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In Excelsis Deo

Original Airdate 12-15-99 Rerun 04-12-00 and 02-25-01 10 p.m. and 09-26-01

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Amid Christmas preparations, Toby (Richard Schiff) looks into a homeless person's background, while Danny and C.J. (Timothy Busfield, Allison Janney) discuss a first date.
From NBC:
As Christmas Eve approaches, President Bartlet (Martin Sheen) eagerly sneaks out of the White House for some last-minute Christmas shopping, while a haunted Toby (Richard Schiff) learns more about a forgotten Korean War hero who died alone on the district's cold streets wearing a coat that Toby once donated to charity. In other hushed corridors, Sam (Rob Lowe) and Josh (Bradley Whitford) ignore Leo's (John Spencer) advice and consult Sam's call girl friend (Lisa Edelstein) concerning her confidential clientele when one political rival hints at exposing Leo's previous drug problem. C.J. (Allison Janney) wonders aloud about the President's public response to a notorious hate crime while her personal resolve weakens as persistent reporter (Timothy Busfield) continues to ask her out.


Rob Lowe as Sam (Samuel Norman) Seaborn Deputy Communications Director
Moira Kelly as Mandy (Madeline) Hampton Public Relations Consultant
Dulé Hill as Charlie (Charles) Young Personal Aide to the President
Allison Janney as C.J. (Claudia Jean) Cregg Press Secretary
Richard Schiff as Toby (Tobias Zachary) Ziegler Communications Director
John Spencer as Leo Thomas McGarry Chief of Staff
Bradley Whitford as Josh (Joshua) Lyman Deputy Chief of Staff
Martin Sheen as
Jed (Josiah Edward) Bartlet President of the United States
Guest Starring    
Lisa Edelstein as Laurie (Brittany Rollins) Call Girl / Law Student
Timothy Busfield as Danny (Daniel Concannon) (Washington Post) Reporter
Paul Austin as George Hufnagle  
Janel Moloney as Donna (Donnatella) Moss Assistant to Deputy Chief of Staff
Tom Quinn as John Noonan  
Renee Estevez as Nancy Mrs. Landingham's Assistant
Raynor Scheine as Homeless Man  
Kathryn Joosten as Mrs. Landingham President's Secretary /
Delores (first name)
NiCole Robinson as Margaret Hooper (last name) /
Assistant to Chief of Staff
Devika Parikh as Bonnie Communications' Aide
Kim Webster as Ginger Assistant to Communications Director
Jana Lee Hamblin as Bobbi Reporter
Bradley James as Donnie Secret Service Agent
Lance Reddick as DC Police Officer  
Christian Copelin as Jeffery Lucas (last name)
Morina Pierce as Jessica Hodges (last name)
Becky Woodley as Aide  

Information Links

Christmas at the White House


Emmy Awards

Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Series Nomination for
Bill Johnson, A.C.E.
Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Drama Series Nomination for
Kenneth B. Ross
Len Schmitz, Production Mixers
Dan Hiland
Gary D. Rogers
Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series Win for
Aaron Sorkin
Rick Cleveland
Submitted for consideration for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series Win by
Richard Schiff
Submitted for consideration for Outstanding Drama Series Win

CAS Awards

Outstanding Achievement in Sound Mixing for a Television Series Nomination

Humanitas Prize

Nomination for
Aaron Sorkin
Rick Cleveland

WGA Awards

Episodic Drama Win for
Aaron Sorkin
Rick Cleveland

Media Quotes

"The Pentagon has been phenomenally friendly to us and very supportive of this show and what it has to say." ... "They gave us the Arlington location and the Marines and set up the whole funeral for us because they had read Aaron's script and felt very touched by it and wanted to help in any way they could."- John Wells

"The money is the message"
by John Allemang
January 22, 2000
The Globe and Mail

"It was such a powerful and moving story. After every take, I broke down and cried."- Richard Schiff

"The West point"
by Michele Sponagle
March 11, 2000
The Globe and Mail

"When [this] episode was originally written, the president was supposed to go to the cemetery and attend the ceremony for the homeless vet." It was changed because "it took away the power of Mrs. Landingham and Ziegler, who were deeply affected by the incident: a woman who has lost two sons and a man who gave this guy clothes to keep warm. Had the president been there, it would have taken away the poignancy of the scene. His presence makes everything too big - the Secret Service, the press. And that's why I like this show. We try to play honest moments with real characters."- Martin Sheen

