“I love writing things that take place in workplaces. There’s sort of a common theme in the stuff that I’ve written which is it’s okay to be alone in a big city if you can find family at work. So I like workplaces. I like people who are really good at their job no matter what that job is. And I kind of like watching them do it…When I’m writing [fictional characters] I’m really mostly interested in honorable intentions. I’m mostly interested in the difference between, not good and bad, but good and great.”
Six-time Emmy Winning producer/writer Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing)
The Aspen Institute interview with David Brooks
Here’s Aaron Sorkin unpacking some of the obstacles The West Wing face on its road to becoming a successful TV program.
“The West Wing is a good ‘nobody knows anything’ example because at the time you couldn’t do a show about Washington. You couldn’t do a show about politics. They tried a couple of times, television wasn’t going to come near it. Because in broadcast television the idea is to alienate as few people as possible. That’s why when you look at the early broadcast days of television sort of the Father Knows Best era into I Dream of Jeanie, and those kinds of shows, the big hit shows—nobody lived anywhere. They all lived in Springfield. The husband had a job—though we didn’t know what it was He was a businessman, sometimes he was in advertising—they didn’t have religion, they did have a salary, because they had to seem just like you. Television has a much different relationship with its audience than movies or plays do. It’s a much more intimate relationship ’cause television comes into your home, and it’s something you do frequently when you’re flipping through a magazine, talking on the phone, putting the kids to bed, making dinner, that kind of thing. So The West Wing wasn’t supposed to be a hit, or even get on the air. It was a fluke that it got on the air.”
Tomorrow we’ll look at that fluke (hint: it was this newfangled thing—in 1999—called the internet), but for now here are other Aaron Sorkin-created TV shows that featured dynamic workplaces that showcased his knack for witty dialogue.