“I love writing but hate starting. The page is awfully white and it says, ‘You have fooled some of the people some of the time but those days are over giftless.’”
Introduction to The West Wing Script Book
“[The West Wing] didn’t not test well. They let us make the pilot, it didn’t test horrendously, but it didn’t test through the roof. Then Warner Brothers, our studio, in order to convince NBC to put it on their schedule, to order 13 episodes of the show, they came up with a new testing sample that no one had tried before. It tested extremely well with four groups; households earning more than $75,000 a year, households where someone had four years of college, households where they subscribed to The New York Times, and the fourth and this was a huge deal—remember West Wing went on the air in 1999—households that had home internet access. The reason that fourth one was big—now even one has internet access, but not in 1999—the reason why that fourth one was such a big deal was right in the middle of the dot com boom. And Warner Brothers and NBC were able to show these people where they could advertise. If you went back and watched old TV programs, not on DVD, were for dot coms. You could see that more than half our ads were for doc coms and BMW. It was dot com and BMW why that show was on the air.”
Producer/writer/The West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin
The Aspen Institute interview with David Brooks
The above video clip is from The West Wing episode from season one titled, In Excelsis Deo. Sorkin an co-writer Rick Cleveland earned an Emmy for that episode. Cleveland was a graduate of the Playwriting Workshop at the University of Iowa proving that after 8 1/2 years of blogging I have yet to exhaust the depth of talent that has flowed (even for just a season) through the great state of Iowa.
It’s worth noting that The West Wing debuted in 1999—the same year The Sopranos first aired. If you’re looking for an exact year when television entered its modern golden age, then 1999 is a pretty good year to pick. At the 52nd Primetime Emmy Awards in 2000, The West Wing edged out The Sopranos for Outstanding Drama Series. (Over their entire runs The West Wing won 26 total Primetime Emmys, and The Sopranos 21.) In the Writers Guild of America’s 101 Best Written TV Series listed The Sopranos was at # 1 and The West Wing at #10. Yes, 1999 was a very good year for setting the tone for the future of television.
P.S. Sorkin has also said that the person that first planted the seed for The West Wing idea was Oscar-winning screenwriter Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind). In a casual conversation with Sorkin, Goldsman pointed to a poster of The American President (written by Sorkin) saying it would make a good TV series, “If you concentrated on the senior staffers. Senior staffers at the White House, you’d be good at writing that series.”
And for throw-back Thursday here’s Screenwriting from Iowa muse—University of Iowa graduate and Oscar-winning screenwriter—Diablo Cody.