Thursday, February 16, 2006

Aaron Sorkin, West Wing, televisionwithoutpity timeline

UPDATE: I found an MSNBC piece that both quotes Aaron Sorkin's return comments to Twop and also puts them in Feburary 10-11, 2002. This would have been before "Night Five" aired.

UPDATE II: I found another specific quotation of something Sorkin said on Twop. This would be a lot easier if those posts simply still existed and people could look them up themselves instead of trying to recreate all of his statements. But the message boards are kind of fragile. You can't really find any message boards posts older than a few years (although the recaps can be much older).

This story of mine is so complicated that I decided I need to do it as an actual timeline to go along with this post.

Sept. 22, 1999
The West Wing debuts- "Pilot"

Dec. 12, 1999
Christmas episode “In Excelsis Deo” airs

September 2000
West Wing wins five Emmys, including one for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series for the episode "In Excelsis Deo." Story is co-credited to Rick Cleveland and Aaron Sorkin. However at the Emmy podium, Sorkin hogs the mike.

April 17, 2001
Aaron Sorkin is arrested for drug possession at airport

May 2001
Huge contract negotiations problems with West Wing writers for third season. These negotiations include some of the real politicos who serve as consultants to show such as Dee Dee Myers. Raises that are promised in contracts do not happen.

June 2001
Sorkin and his wife separate. They have one child and will formally divorce in 2004.

Sometime in late June 2001...
Sorkin posts on Twop boards and "disses" Rick Cleveland. Actual posts are long gone but some articles quote from them. (Also Mickey Kaus sucks). Sorkin's comments leak out to the NY Post, feud becomes public and but then is resolved publically on Twop boards (Sorkin apologizes to Rick Cleveland on the boards, Cleveland accepts on the boards.) Sorkin comes on to post that because of this incident he's basically not allowed to post anymore or "they" will take away his keyboard. There is some flavor of his statements to Twop at the time in what C.J. Cregg says to Josh Lymon in the "U.S. Poet Laureate" episode. Not the "shove a motherboard so far up your ass" part, but I recall him saying "someone" was now checking to make sure he never posts again and C.J. says something like that to Josh.

September 11, 2001
'nuff said.

October 10, 2001
Third season of West Wing begins with a "very special episode" called “Isaac and Ishmael" and is more or less a reaction to the events of Sept. 11. I hate it. Twop recapper deborah hates it. It's widely panned. A year later even Sorkin will say about it, “I'm not even sure it was good television.”

Feburary 6, 2002
"Night Five" airs. It has a very specific plot where Sam and Ainsley discuss what workplace sexism is and totally agree that whatever is happening between them isn't sexist because Ainsley is like totally feminine and likes sex and therefore is okay when her boss compliments her body in the workplace while other women observe. While I can't show what the Twop boards looked like in 2001, Aaron Sorkin's sexist writing had been in discussion at lot in 2001 which the timing would have worked out for him to essentially write "Night Five" in response to these specific criticisms that were popping up in late 2001. I have a very specific memory that the anti-female sexism threads had been in intense discussion on the Twop boards long before this episode aired and why many people saw it as a response to things talked about on Twop. It could explain why only a few days later Sorkin pops on the boards.

Feburary 10 & 11, 2002
Sorkin returns to the Twop boards briefly to argue with deborah and that's he's not sexist. The actual posts are gone but an MSNBC article quotes some of his posts:

Someone using the name “Benjamin” has been logging on to and discussing the writing and thought behind the show in the first person, in a "forum" set up, as the site's monitor notes, "for people to address remarks to Mr. Sorkin." Sorkin, whose middle name is Benjamin, has posted messages on the site using that alias, but his spokesman declined to say whether the "West Wing" creator has been contributing to the site lately.

“I spent a few minutes reading recent posts,” notes “Benjamin.” “‘Sexism’? ‘Why I hate this show’? What happened to the good old days of ‘Aaron Sorkin arrested’?” Then addressing himself to someone who criticized one of the show's episodes, Benjamin said, “Wednesday nights at nine there are like 168 things on television, you should watch something else 'cause I don't think this show’s your cup of tea.”

