The West Wing

A couple of days ago I came upon a rerun of The West Wing and was immediately sucked right in. That show is the reason God invented television. Every episode was  perfect, from the theme music to the closing credits. It was patriotic without being jingoistic. And the donkeys and elephants were friendlier to each other as well–there wasn’t the extreme bipartisanism we have today.

The show ran from 1999-2006. That seems strange because in my head, it is a Clinton-era show, but in reality, it ran more during the Bush years.

Maybe that’s why it was so popular–the contrast between the literate (albeit fictional) President Josiah Bartlett and the unfortunately non-fictional George Bush. For many people, it was like looking at the way Washington could’ve been, instead of the way it was.

The West Wing was an outgrowth of a movie called The American President. The genius behind both was Aaron Sorkin who wrote dialog so quick-witted–and delivered so rapidly–that I literally had to turn the volume up to catch it all.

It was impossible not to see the similarities between the Clinton White House and Bartlett’s. They were both governors, born in small towns in small states. Both Democrats and full of charm. Like Clinton, President Bartlett wasn’t perfect. He never told the public that he had MS and his physician wife even gave up her license when it was discovered that her treatment of his disease violated American Medical Association rules.

Here’s a story.

In 1992, we lived in Little Rock, Ark. That summer, after Clinton won the nomination, Little Rock became the focus of much of the world’s media. I was working as a freelance writer and TV producer then and was hired by NBC to work in its Little Rock bureau, across the street from Clinton’s headquarters. Suddenly our small town was full of famous faces. Andrea Mitchell was the one I dealt with the most, though most of the NBC bigwigs, including the late Tim Russert, came through our office. If James Carville or George Stephanopoulous was scheduled to be on the Today Show, I’d have to be at the studio at 5 a.m. to let them in. (Carville is nota morning person.) I was interviewed by Irish radio and videoed by Japanese TV. Hotels, bars and restaurants made a fortune and more than one Ivy Leaguer ate his first turnip greens at one of the local meat and threes.

Wolf Blitzer was at that time a dead ringer for my friend Ed B. Same white hair. Same white beard. Same slender frame. But what Wolf didn’t know was that his Arkansas clone was a very popular guy–sort of a man about small town.

Every where Wolf went, people would holler at him. “Hey, Ed” they’d yell from across the street. “How are ya?” they’d say, slapping the wrong guy on the back.

It went on for weeks. Perfect strangers mistaking this famous journalist for a Little Rock ad man.

Finally, the two came face-to-face. Literally bumped into each other.

“You have to be Ed,” Wolf told him. “People have been calling me Ed for weeks.”

(You have to understand that we were all tired of the national media at this point.)

“Hmmmm, that’s funny,” my friend said. “Nobody’s called me Wolf.”

4 Comments

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4 responses to “The West Wing

  1. West Wing dialogue blows my mind. It’s on par with Robert Altman-dialogue direction. Love it.

  2. It’s funny you wrote this, because I just discovered the West Wing personally about 4 months ago. I’ve been DVRing it on Bravo. I can’t believe I missed it when it was airing because it’s truly phenomenal television. And I would know…I watch TONS of TV.

  3. Julie Fisher

    Come on, give us more backstage info about Little Rock when you were there. Sounds fascinating. I mean, Wolf Blitzer even got to meet Ed! And everybody got to meet turnip greens. I bet it changed some lives forever.

  4. It was a fantastic show. We watched the whole series over again during Dr. O’C’s last pregnancy. I think you’re right about the popularity being based on the contrast. I certainly wished that we had a president like Jed Bartlett.

    Great Wolf Blitzer story!

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