"Martin Sheen: Catholic President on Prime Time"
by Greg Heffernan
May 2000
St. Anthony Messenger

"I think that it's a very scary, slippery slope to go down, that you prosecute someone differently for what they're thinking." - Bradley Whitford

June 15, 2000
Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher

"I [Aaron Sorkin] love collaborating, and I would say that *one* of my favorite scenes was the end of In Excelsis Deo, which is about the burial of a homeless vet, in which I wrote a scene describing a dressed burial in Arlington following a scene at the White House with choir boys singing Little Drummer Boy. I wanted to have the music continue into the Arlington scene, and then the director had the idea of cutting back and forth between the two..." He says he really loves the overlaying of the staff adding on to the line as the funeral progresses

Posted at
by Jenn
September 26, 2000
Message 6797
Notes from the Harvard Law School Forum with Aaron Sorkin

"I don't watch the show very often, because I get too upset at the editing choices, but Aaron made me watch that one, ... It was too hard to be my favorite episode, but it was certainly the most challenging episode. I was so moved by every aspect of it. It was hard not to react, and just thinking about it now gets me nuts" - Richard Schiff

"'West Wing' player keeps a cool head"
by Virginia Rohan
October 4, 2000
Bergen Record

"I just loved the relationship [between Josh and Donna] right off the bat. Then you get these things from Aaron, like in the Christmas episode, where there's a moment where I give her a gift. Where you realize there's really something here." - Bradley Whitford

February 5, 2001
Entertainment Tonight
ET Online

"But the main one was the storyline that was similar to the Matthew Shepard incident. It touched me emotionally on many different levels because of the horrendous, horrible thing that happened - the actual act of what happened ..." - Allison Janney

"A Woman of Influence"
by Paris Barclay
February 13, 2001
The Advocate

One exterior entrance of Stage 28 looks like a White House portico. It overlooks about 10 roomy white trailers, where the actors can change clothes, study lines or relax between scenes. The front of Janney's trailer sports a model of a flamingo, the Secret Service code name for her character.

"'West Wing' talent garners 18 Emmy Awards"
by Bill Keveney
September 3, 2000
Charlotte Observer

When I was 23 years old and still very much a struggling playwright in Chicago, my father passed away of complications due to liver failure. I hadn't seen him in almost 10 years. A Korean War veteran with an alcohol addiction that got the better of us all, he spent the last years of his life living in flophouses and on the street, passing his days riding the same city bus line he himself used to drive.

I made the long drive back to Ohio to arrange his funeral. He was buried in the military section of a small cemetery in Brooklyn, Ohio. At the time there wasn't even enough money to give him a full-blown gravesite ceremony, and my uncle, my sister, and I helped a couple of workman unload and carry his casket off the back of a pickup truck in the rain.

Many months later, when I finally had the courage to go through what few personal items he left us, I found his military records and mementos. He had served in the Marine Corps with the First Infantry Division of the Second Battalion during the Korean conflict from 1950 to 1953. He came home a Staff Sergeant, blew almost all his muster pay in a three-day poker game, and then went to work in a factory making corrugated cardboard boxes and later as a bus driver. Among his military decorations were a Good Conduct Medal, a Presidential Unit Citation, a United Nations Service Citation, and a Purple Heart. I didn't know it at the time but subsequently found out that I could have had him buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

For a long time I thought I might try and track down all my father's old war buddies to see if anyone could actually remember him from a time in his life that must have in some significant way shaped the hard-luck case he would become. He was my father, and I didn't know (not many people did for that matter) his story. I still think I might do it, but for the time being my own life keeps getting in the way.

In 1995, shortly after its commemoration, I visited the Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C., and the place has haunted me ever since.

A West Wing Veteran

Last year I worked as a coproducer on the writing staff of The West Wing, and the earliest draft of my first episode was titled "Bellwether," which was the name of the episode's problem cat I had given the First Lady as a pet. (I also hoped that as a title it might prove to be a good omen for scripts Written By other members of the writing staff.) The cat never made the final cut of that episode and the title got changed, but my "A" story about Toby's (Richard Schiff's character) attempts to get a homeless Korean War veteran buried in Arlington stayed. So did some funny stuff I wrote about Stephen Jay Gould's opinions about the upcoming millennium, as did some stuff about C.J. (Allison Janney) discovering that her Secret Service code name was Flamingo. (Actually, my wife came up with that--a lot of my best stuff I steal directly from her, and so far, God bless her, she's been inclined to let me get away with it.)


