Leo's "Big Block of Cheese" story is true. Andrew Jackson received an enormous block of cheese from the people of New York City, and when he hadn't touched it in two years, gave it to the people of D.C. to celebrate Washington's birthday. They finished it in two hours.
Once while the show was filming in Georgetown at about three o'clock in the morning, an irate lady reportedly came out in a bathrobe with a bunch of guys. She said, "What the hell's going on? I have an early morning at the State Department, and, by the way, you people don't even have a Secretary of State on your show, and I think you should have one, and it should be a woman." The woman was Madeleine Albright.
Traditionally, during a Republican administration, a portrait of Theodore Roosevelt is hung in the Roosevelt Room in the West Wing of the White House and, during a Democratic administration, a portrait of Franklin D. Roosevelt is hung there (the former Roosevelt being a Republican and the latter a Democrat). In the Roosevelt Room of the Bartlet White House, portraits of both Roosevelts are hung.
After Aaron Sorkin and Rick Cleveland won an Emmy for writing the episode "In Excelsis Deo", only Sorkin spoke at the awards ceremony. Cleveland published an article in Writers Guild Magazine expressing his disappointment at not being allowed to speak, because the homeless veteran aspect of the episode's plot was based on Cleveland's own father, who was a veteran who died a homeless alcoholic. Sorkin (writing under the user name "Benjamin", his real-life middle name) posted on the television message board mightybigtv.com (later renamed televisionwithoutpity.com) that he had written most of the episode and had only given Cleveland a co-writing credit as a courtesy, because Cleveland had worked on a previous draft that, according to Sorkin, bore no resemblance to the final shooting script. Sorkin also said that this was true of almost all of the The West Wing scripts written up to that point (mid-2001), that he was the true and only writer of nearly all West Wing episodes, and the rest of the writing staff only helped him with research and "kicking ideas around" - so he gave "them each a Story by credit on a rotating basis, by way of a gratuity." This internet posting attracted a great deal of mainstream press attention, which led Sorkin to post again, this time retracting his claim of exclusive writing credit. The "LemonLyman.com" subplot in the season three episode "The U.S. Poet Laureate" (in which Josh posts on a website dedicated to his fans and sees it come back to haunt him) is based on this series of events.
This was the first American drama series to react to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. Aaron Sorkin wrote a special episode ("Isaac and Ishmael") that was filmed and broadcast within only a couple of weeks. The episode, which featured the lead characters discussing a terrorist threat upon the U.S., and being locked down inside the White House, due to the name of a man on a Terrorist Watch List matching that of an innocent White House worker, was not considered part of this show's continuity.
The character of Mandy (Moira Kelly) was abandoned after the first season. Aaron Sorkin and Kelly both agreed that the character had run its course. However, Sorkin never explained on the show what happened to Mandy. The character just disappeared. This gave birth to the term "Mandyville", a reference to where characters go, when they disappear from a series.
At the 2000 Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Awards (the Emmys), the show won a record nine Emmy awards - the most for any season of a television series - and it was also only in its first season.
In 2011, Kal Penn told The New York Times, that on the first night of his job in the Obama Administration's White House Office of Public Engagement, he was at the office until 11 p.m., and suggested to his colleagues that they order in some Chinese food. When his new co-workers told him that ordering food deliveries is not actually allowed in the White House, Penn's response was: "but they do it on West Wing!"
When he asked C.J. (Allison Janney) out on a date, Danny said, "I enjoy movies, I enjoy music, I'm not wild about ice-skating, but what the hell, I'll do it." Allison Janney trained throughout her childhood to be an Olympic figure skater. She would also go on to play the mother of figure skater Tonya Harding in 2017's 'I, Tonya'.
At the end of its run in May 2006 and celebrated at its final Emmy appearance in August 2006, The West Wing (1999) ended up with a grand total of twenty-six Emmys, the most in history for a drama series, tied with Hill Street Blues (1981).
On the set of the series one day, Allison Janney was entertaining the cast and crew by lip-syncking to an obscure spoken jazz piece called "The Jackal", by Ronny Jordan. Aaron Sorkin liked it so much, that he wrote it into the next episode of the show ("Six Meetings Before Lunch") as a ritual of C.J.'s.
