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Documentary Special

Original Airdate 04-24-02 Rerun 07-03-02

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A documentary in which former real-life West Wingers (including Presidents Clinton, Carter and Ford) recall White House experiences also includes clips from series episodes. Oscar-winning producer Bill Couterie ("Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt") is the director. Also interviewed: Henry Kissinger; former Presidential adviser David Gergen; former White House chief of staff Leon Panetta; and former White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers, a writer for "The West Wing."
From NBC:
The producers of "The West Wing." present a documentary special celebrating the real players inside the White House. The one-hour special will include, among others, interviews with former White House staffers David Gergen, Dee Dee Myers, Henry Kissinger, Leon Panetta and former Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. The show will also feature highlights of three seasons of the Emmy Award-winning "The West Wing."
From Warner Bros.:
"The West Wing" blends drama with reality in this groundbreaking documentary episode that includes interviews with former Presidents and White House figures. Paying tribute to the real-life counterparts of the show's fictional Bartlet administration, the installment features U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford, White House staffers David Gergen, Dee Dee Myers and Leon Panetta and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Highlights from the three seasons of "The West Wing" are interspersed throughout.


Rob Lowe as Sam (Samuel Norman) Seaborn Deputy Communications Director
Stockard Channing as Abbey (Abigail Ann) Bartlet M.D. First Lady
Dulé Hill as Charlie (Charles) Young Personal Aide to the President
Allison Janney as C.J. (Claudia Jean) Cregg Press Secretary
Janel Moloney as Donna (Donnatella) Moss Assistant to Deputy Chief of Staff
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

Further information available at 's West Wing page


Gene Sperling White House Chief Economic Advisor Clinton Administration
Dee Dee Myers White House Press Secretary Clinton Administration
Marlin Fitzwater White House Press Secretary Reagan/GHW Bush Administrations
Peggy Noonan Presidential Speechwriter Reagan Administration
Betty Currie Personal Secretary to the President Clinton Administration
Ken Duberstein White House Chief of Staff Reagan Administration
President Jimmy Carter 39th President of the United States  
David Gergen White House Advisor Nixon/Ford/Reagan/Clinton Administrations
Michelle Crisci Meyercord Special Assistant Clinton Administration
Leon Panetta White House Chief of Staff Clinton Administration
Paul Begala Counselor to the President Clinton Administration
Kris Engskov Aide to the President Clinton Administration
Karl Rove Senior Advisor to the President George W. Bush Administration
President Gerald R. Ford 38th President of the United States  
Lanny J. Davis Special Counsel to the President Clinton Administration
President William J. Clinton 42nd President of the United States  
Dr. Henry Kissinger Secretary of State/National Security Advisor Nixon/Ford Administrations

Information Links

Links from the interview portions only.


Emmy Awards

Outstanding Special Class Program Win for
Aaron Sorkin
Thomas Schlamme
John Wells
Kevin Falls
Michael Hissrich
Llewellyn Wells
Anne Sandkuhler
William Couturie
Eli Attie
Felicia Willson

Media Quotes

IT turns out a special "West Wing" episode airing later this month is including a member of the Bush Administration after all.

Karl Rove, one of President George W. Bush's senior advisors, is interviewed for the special about how the real White House functions versus the fictional White House of the hit TV series.


"We did not approach the sitting President to participate because we thought it would be inappropriate during wartime," "West Wing" producer Llewellyn Wells told The Post yesterday.

But "the White House very gracefully and willingly sent us Karl Rove, who will be in the special. We spoke to him the first week we went out to [interview] people."

There had been reports that the White House had refused to participate in the episode because of "West Wing" creator Aaron Sorkin's past critical remarks about President George W. Bush.

"They have been gracious and helpful to us," Llewellyn said of the White House. "Last April, we were hosted in the West Wing by [advisor] Andrew Card, Karl Rove and [press secretary] Ari Fleischer." Wells said that President Bush's father, former President George H. Bush was contacted about the special, but declined an offer to be interviewed.

by Michael Starr and Andrea Peyser
April 12, 2002
New York Post

"We know we take some license," says executive producer and director Thomas Schlamme, particularly when it comes to the details of who influences decision-making in the White House. "Because we don't have a cast of 200, we have a smaller network of people talking about policy." The show is less interested in staff hierarchy, however, than in depicting what it feels like to work for the president. "As long as we get the feeling of what it's like to get a bill passed," the show is doing its job, Schlamme says. And after shooting a documentary featuring a number of people who've actually worked in the White House, Schlamme says the show's cast and crew feels pretty sure they do get those emotional details right.


