, a real-life signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Ole Erekson, Engraver, c1876, Library of Congress / Via ushistory.org

Josiah Bartlett, who represented New Hampshire in the Continental Congress, was President Bartlet’s “great-grandfather’s great-grandfather,” according to the episode “What Kind of Day Has It Been?” (The historical Bartlett spelled his name with two T’s, however.)

5. The main set of The West Wing was so large it originally had to be split across two stages.

Both sets had a yellow hallway in them that allowed for continuity if they needed to link scenes from each set. In later years, the crew got enough space to have the entire set in one place.

6. The longest “walk and talk” the show ever did was three minutes long and involved close to 500 extras.

According to director of photography Tom Del Ruth, the scene, from the Season 1 episode “Five Votes Down,” took half the night to shoot.

7. Josh Lyman got his name from a character in Garry Trudeau’s comic strip Doonesbury.

DOONESBURY ©1993 G. B. Trudeau. Reprinted with permission of UNIVERSAL UCLICK. All rights reserved.

Doonesbury’s Josh Lyman was a young Clinton staffer, and a framed copy of one of the strips he appeared in hangs in TV Josh’s office.

8. C.J.’s “The Jackal” was inspired by Allison Janey’s impromptu backstage lip-synching.

Warner Bros. Television / Via giphy.com

Janey was entertaining her co-stars in her trailer by preforming acid-jazz artist Ronny Jordan’s song, but Sorkin was so entertained by it he made it part of her character.

9. Josh Malina was a big prankster when the cameras weren’t running.

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Malina, who played Will Bailey, would change the language on people’s iPods, tear the last pages out a book they were reading, and, on one occasion, sent Jimmy Smits Valentine’s Day flowers on behalf of Bradley Witford.

10. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright once accosted Sorkin when the crew was filming near her house.

United States Department of State

While filming a scene in Georgetown around 3 a.m., a bathrobe-clad Albright walked out to see what all the commotion was. She then told Sorkin that the show needed more high-ranking women.

11. Leo McGarry’s story about Andrew Jackson having a big block of cheese is true.

Perley’s Reminiscences / Via whitehousehistory.org

Though some details of the story in “The Crackpots and These Women” are wrong, the Jackson White House did have a 1,400 pound block of cheddar cheese — a gift from a New York dairy farmer. Though Jackson loved cheese, he was unable to eat almost a ton of it, and offered it to the people during his last public reception. It was gone within two hours.

12. The Obama administration held a real Big Block of Cheese Day (albeit a virtual one).

In January 2014, several White House officials answered people’s questions on social media. The White House said it was “a nod to history (and maybe the TV show The West Wing).”

13. The West Wing is tied for the most Emmy wins ever for a drama series with 26.

Warner Bros. Television / Via thewestwingthings.tumblr.com

It’s tied with Hill Street Blues.

14. Josh was modeled after Rahm Emanuel, back when he was special adviser to the Clintons.

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“I think that if you played Rahm Emanuel like Rahm Emanuel actually is, I don’t think people would believe it,” Bradley Witford told New York magazine. “I think people would think, Wow, I can’t believe somebody is actually like that.

15. C.J. Cregg was inspired by Dee Dee Myers, Clinton’s press secretary and consultant for The West Wing.

WireImage

 

Myers’ husband was a White House correspondent much like C.J.’s eventual husband Danny Concannon.

16. And Sam Seaborn was based on George Stephanopoulos.

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AP Photo/ABC, Heidi Gutman, File

 

Stephanopoulos said his real role in the Clinton White House was more like Josh Lyman’s, however.

17. Donna was originally envisioned as a minor part, so actress Janel Moloney kept her job as a hostess at a Beverly Hills Italian restaurant through the first few episodes.

Warner Bros. Television / Via whendoiturnbackintoapumpkin.tumblr.com

Moloney initially auditioned for the role of C.J. Cregg, but was offered the role of Donna. Her chemistry with Bradley Witford (Josh) was so good that it became clear within the first three episodes that Donna was going to stick around.

18. Eugene Levy almost played Toby.

Zide/Perry Productions / Via reactiongifs.com

The part ultimately went to Richard Schiff.

19. Richard Schiff was very upset about what happened to Toby in the final season.

Warners Bros. Television / Via fuckyeahtobyziegler.tumblr.com

Schiff thought that Toby would never leak the classified information about the shuttle because he would not betray the president like that.

20. Mrs. Landingham probably wouldn’t have been killed off had actress Kathryn Joosten not casually mentioned to Aaron Sorkin that she was up for a role in another pilot.

 

And that’s how “Two Cathedrals” was born.

21. The San Francisco General Assembly observed a moment of silence and adjourned in memory of Mrs. Landingham after the character’s death in a car crash.

Warner Bros. Television / Via whendoiturnbackintoapumpkin.tumblr.com

Assembly leader Kevin Shelley called Mrs. Landingham a ”great American” and said her contributions to the nation ”were too numerous to count.”

22. The decorations in C.J.’s goldfish bowl changed frequently, and were usually sly references to the plot of the episode.

Warner Bros. Television / Via brackishfaq.webspace.virginmedia.com

Decorations included a submarine in “Gone Quiet,” where the President Bartlet fears a sub has gone missing; a flag-draped coffin in “The Stormy President,” where Bartlet attends a former president’s funeral; and a sign that read “That’s All Folks,” in the series finale.

23. A shot of President Bartlet in the opening credits has a stunning resemblance to a famous photo of John F. Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

George Tames / The New York Times

Warner Bros. Television

 

Kennedy was one of the main inspirations for Bartlet.

24. The Huffington Post included a Bartlet vs. Richie model in its 2012 election forecast map.

Jay Boice, Aaron Bycoffe and Andrei Scheinkman / The Huffington Post / Via elections.huffingtonpost.com

Bartlet’s landslide victory was one possible prediction alongside several historical elections.

25. There were two versions of the live “Debate” episode — one for each coast — but only the West Coast version is available for viewing.

Warner Bros. Television / Via media4.s-nbcnews.com

The West Coast version appears in the box DVD sets, is streaming on Amazon and Netflix, and is shown in televised reruns.

26. Matt Santos was originally supposed to lose the presidential election to Arnold Vinick in the seventh season.

Warner Bros. Pictures / Via jonahweiland.com

The writers changed their minds after John Spencer, who played Santos’ running mate Leo McGarry, died midway through the season.

27. Aaron Sorkin makes a cameo in the last episode, “Tomorrow.”

Warner Bros. Television

He appears in the crowd during Santos’ inauguration. Sorkin had left the show three seasons prior.

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