In another lengthy posting, Benjamin discusses the show’s philosophy and says, “I and everyone else here are, honestly, thrilled that there are these fan sites where strangers get together and talk about the show and like the show/don't like the show (I’d prefer if you liked the show) but you ought to disabuse yourselves of the notion that what we do is debate a point and then declare a winner. We're just telling our little stories and doing our lame jokes. And hoping you'll keep tuning in.” (Read the full Benjamin postings for Feb. 10 and Feb. 11.)

Sorkin caused a flap last summer when he got into a debate on the same Web site with former "West Wing" writer Rick Cleveland, and ended up apologizing. “Benjamin” makes jokes about the incident. “After the Rick Cleveland fiasco my office put one of those child locks on all the WW fan sites. We just moved to a new system so I have a very brief window of opportunity before they lock it up again.” He signs off, “Uh-oh, they're coming to get me. Quick, pretend I'm working. . . . ”

I also found this statement from those posts.

If you asked most people around here they'd tell you that "Gone Quiet" was the weakest show we've done. It was the only episode that USA Today has liked this season. I'm mentioning this because of the very unscientific yardsticks by which we measure how much the public enjoyed a particular episode, places "Night Five" among the TOP five we've ever done. Alot of us agree (including me, I'm afraid.) Does that make someone wrong for not liking it? Of course not. - Aaron "Benjamin" Sorkin

[I hate quoting things in piecemeal because I can't give give an entirely accurate portrait of the totality of Sorkin's remarks, and the reaction they got back in 2002. Someone could very easily read the snippets I've quoted and think "well that wasn't all that bad." Remember that I can't show you the entire conversation, I can only recreate parts of it that have been quoted elsewhere. Also think about the differences in power between deborah, the recapper (or critic) the posters who pretty much only have Twop to make themselves heard, and Sorkin, head of an entire creative team and writer of a top ten show and how big his microphone was compared to deborah's or any poster's on Twop. Drawn Together's writers taking on their review in Entertainment Weekly this was not.]

Here's what mjforty wrote that she remembers Sorkin saying when he last appeared on the boards.

His post, had it been posted by any other poster, would have probably gotten him banned. It suggested that one poster should probably walk away from his computer/t.v. set and get outside more. It told deborah there were hundreds of other things to do at 9:00 p.m. on a Wednesday night and perhaps she consider doing them. It took to task people who couldn't see why he was not sexist. (For the record: no one was calling Sorkin sexist, just that there were some problems with the way certain situations and certain female characters were written).

March 27, 2002
“U.S. Poet Laureate” episode airs. Laura Dern's final speech to Toby echoes in many ways Sorkin's statements on Twop about "We're just telling our little stories and doing our lame jokes. And hoping you'll keep tuning in.” Dern-as-Poet-Tabitha says in the episode

"Do you think that I think that the artist's job is to speak the truth? An artist's job is to captivate you for however long we ask for your attention. If we stumble into truth, we got lucky. And I don't get to decide. What you said about South Korea makes sense, you know. Your people
know more than I do...I write poetry, Toby, that's how I enter the world."
Twop recapper Shack has a pretty good response to this silliness. I found a quote from Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass that I liked as a response too. "'The attitude of great poets is to cheer up slaves and horrify despots."

November 27, 2002
Season four has started. "Artic Radar" airs. In this episode there is a subplot about a temp worker who is also a devoted "Star Trek" fan and wears an unseen "Star Trek" pin while working in the White House. (Unseen because the viewers never see how big or garish it was). Josh Lymon has a long speech about what the woman is engaging in is "fetism" not fandom. One imagines Sorkin has seen the response to both "Night Five" and "U.S. Poet Laureate" and then writes this coda to his relationship with his fans (not just Twop) in "Artic Radar."

As as sidebar, in the Twop forums a poster Gordon Shumway writes of a personal encounter he had that may have also inspired this episode a tiny bit.

I have been trying not to say this but I think that I am the basis for the Star Trek pin thing. I attended a booksigning of Aaron Sorkin's first script book at Brentano's shortly before the start of Season 4. In fact, it was two days before the news broke that Rob Lowe was leaving the show.

