The West Wing is a crucial part of American television’s lexicon, but its beginnings were far from well-planned machinations. The drama, about senior White House staffers, came about because of a bluff The West Wing‘s creator came up with on the spot one day.
The story begins before what would become one of the best TV series ever was even a concept in creator Aaron Sorkin’s mind. The writer had scored a meeting with a producer of import, John Wells. He assumed he was heading into a casual talk, but he was mistaken.
“The idea for The West Wing happened very much by accident. It never occurred to me to try to write a TV show,” Sorkin remembered. “Some friends came to my house for dinner, including Akiva Goldsmith, he continued, “I happened to mention I was having the meeting the next day with [John] Wells, but said we were just having lunch to talk.”
“Akiva and I wandered into a little office I had, and the poster for The American President [which Sorkin wrote] was up on the wall. And he said, ‘You know what would make an interesting TV series? That. Forget about the romance between the president and the lobbyist, and just sort of write it about the senior staffers.’ I said, ‘Akiva, that’s a good idea, but I’m not doing a TV show. I’m just having this lunch with John.’”
Sorkin said he misunderstood the point of the meeting, “I walked into the restaurant and saw that it was John, three guys from CAA, and people from Warner Bros. who were expecting me to pitch an idea. Rather than say, ‘Um, you know, I think there has been a misunderstanding’ and say I didn’t have any ideas to pitch, I said, ‘I want to do a TV show about senior staffers at the White House.’”
“I was kind of spitballing, making it up as I went along. I didn’t have a pitch prepared. What I did have was some tiny moments and little shards of stories I had to cut from the screenplay of The American President, or little stories I heard at the White House while researching the movie. Warner Bros. didn’t ask for much in terms of ‘Will it be this or that’ — they just let me go away and write,” he said.
Some of the finest art is created by complete accident, it turns out. The West Wing is currently streaming on Max in the US here, and The American President is available for rental or purchase on Apple TV here. For more stellar television, check out our lists of the best horror series, best thriller series, and best fantasy series. Or, find out why Rob Lowe left The West Wing.