The set was supposedly so realistic, that Warner Brothers studio tour groups are not permitted inside the sound stages where the show was filmed, due to White House security concerns. (Some exterior sets, including the South Portico, may be viewed on the tour.)
Josiah Bartlett of New Hampshire was a member of the Second Continental Congress in 1776, and signed the Declaration of Independence. President Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen) is supposed to be his descendant, despite the different spelling of his last name.
In the opening credits, there is a still shot of Martin Sheen's character, President Bartlett leaning on a desk with his head bowed. We see him from the back. This was a direct tribute to the famous photograph of President John F. Kennedy taken during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The only difference is that JFK was holding a cigar in his hand.
The set was the largest constructed for both a pilot and a television series to date. It was so large, that during the first season, it had to be housed on two stages, each with an identical yellow corridor for continuity. During the hiatus between the first and second seasons, the set was moved to a larger stage, and put together, where it has remained ever since.
In a 2006 LA Times article, real-life former White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers (a consultant on the show), revealed that the relationship between press secretary C.J. Cregg and reporter Danny Concannon was based upon her own relationship with, and eventual marriage to, former New York Times White House correspondent Todd Purdum, although unlike C.J. and Danny, Meyers and Purdum never dated until after Myers left the White House. The same article also revealed that Josh and Donna's relationship was also based upon real White House staffers, albeit ones who never dated.
Janel Moloney was never supposed to be a regular. Co-star Bradley Whitford pointed out the obvious chemistry between the characters of Josh and Donna, and Aaron Sorkin agreed. Nevertheless, Moloney was credited as a guest star for the entire first season. The first time her name appears in the opening credits, is in season two, episode one, "In The Shadow of Two Gunmen, Part I." To the horror of her father, in particular, her last name was misspelled. This was subsequently corrected.
In 2010, for the 20th Anniversary of Entertainment Weekly Magazine, EW reunited Martin Sheen (President Josiah Bartlet), Allison Janney (C.J. Cregg), Bradley Whitford (Josh Lyman), Elisabeth Moss (Zoey Bartlet), Dulé Hill (Charlie Young), Janel Moloney (Donna Moss), Kathryn Joosten (Dolores Landingham), and Stockard Channing (Abigail Bartlet) for a photo shoot and interview, and asked them to opine on the hypothetical futures of their characters' lives. Alison Janney thought C. J. was touring on the lecture circuit and making a lot of money speaking about her White House years; Elisabeth Moss thought Charlie and Zoey had stayed together; and Bradley Whitford thought Josh and Donna both worked at a think tank (but Donna quit working after their child was born).
On January 24, 2014, the Obama White House announced, that in the spirit of both Andrew Jackson, and this show, they would host a real version of the show's "Big Block of Cheese Day", in which White House officials would be available to answer questions from ordinary Americans (albeit online instead of in person, as the "cheese day" meetings were on the show). This announcement was kicked off by a video, posted on the White House's official website, that featured this show's stars Bradley Whitford and Joshua Malina, and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney. The first real Big Block of Cheese Day took place on Wednesday, January 29, 2014. On January 16, 2015, the White House announced that they would again be holding a Big Block of Cheese Day. This time, the video announcement (titled "Big Block of Cheese Day Is Back, and It's Feta Than Ever") featured White House Press secretary Josh Earnest and West Wing cast members Bradley Whitford, Joshua Malina, Mary McCormack, Dulé Hill, Richard Schiff, Allison Janney, and Martin Sheen. The video described the event as "like Reddit, but without the weird stuff." The third real "Big Block of Cheese Day" took place on January 13, 2016, the day after President Obama delivered the last State of the Union address of his Presidency. Various Senior White House staff, Cabinet officials, and members of Congress were available to answer public questions online at various times during the day, including such people as Vice President Joe Biden, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, First Lady Michelle Obama, HUD Secretary Julian Castro, Labor Secretary Tom Perez, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, Senator Cory Booker, and many others.
