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Sorkin spreads his wings with screenplay, stage play

September 12, 2003|Greg Braxton | Times Staff Writer

Aaron Sorkin is turning his attention from the Oval Office to the tube.

Sorkin, the Emmy award-winning creator of NBC's "The West Wing," who left the series in May, is writing a screenplay about Philo T. Farnsworth, the "Father of Television," and has plans to write a play and create another television series.

The writer/producer discussed his current and future endeavors during an appearance Wednesday before a packed auditorium at the Museum of Television & Radio in Beverly Hills. Sorkin was animated, gracious and generous with humorous anecdotes about his career, "The West Wing" cast and "Sports Night," the ABC comedy about a sports television network that received critical acclaim but failed to attract a large audience during its two-year run.

He added that he is clueless about what may be in store on the upcoming season of "The West Wing": "No one is more out of 'The West Wing' loop than me," he said.

Sorkin, who wrote the play and the film, "A Few Good Men," said he is returning to his early playwright roots with his historical look at Farnsworth and his rival, RCA chief David A. Sarnoff. Farnsworth in 1927 devised the first operational television system with a crude receiver and a camera. The first TV show ever broadcast was a vertical black line swinging back and forth like a pendulum against a lighted background.

Sorkin is writing the Farnsworth project without a deadline or a studio attached. "The last time I wrote anything without someone expecting it on the other end was 'A Few Good Men,' " he said. He plans to pitch the script to studios after he finishes it.

He also said he had been commissioned to write a play in Dublin, and had a plan for a new series. He did not provide specifics.

As for "The West Wing," he said he had no idea what the new season would hold. "But I have every confidence in John Wells," his fellow executive producer who also oversees NBC's "ER" and "Third Watch."

Ratings for "The West Wing" fell sharply last season, and insiders said the network and Warner Bros. Television, which produces the White House drama, had been concerned about Sorkin's practice of delivering scripts late, which had led to significant budget overruns. At the end of the season, Sorkin and director Thomas Schlamme left the show.

Although Sorkin didn't address those issues directly, he did allude to the stress of being primary writer on the much-decorated show but noting that because of the demanding schedule, he rarely had time to do more than first drafts. Unlike other shows, which undergo repeated rewrites, "The West Wing" actors frequently read lines from these first drafts.

During his talk, Sorkin had nothing but praise for the series, and particularly cast member Allison Janney, who plays press secretary C.J. Cregg.

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