What came through in all the interviews, Schlamme says, was the passion people had for their jobs. "At the end, you're glad that every one of these people was involved" in government, Schlamme says. "And you couldn't help but feel that these people have so much to offer." The commitment the real-life White House workers felt was evident from the former presidents on down through their personal aides, Schlamme says. Because of that, no one's remembrances are weighted much more than any other's. "This is not a documentary about the presidents; it's about all the people who worked there," Schlamme says. "We actually said to the former presidents, with all due respect, that they wouldn't necessarily be a bigger part [of the show] than anyone else." Another noticeable aspect of the documentary is the lack of cynicism its subjects display. "It's not people just saying what they're supposed to say," Schlamme says. "They're remembering [their work] with such passion; it's not 'We didn't get enough things passed' or 'These people did this to us.' "

"'West Wing' Pays Tribute to Real-Life White House Staff"
by Rick Porter
April 17, 2002

"We wanted to do a memory piece about working in the West Wing, the emotional feelings of those times," said Thomas Schlamme, executive producer and frequent director of the series. "This show has a deep admiration for those in public service."


"They have a constant passion for doing and loving their jobs," said Schlamme. "They all remember their time in the West Wing as a special time."

Former President Bush declined participation in Wednesday's show without explanation, and the producers left the decision to [Karl] Rove about whether President George W. Bush, given the tenor of the times, should even be asked.


Schlamme says he doesn't know if the younger Bush declined or was never asked, but said, "We would have been very honored if the president had said yes."

"'West Wing' episode acts as documentary with real-life politicos in the mix"
Compiled by Michael Hamersly
April 22, 2002
Orlando Sentinel

Producers didn't pitch the sitting president, says executive producer Thomas Schlamme, "because we didn't feel comfortable, given the world situation. This man's busy enough." Instead, senior adviser Karl Rove will represent the Bush Administration.

Bush père just said no. "In all fairness to him, none of the presidents jumped on quickly, and justifiably so," Schlamme said in a conference call.

Just as well. After acceptances from Clinton, Carter and Ford, there wouldn't have been enough airspace for another real president anyway, according to Schlamme.


Producers began discussing the episode a year ago, with the first interviews shot in February. Part of the impetus, Schlamme says, was the desire to deliver NBC's full order of 23 episodes before the end of the May sweeps.

Because West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin goes to the wire every week, there wouldn't have been enough time to produce 23 episodes that included the ensemble cast and an original script, Schlamme says.

Given the nature of this week's segment, however, producers were able to work on the special episode and the regular shows simultaneously.

West Wing's real-life counterparts "are the true witnesses of history," Schlamme says. "What we found out . . . is the absolute commitment and passion they have for the public service of politics."

"Real presidents, but no Bushes, on special ' West Wing'"
by Gail Shister
April 22, 2002
Philadelphia Inquirer

"We basically approached all these people by saying, 'We really want to just do an interview with you -- much more of a memory piece and recollections and feelings about what it was like working in the West Wing,' " said "West Wing" executive producer/director Thomas Schlamme in a telephone interview with TV critics. "We didn't ask them to specifically relate at all to our show. It had nothing to do with that. They clearly knew that the format was that we would take these interviews and find selective moments within these interviews and, hopefully, be able to highlight what they're saying with imagery from our show.

"The idea really was to hear these people, the true witnesses to history, and their recollections."

And this is not an hour about public policy or political persuasions.

"One of the promises that we made to these people is that we would not use this as any sort of political platform, which is why we wanted this to be absolutely bipartisan," Schlamme said. "We didn't want to put them on the spot. . . . We really wanted to, much like the show, dig out some of the emotional feelings of what those times were."

He said the idea for the hour came out of the research "West Wing" staff has done over the past three years -- from talking to various White House staffers from various administrations.

"The one thing that we found out when we began interviewing people when we first started the show, when we began ourselves to be more familiar with the people who actually do these jobs, is the absolute commitment and passion that they have for it," Schlamme said. "what our characters exhibit is that constant passion for doing their job and loving their job. And you really got this in these talking heads. And especially because people were, for the most part -- except for Karl Rove, who was right in the middle of it -- they were remembering it."

And he promises that, like "The West Wing" itself, this documentary will leave viewers feeling better about the people who commit their lives to public service.

"It's people remembering working in that environment with such enthusiasm and passion. . . . It really felt genuine," Schlamme said. "I'm very happy that the outcome of this show is that . . . by the end of it, you're glad that every one of these people across the board were people who tried to make the world better."

"'The West Wing' gets real"
by Scott D. Pierce
April 23, 2002
Desert News

According to Schlamme, the ex-commanders-in-chief all echoed similar concerns: "'What's this about? Who else is doing it?' We asked [Bush] early on, and then we were able to get Presidents Carter and Clinton and then Ford." After racking up those nifty A-listers, the show didn't bother to push for Bush. Schlamme insists this was due to time constraints, "not because our feelings were hurt" about Bush's initial refusal.