After being advised by Josh that "she (C.J. Cregg) likes goldfish", Danny Concannon mistakenly gives C.J. a live goldfish in a bowl, as opposed to the snack-food variety. The goldfish and goldfish bowl then become permanent parts of C.J.'s office decor, and whenever the bowl appears on camera, the centerpiece decoration is always changed to match a popular theme from that episode, or the relevant holiday season, for example, a turkey, a Christmas tree, a space shuttle, a podium, and so on.
Although Lily Tomlin (Deborah Fiderer) did not join the cast until season three, episode twenty-two in 2002, her character was mentioned all the way back in season one, episode three ("A Proportional Response") as Debbie DiLaguardia, the White House personnel employee, who first sent Charlie's resumé to Josh's attention. The name discrepancy is explained when she corrects Charlie (who has warmly greeted her as Mrs. DiLaguardia) by pointing out that she is no longer married to Mr. DiLaguardia, and she's plain old Ms. Fiderer now.
The show frequently employed a device in which characters have conversations while walking through the office halls or from one meeting to another. In television parlance, this is called a "walk and talk" scene, though some "West Wing" fans also dubbed the exchanges "pedeconferences". This element became so identified with the show, that a "Mad TV" parody of "The West Wing" consisted almost entirely of the characters walking (and then running) through the halls of the White House, and when Aaron Sorkin appeared on 30 Rock (2006), his role consisted of him and Tina Fey (Liz) walking in a big circle while talking about writing for television.
Senator Hillary Clinton wrote an open letter addressed to Josh Lyman when he suggested closing a military base in upstate New York on the show. In the same letter, she praised Toby Ziegler for saving Social Security in an earlier episode.
After leaving the show, Aaron Sorkin claimed that when he began watching the season five premiere (the first episode to be written without him) he turned it off after less than a minute, and never watched another episode. He likened the experience to "Watching someone make out with my girlfriend."
Whenever the weather is shown on the news scroll, the temperature highs and lows are always the same. Therefore regardless of what time of year the show takes place, the highs and lows for Omaha are 67/44 degrees.
At the beginning of the show's sixth season, Israel's ambassador flew from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles to visit the set of the show. He met with most of the crew, and explained to them the details of Israel's relations with the U.S. This helped the crew while filming, as the sixth season of the show is dedicated to Middle Eastern relations.
In 2012, cast members Allison Janney, Bradley Whitford, Janel Moloney, Richard Schiff, Melissa Fitzgerald, Joshua Malina, Lily Tomlin, Mary McCormack, and Martin Sheen appeared as their "West Wing" characters in a video supporting Michigan State Supreme Court candidate Bridget Mary McCormack (as well as raising awareness of the non-partisan section of the ballots in Michigan and many other states). Bridget Mary McCormack won her election. She is the sister of Mary McCormack.
During the sixth season, NiCole Robinson (Margaret) became pregnant. Although the show did choose to acknowledge Margaret as also being pregnant, there was never any clue given about the identity of the baby's father, whether or not Margaret was married or partnered, or even whether Margaret kept the baby herself, or gave it up for adoption. Since these things were never addressed on the show itself, they were the subject of rampant fan speculation, and when Robinson was interviewed by TV Guide after the show's finale, she said that her two best guesses for the baby's father were either Ron Silver (Bruno Gianelli) or "the UPS guy."
The theme of this show, from the pilot to episode four differed from subsequent episodes, as it was performed on a synthesizer. It was replaced by one performed by a full orchestra, starting with episode five.
For the first season, Stockard Channing and Allison Janney received Emmy nominations for Supporting Actress. Janney, who eventually won, did the whole season as a regular cast member. Channing did three episodes as a Special Guest Star. A similar thing happened for the third season, when Channing, Janel Moloney and Mary-Louise Parker were nominated for Supporting Actress. Channing won, having done ten episodes, but was now part of the opening sequence. Moloney did the whole season as a regular cast member, and Parker only did seven episodes as a Guest Star. For the sixth season, Alan Alda was nominated for Supporting Actor having done six episodes as a Special Guest Star. He won the following year, but for the last season, he was a regular on the show.
Edward James Olmos was asked to play Judge Mendoza on a semi-regular capacity, and even though he wanted to, he had just been offered the role on American Family (2007), a show he considered important to have on television at the time.
