Tessa Roy ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
The Bartlet Administration has reunited – in part. Fans of The West Wing were in for a treat last weekend as Bradley Whitford, Janel Moloney, and Richard Schiff (AKA Josh Lyman, Donnatella Moss, and Toby Ziegler) visited Harvard for a panel discussion and Q&A session. MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, a writer and executive producer for the show, joined them to serve as moderator. O’Donnell and Whitford were at Harvard in the flesh, while Moloney and Schiff participated via Skype and speakerphone.
“I’m going to keep a straight face through everything you say,” declared O’Donnell to Whitford at the beginning of the event. However, that promise wasn’t fulfilled for him or anyone in the audience; Whitford’s incredible sarcasm and dry humor had the entire room cracking up.
“Republicans aren’t funny, and watching them flirt makes you queasy,” he stated with a grimace, explaining why The West Wing would not have worked if the show had been about a Republican White House.
Moloney garnered a few laughs, too. She claimed her role in the show was initially much smaller since her character, Donna, was an assistant rather than a White House senior staffer. Thankfully, this changed, leading to Donna being included in almost every episode, although it did not seem that Moloney would have let go of the character easily: “They were gonna have to work hard to get rid of me!” she stated. Co-star John Spencer (who played Leo McGarry) was there to back her up, and Moloney said he reassured her that she would be in the show “until the curtain goes down.”
O’Donnell then cued for a clip to be played: the first meeting between Josh and Donna. The video rolled, and the memories kicked in. “I’m your new assistant!” a jubilant Donna declared. “Did I have an old assistant?” Josh responded, knowing she had essentially broken into his office. The audience giggled at the all-too-familiar scene while Whitford looked on with an undeniably reminiscent expression. Catching him during this moment of nostalgia was touching. It seemed he was missing the show just as much as all the dedicated viewers who still binge-watch the series eight years after it aired its final episode.
Whitford wasn’t the only one feeling the still-lasting love of The West Wing. Moloney said she feels lucky to have been a part of the show and is touched by the fact people continue to watch it. Schiff seconded her and added, “I had no idea it was going to be so successful.”
The conversation often turned back to show creator Aaron Sorkin. Schiff said Sorkin was very aware that The West Wing was not a typical television show. Whether Sorkin intended it to or not, the show had the potential to give insight into how real political processes worked. People might have taken it as fact, so it therefore had to be accurate and educational. “I think we did do some [political] teaching, and I think Aaron knew that,” Schiff said.
Moloney had her own recollections of Sorkin, particularly of how he liked to “have fun” with gender stereotypes in his characters. But he wasn’t a sexist, she claimed. He did, in fact, create C.J. Cregg (played memorably by Allison Janney), the witty, tough-as-nails press-secretary-turned-chief-of-staff of the Bartlet Administration. “No one’s more of a badass than C.J. Cregg,” Moloney claimed.
The best part of the event was not the stories or the memories, or even one of Moloney’s kids accidentally disconnecting her webcam (it was only for a minute, and it was actually quite cute); rather, it was the connection between the four show alums and the audience. Each and every person was there to celebrate their never-ending infatuation with one of the most beloved television shows of all time. The West Wing may be off the air, but it will remain alive through its fans who hold it so dearly in their hearts.