It still regularly features in lists of top TV series of all time, there are frequent calls for a reboot or revival, and its President, President Josiah Bartlet still remains one of the most popular American presidents. While it is over a decade now since The West Wing was last on the air, its presence is still widely felt in pop culture. However, in that time, the nature of politics has changed dramatically, so could the show, as we know and love, be seen in the same light if it aired for the first time now? Some of the stars and writers from the series say not.
There is no denying that with a Democratic President, the series was left leaning. However, they were generally able to present a balanced look at issues and the workings of the government. Appearing at the Politicon conference on Saturday (October 20), the audience heard about how US politics changed since the turn of the century and how now this would no longer be realistic today. For actor Bradley Whitford (the President’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Josh Lyman), “the fakest thing about the show is that we had rational Republicans”.
Many on the panel agreed with him, including MSNBC host and The West Wing writer and producer Lawrence O’Donnell, who gave Senator Bob Dole as an example of a reasonable Republican. However, he feels that the change in political dynamics over the past few years has meant that The West Wing would not have gotten off its feet: “As a writer, I think it would be impossible to write this show now.”
Richard Schiff, who starred as Communications Director Toby Ziegler added to this, saying, “We had a parameter system of rules and regulations and traditions that people followed up until the last 2 years.”
Often referred to as a Bible of sorts for a generation that has found itself working in the public sector, Ben Rhodes, who worked in President Obama’s administration, confirmed this belief, revealing that members of Obama’s campaign would watch episodes of The West Wing to get “mentally prepared” for work in the actual West Wing.
As is often the case when anyone associated with the series talks about their time on The West Wing, the panel were asked by a member of the audience if the cast would be interested in a reboot. While none of the panel would categorically state yes or no, O’Donnell did say that he has had private conversations with series creator Aaron Sorkin about the possibility, however, he would only say what Sorkin has said publicly previously: “The last thing I would want to do is harm that [legacy], so if I can come up with an idea that doesn’t feel like A Very Brady Christmas, if I can come up with an idea that works, then yeah.”
Given the current state of US politics and the growing interest in escaping to the world of the Bartlet administration, I would not be too surprised if we did not get something new in the next few years. Just what shape that would come in, is anyone’s guess. None of the original characters would realistically still be working in the West Wing, and I doubt anyone would be that interested in seeing a whole new bunch of characters. If we were to get anything, I would think it is more likely to be a one-off TV movie type show where something has happened to bring everyone back together because as Whitford told the Politicon crowd, “We’re really old to be working in the White House.”