The West Wing cast has reunited and wants you... to vote
"Decisions are made by those who show up."
So says President Jed Bartlet (Martin Sheen) in season 1 of The West Wing. Two decades after the show brought the White House home for millions, those words have a painful prescience. America in 2020 is fragile, fearful, fractious. Little wonder that for many, standing up to be counted no longer feels like civic duty — but an actual life-or-death issue. So there can be no better time for West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin and his cast to reconvene. Not merely to swap old stories, but to urge Americans of all perspectives to participate in democracy.
Sorkin's brainchild was a different kind of network drama. It focused not on cops or doctors, but on political operatives, and somehow managed to be both highly rated and greatly acclaimed — winning four consecutive Emmys for Outstanding Drama Series during its 1999–2006 run.
It also took risks. For starters, the series identified its president's political party. Conservatives called the drama "The Left Wing," but the show depicted an array of sympathetic Republican characters. And it may be no cause for celebration, but the issues it tackled — racism, immigration, voting rights, corruption, gender politics, and more — are still the subjects of rancorous debate.
Still, big-P Politics aren't what made the show special. Even for viewers not ideologically in tune with the liberal Bartlet administration, the series depicted something that seems fantastically remote today — a flawed but admirable president working alongside government officials who liked one another, who shared a sense of public purpose, trying (and often failing) to make an unwieldy republic work. Perhaps that's why so many old fans and new viewers are watching (the show's now streaming on Netflix) during this volatile chapter for America. The West Wing is timely once again — making it a fitting cover for our 30th anniversary.
Despite the disruptions of a pandemic, EW gathered some of the show's stars at a sprawling virtual Wing-ding, where they reminisced about the old days and discussed current life events. Sorkin, executive producer/director Thomas Schlamme, Sheen, Dulé Hill (Charlie Young), Allison Janney (C.J. Cregg), Janel Moloney (Donna Moss), Richard Schiff (Toby Ziegler), Bradley Whitford (Josh Lyman), Marlee Matlin (Joey Lucas), and Mary McCormack (Kate Harper) convened on a lively Zoom call. There was laughter, a few tears, and a surprise cameo from Hill's adorable baby son, Levi.
"Our nation is about the citizens who actually roll up their sleeves and get involved, and one of the ways [to do that] that was important on the show and important to us in real life is voting," Hill says. "I think that has resonated with people over the years. And I'm honored to be a part of this campaign to just inspire people to vote. Because if we take our eyes off the prize, the prize will be lost. We have to stay engaged if we want to see ourselves reflected in our country."
We also caught up with Rob Lowe (Sam Seaborn) and Joshua Malina (Will Bailey) in person at our (socially distanced) cover shoot. Not only that, we tracked down some of our favorite recurring characters, including Emmy winner and eventual series regular Stockard Channing, a.k.a. First Lady Dr. Abigail Bartlet. You'll hear from a whopping 17 Wing-ers — and yes, completists, we know that's barely scratching the surface when it comes to the depth of the show's bench.
Zooming was fun, but the group had a higher purpose: to promote an upcoming West Wing special to benefit When We All Vote, Michelle Obama's nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to ensuring that everyone is registered to vote. The special is set to air this fall on HBO Max.
"This is the first time we've done this in 20 years," Sorkin explains, noting cast members and producers have supported individual causes in the past. "Never before have we gathered the cast onto [the show] logo in front of [W.G.] Snuffy Walden's [theme] music and done something as The West Wing.... I don't think anybody would argue that right now, if you have any capital at all, spend it."
We'll be sharing the group's anecdotes about favorite scenes, tributes to departed castmates, thoughts on the show's impact, and more.
"One of the reasons why The West Wing resonated so much for me on a personal level was — maybe it's corny — I really believe in all things that are truisms about our country," says Lowe. "If you're not going to vote, then you don't have a dog in the fight and you shouldn't complain. Empowering people to vote, making it easier for people to vote, is a total no-brainer. I've been working on it for many years and it feels like it becomes more important with each passing election cycle."
Adds Malina, "We are a part of a Republic and our chance to really have our voices heard — in addition to expressing our opinions with other people and writing to our representatives — is by voting for our representatives. It's just such a special privilege and right that we have, to not use it is a terrible shame. We know there are places in the world where people do not have a voice. And so I think if you have one, you must use it."
So, "What's next?" Voting, that's what. Let's all show up.
—Additional reporting by Ethan Bellows and Lynette Rice
To register for the upcoming election and find other voting resources, visit When We All Vote, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to ensuring everyone is registered to vote.
For more on The West Wing cast reunion and EW's 30th anniversary, order the September issue of Entertainment Weekly now. Don't forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.
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