I might have singled out Richard Schiff for carrying what was essentially my father's story with such quiet and moving grace; ... - Rick Cleveland

"WW Veteran"
by Rick Cleveland
November 2000
Written By

Sorry about the confusion, The line is--
TOBY: Took the ambulance an hour and twenty minutes to get there. A lance coproral in the U.S. Marines. Second of the Seventh. Guy got better treatment in Pan Moon Jong.

Posted at Forum
by Aaron "Benjamin" Sorkin
February 26, 2001

Mr. Sorkin, the dominant figure on "The West Wing," has stirred some enmity among writers, partly because he takes credit for every episode and partly for an incident during his Emmy triumph last September, when the series won multiple Emmy awards. One of the awards, for writer on a dramatic series, went to Mr. Sorkin and Rick Cleveland, a writer on the show, for an episode about the death of a homeless Korean War veteran.

Days before the Emmy ceremony, people connected to the show said, Mr. Cleveland sent Mr. Sorkin an e- mail message saying that, if they won, he would like to say a brief word in honor of his father because the episode was autobiographical -- Mr. Cleveland's father, a Korean War veteran, had spent the last years of his life as an alcoholic living in flophouses. Mr. Cleveland had lost touch with his father when he was 13. After his father's death, Mr. Cleveland had found that his father had numerous war decorations and sought to bury him in Arlington National Cemetery.

At the Emmy Awards, Mr. Cleveland was not given the opportunity to say a word by Mr. Sorkin. In fact, Mr. Sorkin conspicuously ignored him on stage. Mr. Sorkin said today that he forgot to thank Mr. Cleveland, just as he forgot to thank his wife.

But in an article for the Writers Guild magazine after the Emmy awards, Mr. Cleveland discussed the Emmy Awards and chided Mr. Sorkin. "You might not remember me from that night," Mr. Cleveland wrote. "I was the guy wearing the little wire- framed glasses, standing directly behind Aaron Sorkin. I had a dumbfounded smirk on my face, and I imagine I must have looked like a member of Sorkin's security detail. When he was done speaking, he kind of ushered me offstage with him, and, dumbly, I followed."

Mr. Cleveland termed the Emmy episode "somewhat humiliating." Mr. Cleveland is now a writer on the HBO series "Six Feet Under."

"'West Wing' Producer, a Union Leader, Rules Out Writers' Raises"
by Bernard Weinraub
June 26, 2001
New York Times

On most TV staffs, stories are pitched, broken and outlined by a group, then assigned to the various writers on the staff, then polished by the show runner. That's not the way it works here. I write the scripts with the enormous help of a staff that provides research and kicks ideas around with me as well. It's like a new play being written every week. They work really hard and do a great job and they're all going to write their own scripts one day, so by way of a gratuity, I give them each a Story by credit on a rotating basis. That credit comes with money.

That said, they're paid as if they were writing scripts (and some of them have producer titles as well--simply based on what they were getting at their last job.) We're under a tremendous budget crunch here. I know it seems, with the success of the show, like we should have all the money in the world, but it doesn't work like that. People were let go in all departments; grips, gaffers, props, hair and make-up, set dressing, post-production ... And the cases of a few writers (whom I'm very fond of) their contracts called for them to get bumps which would have been very difficult to justify given their job descriptions. Their contracts also give us the option to not pick up their option, which Tommy, John and I didn't want to do given their loyal service to the show and our personal friendships with them. So we asked them if they'd be willing to stay on at their current salaries, supplemented by the money they'd get from story credits. In no way a violation of the Writers' Guild contract, in spirit or otherwise. John, I assure you, would never do that.

The two who left are both gainfully employed on other shows. In fact there was a bidding war over their services. Those who stayed seem very happy they did.

All of this was explained by any number of people to Bernie Weinraub at the New York Times. Bernie Weinraub, it would seem, is very casual about the truth.

