It's no question that The West Wing has been credited with being one of the most influential shows to reflect American politics and American culture ever created. It's 95 Primetime Emmy Nominations and 26 wins for excellence in a drama series prove it so, but it isn't the show's story or plotlines or subject matter that captured the hearts of the nation, it was the people.
From Martin Sheen winning the respect of former POTUS Bill Clinton himself to Rob Lowe and Richard Schiff inspiring law students all over the country to pursue careers in speech writing and politics, here are 10 hidden details about the main characters of The West Wing that you probably didn't know.
10 Jed Bartlet
According to West Wing creatives, in the original plans for the show, President Bartlet was never meant to appear in more than four episodes of the first season since the show was aimed to revolve only around the senior staff. However, just after Martin Sheen shot the first few episodes, everyone quickly realized how great he was for the show.
For dedicated West Wing watchers, President Bartlet's signature move of putting on his jacket is only one of the things that makes Martin Sheen's character a huge favorite on the show. It turns out that Sheen was born with a shoulder injury leaving him with limited use of his left hand but found a way to embrace it and make the Bartlet character unique to him.
9 Leo McGarry
The late great John Spencer played Leo McGarry on the political show as White House Cheif of Staff to, later on, Vice President of the United States under the Santos Administration. But, during his time under the Bartlet Administration, one of McGarry's favorite days of working in the White House was "The Big Block of Cheese Day."
In the episode titled, “The Crackpots and These Women," McGarry tells his staff that Andrew Jackson kept a 1,400-pound block of cheddar cheese in the White House he received as a gift from a dairy farmer. He takes this story as inspiration to allow organizations that don't usually catch the attention of the White House to create one day where the staff sit down and listen to each organization's plans. This Andrew Jackson story is true, and, in real life, under the Obama Administration, a real "Big Block of Cheese Day" was held.
8 Josh Lyman
What many fans don't know is that West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin actually wrote the character of Josh Lyman with his long-time friend Bradley Whitford already in mind. However, after two auditions, both Sorkin and TV executives offered Whitford the part of Sam Seaborn. Whitford was the only person who didn't agree.
Whitford says he felt in his gut that he was meant to play Lyman and not Seaborn, saying "I just feel this very strongly. I am this guy. I am not the other guy." Sorkin reorganized and gave Whitford the part. Josh Lyman fans all over the country are grateful he did.
7 Sam Seaborn
The character of White House Communications Director, Sam Seaborn, was originally loosely based on former American TV host and political commentator George Stephanopoulos who served as White House Communications Director under the Clinton administration. When the show premiered, Sam Seaborn was aimed to be the lead protagonist of the show, as the pilot centers around a potential scandal involving Seaborn and drastic critiques of the Bartlet White House.
However, when the rest of the senior staff characters were introduced, both audience reception and creative re-writes allowed for the opportunity to follow the lives of each senior staff member while working for President Bartlet. Something that hasn't changed, even to this day, is that many political science students and aspiring political leaders credit Rob Lowe's iconic portrayal of the White House speechwriter as their inspiration for going to law school and pursuing politics in the first place.
6 Toby Zeigler
After being offered the role of Toby Ziegler, Richard Schiff wasted no time in working hard to make Ziegler a character he could connect with on a personal level. Though the audience doesn't find out until the show's eighth episode, West Wing writers revealed that Ziegler was divorced. Before this information was revealed, however, Schiff created a backstory for Ziegler in his mind, imagining him as a widower and even wearing his own wedding ring on set.
Because of Ziegler working so closely with Seaborn as the White House speechwriting power duo, many people who aspire to go into politicals also credit Schiff for being their inspiration. Playing the role or Toby Ziegler earned Schiff the Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series in 2000.
5 C.J. Cregg
Towards the end of Season 1, the Bartlet White House celebrates a victory by throwing a party in which many of the senior staff enjoy a moment to relax in honor of their hard work. White House Press Secretary C.J. Cregg lip-syncs along to a song called "The Jackal," which many of her colleagues think is the best thing in the world. It serves as great comic relief and reveals the lighter, laid-back side to C.J. Cregg.
This entire scene was inspired by Allison Janney's own rendition of "The Jackal" that she would sing in between takes. Sorkin thought it was so funny that he wrote it into the episode. The West Wing brought Allison Janney to a total of four Primetime Emmy wins for her portrayal of C.J. Cregg over the course of the series.
4 Donna Moss
Originally, the character of Donnatella—or Donna, as she's called—Moss, played by Janel Moloney, was meant to be a minor character who worked as an assistant to Josh Lyman and only appeared sporadically throughout the show. From the very beginning, Donna was always planned to play a small part in the show that Moloney actually kept her hostess job while shooting Season 1.
By Season 2, however, Moloney is credited as being a series regular and plays a huge part in helping not only Josh Lyman but the entire senior staff in keeping the White House afloat.
3 Charlie Young
Dulé Hill, who played Charlie Young on The West Wing as the personal aide to the president for a huge majority of the series, was days away from quitting his entire acting career until he got the call that he was offered the part.
Hill was only one month away from being completely broke when he went in to audition for the role of Charlie Young on The West Wing. A week later, he received the call that his character would be guaranteed a four-episode run on the show. Because of Hill's performance and great chemistry with the rest of the cast, however, Hill remains on the show until the series' end.
2 Abbey Bartlet
Abigail Anne Bartlet, played by Stockard Channing, is Jed Bartlet's wife whom he constantly refers to as a "world-class physician." Not only does Abbey play the role of the wife who always supports her husband as the President of the United States, but she also acts as a very pro-active First Lady with a go-getter's attitude. With the brains and an M.D. from Harvard Medical School, Abbey met the president while in college, and their romance took off from there.
There's a fascinating detail about Abbey on the show that you might miss if you're not watching carefully enough. Over the course of the third season, it's revealed that Amy Gardner, played by Mary-Louise Parker, was actually one of the children that Abbey babysat as a child when she was younger. Though Gardner has a history with Josh Lyman, her work for advocating for women's rights closely with the White House leads to Abbey appointing her as Deputy Cheif of Staff for the First Lady. With both characters championing for women's rights on the show, Channing won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series in 2002.
1 Zoey Bartlet
As the prompter of many of the most action-packed episodes of the entire series, President Bartlet's youngest daughter Zoey was played by Elisabeth Moss over the course of several seasons. As the reflection of "America's sweetheart," Zoey was a youthful, kind, and spirited character that brought life and light to any West Wing scene. Moss, who is now the star of the Emmy award-winning series The Handmaid's Tale, credits her experience on The West Wing with shaping her into the actress she is now. On working with Martin Sheen, she claims it was an honor to work and be in the same room as him.
When asked in an interview in late 2018 if she would participate in a West Wing revival, Moss's response was "in a heartbeat."