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‘West Wing’ Star Martin Sheen Looks Back 15 Years Later

Martin Sheen
via St. Louis Speakers Series

On Sept. 22, 1999, a drama about life in the West Wing of the White House debuted on NBC.

In advance of his appearance in St. Louis in October, actor Martin Sheen, who played President Josiah (Jed) Bartlet, reflected on the legacy of The West Wing and its effect on him.

“It is one of the most satisfying experiences I had in my personal and professional life,” Sheen said. “I’m indebted to Aaron Sorkin and everyone who was involved with that show and if I ever got another one, it would be lightning striking twice.”

Sheen wasn’t originally cast as a regular cast member, though he says when NBC executives saw the pilot, they wanted a greater focus on President Bartlet and the first family. Sheen’s role was extended, so long as he didn’t play the president in another show while the West Wing was on television.

The success of The West Wing was far from guaranteed.

“How are you going to sell cars, insurance and pharmaceuticals with a political show?” Sheen asked. “We were all astonished when the show became a hit on the network. In the beginning we were hoping that we would go on a pay-per-view or HBO or Showtime so that we could use the language and have the freedom of expression that the networks are governed by.”

“Any show begins with writing,” Sheen said. “If it’s not on the page it won’t be on the stage. I think we had the best writer in the medium today. (Sorkin) still is.”

Our staff at St. Louis Public Radio was thinking of some of our favorite scenes from The West Wing, including these. What are your favorites scenes?

Here's another:

The entire interview with Martin Sheen will air on an upcoming edition of “Cityscape."

“Cityscape” is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and sponsored in part by the Missouri Arts Council, the Regional Arts Commission, and the Arts and Education Council of Greater St. Louis.

Alex is the executive producer of "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.