"Why Bush Refused West Wing Invite"
by Daniel R. Coleridge
April 24, 2002
TV Guide Online

"We were interested in their feelings about that period of their lives when they were in the West Wing," said Thomas Schlamme, one of the show's executive producers, who directed the episode. "We didn't want a sound bite or a scoop. There was nothing surprising other than how human it all is, which is the essence of our show."

The interviews were shot over the past two months by Bill Couturie, who won an Oscar for his 1989 feature documentary about the AIDS quilt, "Common Threads: Stories From the Quilt," and was Nominated for an Oscar for his 1991 short subject documentary "Memorial: Letters From American Soldiers." Couturie and his crew met with Carter in Atlanta, Clinton in Harlem and Ford in Rancho Mirage.

The crew also spent several days in Washington this last winter, camped out less than two blocks from the White House in Constitutional Hall, interviewing Karl Rove, President Bush's right-hand man, as well as Democratic strategist Paul Begala and former White House spokespeople Marlin Fitzwater and Dee Dee Myers, both of whom now serve as consultants on "The West Wing."

Myers, who was the first to sit for the 90-minute session with Couturie, said the interviews reflect a consistent theme among West Wing staffers, regardless of administration, party or ideology.

"When you're in the White House, you think you've done something that no one else has done. In a way, that's true, no one's won the election you have. But you end up learning painful lessons, and there's a process of rebuilding," she said. "when you work there you think the whole world revolves around what the president has to say that day. When you leave, you realize that's not at all true."

Fitzwater, who served as press secretary during the Reagan and Bush administrations for a 10-year span beginning in 1983, spent more than an hour with Couturie in winter but on Monday said he was not sure which of his recollections, if any, made the final cut.

"I told stories about the briefing with my Soviet counterpart during the arms control talks and what it was like to warn CNN that they might be in danger if they stayed in Baghdad" during the Persian Gulf War, he said.

In similar fashion, [Kris] Engskov, who was 27 when he became an aide to Clinton and spent seven years in the White House, said he put off telling his mother about his participation in the special episode until Tuesday, fearing his interview wouldn't make it into the show.


The documentary is broken into four segments, each with a distinct theme. For the most part, Schlamme said, the titles were phrases lifted from one of the interviews, like "Mt. Rushmore," the heading for a block of interviews that deal with power. It was taken from White House advisor David Gergen's opinion that there is a certain hubris to every new president, and that each newly elected commander in chief invariably thinks "that there is room for one more head on Mt. Rushmore."

"'West Wing' Hails the Real-Life Chiefs"
by Dana Calvo
April 24, 2002
Los Angeles Times

Do all those people watch "The West Wing"? Executive producer Tommy Schlamme has no idea. The episode, blending interviews with scenes from the series, is intended to salute the characters' real-life counterparts, not to hype the series, he says. "We approached everybody to share their recollections and their feelings about working in the West Wing," he says. "The memories didn't have to relate to our show."


There was a promise made that this wouldn't be a political platform," he says. "We weren't asking these people to comment on policy. ... They were witnesses to history."

"Fiction visits fact in "West Wing" salute to the West Wing"
by Gail Pennington
April 24, 2002
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"Lanny Davis tells this funny story about the day Nixon resigned," says Schlamme. "[Davis] put his two small kids in the back seat of the car and drove them to the White House. He parked the car on Pennsylvania Avenue and gave a speech to his kids about how the most powerful man in the world left office today.

There was no militia, and there was no coupe; it was the rule of law, and now a new man is taking office. He turned around, and both kids had fallen asleep. We thought that epitomized the show." - Thomas Schlamme

"'West Wing' Celebrates The Real Office Holders"
by Tara Wiess
April 24, 2002
Hartford Courant

He [Aaron Sorkin] was laughing about the 21 vs 22 Emmy nominations for the show. It is 22, and the publicists worked overtime making sure that the trades got it right for their stories. And then The Hollywood Reporter had this big feature about how the Academy considered it 21, because the documentary special was not really an episode, it was something entirely different

Posted at
by Catherine from Sam Seaborn Central
July 21, 2002
Message 21551
Notes from a L.A. book signing with Aaron Sorkin

MY question. Because I had to ask SOMETHINGI asked him (much more suave than this) about how the documentary episode came about. He said it was just someone's idea (not his) that instead of doing a rerun, this would be far more entertaining. He said he LOVES this episode. He was so touched by how much fun these real staffers were having telling their stories. And shocked when Ford just poured out about the pardon and then Carter went on about the hostage crisis- totally unplanned.

Posted at
by AJ
September 12, 2003
Message 31492
Notes from "A Conversation with Aaron Sorkin" at the Museum of Television and Radio in Beverly Hills

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