AARON SORKIN: I didn’t really know anything about television beyond watching a lot of it, and my plan was to come up with an idea for a new play or movie, but my agent wanted me to meet with John Wells, and I said, “Sure.” The night before the meeting, there were some friends over at my house, and at some point [Akiva Goldsman and I] slipped downstairs to sneak a cigarette. Kivi knew about the meeting and said, “Hey, you know what would make a good series? That.” He was pointing at the poster for The American President. “But this time you’d focus on the staffers.” I told him I wasn’t going to be doing a series and that I was meeting with John to meet John — I wanted to hear stories about China Beach and ER, and I especially wanted to hear about his years as stage manager for A Chorus Line. The next day I showed up for the lunch, and John was flanked by executives from Warner Bros. and agents from CAA. John got down to business and said, “What do you want to do?” And instead of saying, “I’m sorry, there’s been a misunderstanding. I don’t have anything to pitch,” I said, “I’d like to do a series about staffers at the White House.” And John said, “We’ve got a deal.”
PETER ROTH, WARNER BROS. TV EXECUTIVE: I joined Warner Bros. in February 1999, and the script had already been written. My introduction to Aaron Sorkin was when I called him and said, “I think this is the most brilliant script I’ve ever read, but you should know that in the history of television, there has never been a successful series set in Washington, D.C., on broadcast television.” To which he said, “Why should I care about that?”
WHITFORD: The hours on that show were so bad. I mean, just horrible. I remember going to Tommy and saying to him, “The invisible carnage of the unf—ed wives and the children not being read to is just wafting out.”
SORKIN: From time to time, my mind would wander to what a series finale would look like. I didn’t have any ideas — just an image. Bartlet, the now ex-president, would be in street clothes and a baseball cap and just blend into the crowd until we couldn’t make him out anymore.