Finally, on a vain and selfish note: In the first season, I was doing both The West Wing and Sports Night at the same time and I wanted to try seeing if The West Wing could run like a normal TV show. I gave a staffer named Rick Cleveland a script assignment. He wrote a script called "A White House Christmas" wherein the First Lady's cat trips a Secret Service alarm. I can't much else except mention was made of a business card found in an old coat of Toby's that he'd donated to Good Will. I threw out Rick's script and wrote "In Excelces Deo." Because Rick had worked for months on his, I gave him, rather than a Story by credit, a co-written by credit and put his name ahead of mine. For my script, he received a Humanitas nomination, an Emmy Award and a Writers' Guild Award. Every Emmy nominee gets a letter from Don Mischer, the producer of the telecast, very clearly saying that only one person is allowed to speak when accepting. After that person is done, the orchestra will play you off. Rick could'ce done the St. Crispin's Day speech that night for I cared. It wasn't my call.

This, too, was explained to Bernie.

At the end of the first season, Rick was fired. Not by me and for economic reasons. It was by John Wells and it was for lack of performance. He was then hired by Gideon's Crossing, where he was fired by Paul Attanassio for the same reason. - Aaron "Benjamin" Sorkin

Posted at Forum
by Aaron "Benjamin" Sorkin
June 26, 2001

Hey, Gang. Rick Cleveland here. First off, for anyone who's interested, my draft of the script -- I wrote three -- is available in the WGA archive. I'm pretty sure anyone who stops by can read it -- if not I'd be glad to make it available. It's called "A White House Christmas." Benjamin got that much right. The "A" story is mine -- not just the idea -- all the way down to the name of the homeless Korean War veteran, Walter Huffnagel. Even Toby's visit to his brother, although I didn't make him retarded -- Aaron did. Other stuff is also mine -- the new millennium stuff in the teaser, as well as the stuff about CJ's secret service nickname -- which was my wife's idea, yes. Aaron's a great writer, and he did a great job rewriting the script -- but he didn't write it alone. And he didn't "give" me a Written by credit -- and what galled me on Emmy night wasn't that he didn't let me speak -- it was that he ignored me completely. For the record, the writing credit on the script was indeed arbitrated by the WGA -- they decided my work warranted a Co-Writer credit on the teleplay. Also, for the record, every script written the show's first year by staff members was automatically submitted for arbitration -- at the request of John Wells -- as a measure of protection for us -- to keep Aaron from poaching or cannibalizing scripts to the point where he wouldn't have to give credit where credit was/is due. As for being fired for lack of performance, that's also not true -- at least as far as I know. The fact that Aaron, John and Tommy submitted the script that I co-wrote for Emmy, Humanitas and WGA Award consideration validates my contribution to the show -- at least I'd like to think it does. Also, I didn't get fired off "Gideon's Crossing." In closing, I'm very proud to inform you all that I'm currently working on "Six Feet Under." It's a great show, you should check it out. - Rick Cleveland

Posted at Forum
by Rick Cleveland
July 6, 2001

Boy, I'd kinda like to end this. So Rick? If you're out there...?

I and everyone else appreciate the contribution you made to the episode. It was crucial. I was dead wrong to imply otherwise. I deeply regret not having thanked you that night. It was nothing more than nerves. As for your not being allowed to speak, I'm sorry about that too and I wish you'd been able to, but that wasn't my call, it was the decision of Don Mischer. I thanked those involved with the pilot (really not just the pilot, but the production of the series in general) because I wasn't just the co-writer of that episode, I was also the creator and executive producer of the series, and I had no way of knowing if we'd be back up there again that night.

You wrote what I felt was an unduly nasty piece in the Writers' Guild magazine, and after I read it, I called you and I apologized. I then made arrangements for you not only to speak when accepting the Writers' Guild Award, but for you to have the entire stage to yourself that night.

The whole unfortunate incident was dragged out once again when Bernie Weinraub wrote his piece in the New York Times. I reacted too quickly to what I felt was an egregiously unfair characterization of the way writers are treated on The West Wing. Further, I'm remarkably and stupidly naive about the internet, and never imagined my response to a poster would be picked up by Slate or anyone else. The episode we did together remains one of the proudest moments of this series and of my career. I enjoyed every day of the year we worked together.

Six Feet Under is a wonderful show, I'm sure you're proud of it. I wish you nothing less than what you deserve: Health, Happiness and another Emmy.

