The Funniest Network Note Aaron Sorkin Ever Got For The West Wing

toby the west wing

The West Wing was a series about politics and life behind closed doors in the White House. While it was always a fictional series, the show did nod at a lot of real-life sorts of problems and tensions the world was facing. During one memorable episode, creator and writer Aaron Sorkin said he got into trouble with the Arab American Anti-Defamation league for a plot involving US doctors wandering into Syria's airspace. The protests spooked the network, leading to one of the most unintentionally hilarious notes that Sorkin ever got while writing The West Wing. You can check out the full story from his AMA, below.

Here's the worst and the best studio note I've ever gotten, early in run of The West Wing, there was an episode in which an US Air Force jet carrying a bunch of US doctors accidentally wandered into Syrian airspace and was shot down. The network, NBC and the studio, Warner Bros, both received letters from the Arab American Anti-Defamation League, strongly protesting that story. A few episodes later, I had Toby in a throwaway line make passing reference to Hebrew slaves in Egypt 5,000 years ago, the network and the studio had an issue and sent me back a note saying please show your research. So I sent them back a copy of the Old Testament with the chapter of Exodus highlighted.

Aaron Sorkin is a creator who is known for his acerbic personality so it shouldn't come as a huge surprise that the writer didn't take NBC's note lying down. When faced with the prospect of having to cut a fun line with Toby, Sorkin literally pulled out a bible, highlighted the relevant chapter and sent it to the network. It's not exactly a middle finger at the network, but it's definitely a checkmate type of move.

Still, being spooked about the Anti-Defamation League is one thing and sending a note about a throwaway line that clearly had historical relevancy is another. I guess we shouldn't be too surprised. The types of notes that the networks give out are legendary, and are often cited as reasons showrunners have taken their shows to cable, subscription cable and streaming TV, where the creative team has more freedom and notes are less abundant. In fact, between that and the fairly quick cancellation of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, we wonder if that's why The Newsroom ended up on HBO...

Currently, Aaron Sorkin has a few projects in the works, including a live adaptation of A Few Good Men for NBC. If you'd like to take a look at some more of his insights, be sure to check out the full Reddit AMA, here.

Jessica Rawden
Managing Editor

Reality TV fan with a pinch of Disney fairy dust thrown in. Theme park junkie. If you’ve created a rom-com I’ve probably watched it.