The drive-up "West Wing" entrance most often filmed for the show, is actually a set used to cover a large door to one of the two sound stages used by the production company. It's located at the Warner Brothers Studios in Burbank, California, and can be seen from the street by looking in off Forest Lawn Drive (although often obscured by the many trailers used by the show's cast members).
Aaron Sorkin told Entertainment Weekly that the first actor he and the producers wanted to play President Bartlet, was Sidney Poitier. That idea was abandoned when Poitier's fee was, in Thomas Schlamme's words, "very high", and John Wells was able to ascertain that Poitier was not interested, when his manager asked Wells to stop calling.
Some of the exterior shots of the West Wing office were filmed on-location at the South Portico of the Headquarters of the National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution on 1776 D Street NW in Washington, D.C.
Two characters on this show share the same distinctive names as two people involved with the Nixon Presidency. Ronald L. Ziegler was Nixon's Press Secretary, while the Director of Communications in this show is called Toby Zeigler. Alexander Butterfield was a Deputy Assistant to Nixon, while the Secret Service Agent assigned to President Bartlet is named "Ron Butterfield".
In season one, episode nineteen, "Let Bartlet Be Bartlet", during the meeting in the Roosevelt room about gay soldiers in the military, Toby makes his point by sarcastically asking "What the hell is going on at Lackland Air Force Base?" This is a reference to the famous quote from A Few Good Men (1992), when Jack Nicholson asks Kiefer Sutherland "What the hell is going on in Bravo company, Matthew?" This show, and A Few Good Men, were written by Aaron Sorkin.
In the DVD extras for season four, John Spencer and Stockard Channing both say that in the Abbey-Jed-Leo relationship dynamic, Abbey is (of course) Jed's wife, and Leo is Jed's mistress. Spencer hastened to add that he meant "political mistress", but Channing did not qualify the assessment.
The theme music for "Capitol Beat", the news show hosted by Mark Gottfried (Ted McGinley), is actually the theme music for the UK's Independent Television News (ITN)'s News At Ten and Night Time News bulletin, a genuine and award winning news program. The theme is a short passage taken from a piece by Johnny Pearson, called "The Awakening", itself part of a longer composition called "20th Century Portrait".
Martin Sheen also played the President (albeit in another character's premonition) in The Dead Zone (1983). However, whereas his character in this show is a good man, and benevolent leader, in The Dead Zone (1983), he was a twisted, evil tyrant intent on nuclear war.
Annabeth Schott's (Kristin Chenoweth's) resumé says that she was a valedictorian at Barwood High School, got a B.A. from Business Administration University, and a political science degree from Georgetown University. Her resumé also says she served as the secretary to a Senator, Executive Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of State, and Assistant to the President of Cultural Affairs at Maryland University.
During a 2014 Screen Actors Guild Foundation interview with Roger Rees (moderated by writer Rick Elice, Rees's husband), Elice said that Rees had originally auditioned to play Chief of Staff Leo McGarry, and it eventually came down to a choice between Rees and John Spencer, who won the role. But after that process, Aaron Sorkin told Roger Rees that he would write a different part for him, which he did: Rees played the recurring character of British advisor (and eventually ambassador) Lord John Marbury throughout the show's run. Elice also said that Sorkin came to Rees for help with tracking down the composer of a piece of music that Sorkin remembered from the Royal Shakespeare Company 1982 production of "The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby" that Sorkin wanted to use in the episode "Posse Comitatus"; Rees had played the title character in that production.
Martin Sheen (President Josiah Bartlet) is 5'7". But in fact, not a single president in the twentieth century has been under 5'9" (Harry Truman's height). However, the comparison is pointless when speaking about a fictional President on a fictional television show.
Ronald Reagan may have been the last real life US president to be the US president in this show's universe. However a portrait of Bill Clinton is seen hanging on the wall of the situation room in episode 9 of season 2: Galileo.
In season four, episode six, Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe) visits a Mattress World. As he enters, he holds the door open. The logo on the door is the same color and font as Wayne's World (1992), in which he played Benjamin Oliver.
Kylie Tyndall and Keaton Tyndall were set to appear in scenes of an episode filmed at the Los Angeles Public Library. While filming the scene, the sprinklers went off due to the heat caused by the production lights. The scenes were ultimately scrapped from the episode.
