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THE 52ND ANNUAL EMMY AWARDS

A Taste of 'West Wing's' Nonpartisan Politics

Television: Principals of NBC's White House drama say their main agenda was to create a good show each week.

September 11, 2000|STEVE HOCHMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"The West Wing" swayed Emmy voters, but will its portrayal of politics and politicians affect who will occupy the White House next?

"Gee, I hate to approach with the pretense that it might honestly do that," said Aaron Sorkin, creator of the series that won best drama and eight other Emmys. "We're so submerged with being as good this week and next week as we can be. If it does anything, maybe if it prompts voters to insist on more discussion and debate of the issues instead of just the 20-second bits that we get now."

Richard Schiff, winner of outstanding supporting actor in a drama for his role as "The West Wing" White House communications director Toby Ziegler, agrees that the desire is to have a nonpartisan improvement in the quality of the political process.

"The first [impact] will be if more people turn out to vote," he said. "That Aaron can make things like the census as fascinating as he does on the show is a benefit for anyone who watches."

Thomas Schlamme, winner of outstanding director in a drama series for "The West Wing" pilot, echoed that.

"It's very important to know that we haven't even once intended to have an impact that way," he said. "We do have an impact in that there are conversations about politics in families and at the water coolers, and when the candidates are actually talking about [issues addressed on the show], then it's like you at least know a little, like when you studied politics in school."

Sorkin stressed, though, that just as he doesn't intend for life to imitate his art, it won't be the other way around either. The elections themselves will not cause the show's course to change. However, Sorkin also said that he's striving to ensure balance and authenticity in the show's next season by hiring former press secretary for George Bush, Marlin Fitzwater, and Peggy Noonan, author and former speech writer for both Reagan and Bush, as advisors.

"The winner in November will not have any effect on the show," he said. "I brought in Marlin and Peggy, two brilliant minds. I wanted a more balanced and fiery approach."

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