Aaron Sorkin

Posted at Forum
by Aaron "Benjamin" Sorkin
July 8, 2001


Thank you for being such a mensch about putting what I hope will be a dignified end to this mess. The year I spent working with you on the show -- and on our episode -- remains one of the proudest experiences of my career as well. And just so you know, I never spoke with Weinraub or anyone else at the Times, nor would I have felt the need to. I hope you guys sweep the Emmy Awards once again this year. And best of luck with the third season...

Best wishes,
Rick C. - Rick Cleveland

Posted at Forum
by Rick Cleveland
July 8, 2001

"I reacted too quickly. I was simply responding to this person [on the Internet], not thinking that there were more than a dozen people in the room. I tried to talk about the situation. I then went a step too far." He paused. "It's not a guilty conscience. I know how this must look." - Aaron Sorkin

"Will 'West Wing' Go Up in Smoke?"
by Sharon Waxman
July 20, 2001
Washington Post

"He said awful things about me," says [Rick] Cleveland, now a writer/supervising producer on HBO's Six Feet Under. "I was deeply hurt. Deeply. Here is a guy with $15 million and I am a guy with zero million."

Sorkin admits that he made a mistake by posting his thoughts on the Internet. "I should have counted to 100" before logging on, he says. "I realize that doesn't matter how angry I am about all this; I made a guy I like feel very bad. I'd gone below the the belt in assessing his work. So I thought if I post an apology maybe he will see it. And in my naïveté about the Internet I thought around 12 people would see [all of] this."

"State of Disunion"
by Mary Murphy
August 11, 2001
TV Guide (American edition)

Whitford remembered that there have been issues that he has had to support as his character Josh Lyman, but that he personally opposed.

"I [disagree with] hate crimes legislation. [Differentiating] between how you prosecute someone based on what they were thinking is wrong," he said.

"GU Goes Behind The Scenes With 'The West Wing' Cast"
by Adam Jones
February 26, 2002

After his retirement in 1968, Denton went back to college, earned four degrees and launched a second career as an actor. Among his credits are two episodes of The West Wing. He played an Israeli diplomat on one episode that aired a few weeks ago and a Korean War veteran in the first season of the drama about the White House.

"It was eerie to see myself buried at Arlington on film," [Ralph] Denton [Sr.] said. "Even though I will be someday."

"Three veterans receive combat medals"
by Mary Gail Hare
December 15, 2004
Baltimore Sun

"There's more happening in her trailer than in most nightclubs," cast mate Josh Malina says. After wrapping the final episode, most of the actors drowned their sorrows in [Allison] Janney's hospitality. "I eventually called it Club Flamingo after my Secret Service name," she says. "I have to say I'm a bit of a hedonist. A harmless one, but I like to have fun."

May 14, 2006
Washington Post

Mention the character of Toby Zeigler to West Wing aficionados and they will immediately recall the first Christmas episode, titled In Excelsis Deo, for which Schiff won an Emmy.

In it, Toby arranges a military funeral for a derelict ex-serviceman to whom he is linked by only the vaguest of coincidences.

In the days of Big Brother and Cheaters, it stands proud as an example of television at its best, but Schiff says what we saw was very nearly not what we got. "Originally it was written for Rob Lowe's character," he says. "Then the producers thought it would be better if I did it. It was written by someone who hadn't written for the show before and when I saw the script I was really angry, then I emotionally lost it. I cried.

"In it Toby became reluctantly involved in the man's death. It was insulting. I thought if this is what America thinks my character is all about, then I haven't been doing the job I set out to do.

"I went to Aaron and Tommy and they said not to worry, that we'd work it out. We worked around the clock and rewrote it." Which sounds like a West Wing episode in itself.

"Hanging up on Toby"
by Mike Colman
August 23, 2006

But the one episode that people talk to me about is the Korean War Veteran, it was the first season Christmas episode. I [was] talking to this homeless man who was somewhat slow, mentally challenged and wasn't getting what I was saying, it was a beautifully written scene in which I say 'listen you don't understand, I'm a very powerful man'. There's something that I did with that line, I found myself utterly embarrassed to be saying it out loud. I realised that it was a defining moment. I realised, wow this is who this guy is. He is someone who, when he has to say the words 'listen, I'm powerful', is embarrassed. So I remember that moment because it set my direction for the next six years. - Richard Schiff

"Q&A: Richard Schiff answers your questions"
February 10, 2007
London Theatre Guide

For more information about this episode:
Continuity Guide to "The West Wing"
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