During Season 4, in episode "Evidence of Things Not Seen", Will Baily (Joshua Malina) stop in at a staff poker game before leaving on a military assignment. He is headed to investigate an Air Force crew who failed to launch their missiles when ordered to. In a strange coincidence, John Spencer (Leo McGarry) while playing an Air Force missile silo Commander, on the 1983 movie "War Games", failed to launch his missiles during a test.
Several times throughout the series someone uses the phrase, "column inches above the fold." The fold refers to the outer fold of a newspaper. Everything above the fold (the banner, the headline, and the main three or four stories) are the most important parts of the newspaper. Column inches refer to the vertical length of a column of text in a newspaper. The term "column inches" usually refers to the length of an article in its entirety, including where it is continued on another page. The correct term they should use is simply "inches above the fold".
With the Internet, the "fold" refers to the bottom of the screen when viewing to top of a web page, which is analogous to the front page of a newspaper before it is unfolded.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
In April 2006, Executive Producer Lawrence O'Donnell told the New York Times, that until the death of John Spencer (Leo McGarry), the show's writers had planned to have the Republican candidate, Arnold Vinick, win the election, and not the Democratic candidate, Matthew Santos. O'Donnell said that after Spencer's death, the writers decided that it would be too sad for the audience, if Santos lost both his running mate (Leo) and the election at the same time.
During the sixth and seventh seasons, Toby's storyline concerns a leak to the press about the existence of a previously secret U.S. military space shuttle. In 2012, seven years after those episodes first aired, the U.S. Air Force admitted to having completed a classified 469-day military mission of a previously secret, unmanned, Boeing-built, reusable X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle. In other words, a secret U.S. military space shuttle.
Following the departure of Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme after season four, Richard Schiff felt that most of the new writers didn't really understand the character of Toby, and would write him just as grumpy, without nuances. Schiff ended up being unhappy with his work on the show, specially disliking Toby's storyline as the leak in the last season.
When President Bartlet's longtime secretary and friend, Mrs. Landingham (Kathryn Joosten) died, her character was replaced by a new secretary, Deborah Fiderer (Lily Tomlin). Joosten's next long-term, recurring role on a television show was on Desperate Housewives (2004). When the producers introduced a sister for Joosten's character, they cast Lily Tomlin in the role.
According to an article in The New York Times (October 29, 2008), shortly after then-Illinois State Senator Barack Obama spoke at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, The West Wing (1999) Writer Eli Attie had several long telephone conversations with David Axelrod, a political consultant, who was then working on Obama's U.S. Senate campaign. From those conversations, Attie modeled the character of Matthew Santos after Obama's political and personal life. Like Santos, Obama eventually won his race for the presidency. Likewise, according to an article in The Guardian (November 6, 2008), the character of Josh Lyman was modeled after Representative Rahm Emanuel; on the show, Lyman became President Santos' Chief of Staff, while Obama's first staffing announcement after his 2008 election, was to name Emanuel as his Chief of Staff.
This show often reused the same names for different characters over the course of the series. Josh visited two different psychiatrists named "Stanley;" A Senator named "Gianelli" is mentioned (but never seen) before Ron Silver's character Bruno Gianelli becomes a regular character in season three;. Both the regular characters played by Renée Estevez and Anna Deavere Smith are named "Nancy". In the season two episode, "Bartlet's Third State of the Union", the (unseen) President of Colombia is named Santos, and later in the series, the U. S. Representative, and eventual President, played by Jimmy Smits, is named Matt Santos. The Secretary of Agriculture, played by Harry Groener, is named Roger Tribbey, and the White House Counsel, played by John Larroquette, is named Lionel Tribbey. Both Donna and C.J. had memorable high school English teachers named "Molly", and after a Secret Service Agent named "Molly" is killed in the line of duty, while guarding Zoey Bartlet, Toby names his baby daughter "Molly", after her.
The California assembly was adjourned by a San Francisco Democrat for the purposes of mourning the death of Dolores Landingham, President Bartlet's secretary in the first two seasons, when she died in a car accident. Kathryn Joosten lived on. In other words, they mourned the death of a fictional character.