The West Wing was a rarity in several ways, not the least of which was how the characters managed to use snappy dialogue and walk-and-talks to make the particulars of politics interesting for primetime. There were ups and downs along the way, but it was a consistently solid show. The West Wing never would have become the popular and critical hit that it was were it not for writer/creator/showrunner Aaron Sorkin at the helm for the first four seasons. He left before the fifth, and Sorkin admits that it was advice from Larry David that kept him from being too miserable about departing.
[The press release] went out, and maybe an hour later, Larry David called me. Now, Larry David had left Seinfeld a couple of seasons before it ended, and Larry David said, ‘Listen, whatever you do, you can’t ever watch the show again, because either it’s going to be great and you’re going to be miserable, or it’s going to be less than great, and you’re going to be miserable. Either way, you’re going to be miserable.’ And I thought, well, it’s Larry, he’s professionally miserable.
Aaron Sorkin’s account to THR of his conversation with Larry David reveals a lot about how much both men put into their respective series. Seinfeld and The West Wing were very different shows, but they were huge hits, and the head honchos leaving before the run was finished put them in a sticky situation. For his part, Sorkin had written or co-written most of the episodes of the first four seasons; going cold turkey into Season 5 couldn’t have been easy.
He certainly left the show on a doozy of a cliffhanger. President Bartlet’s daughter had been kidnapped, conflict was brewing in a big way overseas, Bartlet chose to recuse himself from office due to his personal turmoil, and…exit Sorkin. Fans were certainly dying to know what would happen in the Season 5 premiere, and Sorkin was curious enough to want to have a look himself, despite Larry David’s warning.
I asked them to send over a copy, a half inch tape, that’s how we watched things then. This is 2003 now. And I asked them to send over a tape of what would be episode 501, season five, episode one. And I put it in my VCR, which, again was how we watched things, and I don’t think 15 or 20 seconds went by before I – this is not an exaggeration – I go to the TV and slammed it off. It was like watching somebody make out with my girlfriend. I don’t know if it was good or not good, but I could not handle Donna saying words that I didn’t write, Josh saying words that I didn’t write.
Given all the changes that were in store for all the characters following Aaron Sorkin’s departure, it was probably good for Sorkin’s health that he not try to soldier through the Season 5 premiere. Larry David may have been professionally miserable, but Sorkin couldn’t have wished that on himself. He did miss out on some great plot twists and story arcs in the last few seasons of The West Wing, but it’s nice to know that he has no regrets about not watching. Besides, if he ever wants a fix of his old show, he can always watch some of the highlights of his own tenure.