20 The West Wing facts on its 20th anniversary

Two decades ago The West Wing premiered, it wasn't long before it had us all gripped, but how much do you really know about the series?

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The West Wing cast, Getty

1. Jason Robards, John Cullum and Hal Halbrook were all considered for the President role

Sidney Poitier was offered the role too, but he turned it down.

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2. President Bartlet was only really supposed to make an occasional appearance 

Martin Sheen was originally only signed up for four episodes as the idea was to focus on the senior roles, but the producers soon realised how great he was. As they say, the rest is history.

3. Josh was modelled after special adviser to the Clintons, Rahm Emanuel

He may have been modelled after him, but Bradley Witford, who played him, decided to play the role rather differently to the man who inspired it. “I think that if you played Rahm Emanuel like Rahm Emanuel actually is, I don’t think people would believe it,” Witford told New York magazine. “I think people would think, Wow, I can’t believe somebody is actually like that.”

4. Each episode cost $6,000,000 to make

It sounds like a lot, but for comparison, the first season of  ‘Game of Thrones’ cost $60 million for 10 episodes – that’s $6 million per episode.

5. Josh Malina was a prankster 

The cast had to be on the look at for Malina, who starred as Will Bailey, when the cameras weren’t rolling. From changing the language on people’s iPods to tearing pages from the books they were reading he was a big fan of teasing his co-stars. Once, Malina sent Jimmy Smits Valentine’s Day flowers signed from Bradley Witford.

6. Martin Sheen’s birth defect made him put his jacket on in a groovy way

His left shoulder was injured by forceps when he was born leaving him with limited use of his left hand. The injury meant he put on his jacket in that smooth motion like a boss.

7. The goldfish bowl changed its backdrop 

The backdrops were often sneaky references to the episode’s plot. You can see a submarine in ‘Gone Quiet’, which was a nod to President Bartlet fearing a sub had gone missing. In ‘The Stormy President’ you could see a coffin with a flag across it-  Bartlet attended a former president’s funeral in that episode.

8. The character of Toby Ziegler was almost cast as Eugene Levy

The part went to Richard Schiff in the end. Speaking of Schiff…

9. Richard Schiff wasn’t pleased with how things went for Toby

He was convinced that Toby wouldn’t have betrayed the President by leaking the information in the way he did in the final season.

10. Josh Lyman’s name came from the Doonesbury comic strip

The character played by Bradley Whitford got his name from a character in the Doonesbury comic strip…or a character from ‘1776’.

11. C.J. Cregg was inspired by Dee Dee Myers, Clinton’s press secretary

Myers acted as consultant to The West Wing. Her husband was a White House correspondent too.

12. Allison Janney often lip-synced songs to entertain cast members

Janey entertained her co-stars in her trailer with performances of acid-jazz artist Ronny Jordan’s song. Sorkin loved it so much he made it part of her character, which is why C.J. Cregg lip-syncs ‘The Jackal’.

13. The Oval Office may have looked familiar

The Oval Office set was originally constructed for Dave in 1993 and was later used for The West Wing in 1999 and the movie The American President, which was also written by Aaron Sorkin.

14. The West Wing set had two stages 

Both of the sets had yellow hallways so they could ensure continuity when switching between them. Later in the series, the crew got enough space to build the whole set in one place.

15. The longest ‘walk and talk’ scene in The West Wing was three minutes long

The scene, which was in season one episode ‘Five Votes Down’, included 500 extras and took half the night to shoot, according to director of photography Tom Del Ruth.

Also, fun fact: Aaron Sorkin is often credited for making the “walk and talk” popular, but it was, in fact, director Thomas Schlamme who added in the walk-and-talk, first in ‘Sports Night,’ then in ‘The West Wing.’ The idea was to bring a bit more action to the dialogue-heavy scenes.

16. President Bartlet is supposed to be the descendant of Josiah Bartlett 

In the episode ‘What Kind of Day Has It Been?’ we learn that Josiah Bartlett, one of the men who signed the Dedication of Independence, was President Bartlet’s “great-grandfather’s great-grandfather.” Josiah’s surname had two ts instead of one, however.

17. The West Wing won quite a few Emmys

26 to be exact, tying it with another drama. Who is it tied with you ask? Hill Street Blues. The Simpsons has 32 Emmys and Game of Thrones has 37, for context.

18. There’s another version of the Live debate episode

There were two versions of the episode, but the West Coast version is the only one available on DVD boxsets, Amazon, Netflix and re-runs.

19. Aaron Sorkin made a cameo after he left the show

He shows up in the crowd during Santos’ inauguration despite having left the show three seasons before.

20. The opening credit shot of President Bartlet resembled a famous Kennedy photo

The opening credits’ shot of President Bartlet echoed the photo of John F. Kennedy taken during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

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Celebrate the 20th Anniversary of The West Wing with The West Wing: The Complete Series Collection available at the WB shop and Amazon.