I was standing in line with a couple of other TWoP posters, but I was the only one brave enough to wear a retro "Vote Bartlet 2002" T-Shirt, that had "Tubey" on the back. When I had Aaron autograph the four copies of the script book I had purchased, told him that I thought "17 People" was just about the tightest show ever written and it was fine with me if he never had another guest star ever again, and he looked up to see my shirt, and said "Neat shirt." and I told him it was from TWoP. He had not seen the back, but someone with Aaron asked him if he had seen the shirt, and he answered, "Yeah." The tone in his voice was not one of approval or enthusiasm.

I am a big Aaron Sorkin fan and one of his biggest supporters during time of extreme criticism being thrown in his direction. I was not pleased with the tone of derision in their voices, but I got over it.

And I do, to this time, continue to wear my assorted TWoP shirts to work. I love them and no one has a problem with them. I guess doesn't hurt that I provide copies of missed program the the CFO.

[Just in case people think the poster invented this story four years after it happened, I do recall Shumway mentioning something like this happening a long time ago.]

Coda to Sorkin and Twop
July 13, 2005
After not being heard from personally since last 2001, Sorkin's assistant Lauren pops on the boards to contradict some information about an article printed in the New York Observer that was a reprint from the U.K. Guardian. Her board name is Donniene and she posts three times; once with the Observer correction, once to say she's been his assistant since the first season of West Wing/second season of Sports Night, a third time to note:

Aaron and Tommy have discussed coming back and doing the last few episodes of the series and I know that Aaron has talked to Rob about coming back for that occassion as well (at the moment, Aaron and Rob are preparing to start rehearsals in London for the West End premiere of a A Few Good Men.)

Then, John Spencer dies suddenly of a heart attack. Sorkin, using Lauren's Donniene screename, posts this final message to Twop. I can't help but feel that he must have made his peace with it because 2006 isn't 2002 and so much time has passed.

Dear Posters,

Tommy Schlamme, John Wells and I wanted to thank you for all your many expressions of sympathy and sadness at the death of our friend, John. He never took those who appreciated his work for granted--always happy to read and respond to a letter from a stranger--and somewhere in Heaven he's baffled and delighted by an outpouring of affection from people who who had never met him but felt like they had. You've also provided a great source of comfort to the people he left behind, including the cast and crew of The West Wing.

Several of your posts will be read out loud at his memorial service.John was the ultimate team player. He was mortified at the notion of doing anything that might detract from the collective goal or disturb another member of the company. The other night, Tommy said, "Leave it to John to die at the beginning of the Christmas break so as not to disrupt production." After a table read of an episode called "Bartlet for America", John stepped over to me and said, "I want to serve this script. Stop me in the middle of a take if it seems like I'm trying to win an Emmy." Of course he went and did both.All he ever wanted to be was a working actor, and he was a working actor until the day he died.

He was beloved and revered by everyone who ever worked on our show, and he will be missed and remembered every day.

Thank you again.

Aaron Sorkin


NewsCat said...

I'm glad you wrote and I wish you had left your e-mail so I could repond.

I don't *hate* Sorkin personally and I'm certain he is a perfectly pleasant guy and a great dad. I might question whether I would want to work for him...but that's another story. And I think I even pointed out that the events I described happened 5-6 years ago.

To critique an artist's work is what Twop (and blogs) do. I wrote my master's thesis about The Daily Show and political messages communicated through entertainment so to some extent...looking for what is being communicated in entertainment is my bread'n'butter. (yes they give out degrees for I don't regret my degree). So to that extent to devote a couple of thousand words in one's free time might make is seem as if I'm as passionate about this as I am about ending the Iraq War, but I assure you one occupies my mind far more than the other.

However to the extend you say that Sorkin doesn't get that he's not a regular guy. I don't buy that as an excuse. I'm going to quote from sociologist Stephanie Coontz and her book "The Way We Really Are."

The difference between Sorkin and blogger is what might be called "situated social power."

In plain English is means that various groups in society have unequal access to economic resources, political power, and social status, and these social differences limit how fair or equal a personal relationship between two individuals from different groups can really be. Such social imbalances affect personal behavior regardless of sincere intentions of both parties to "not let it make a difference."

You can use the example of whites communicating to blacks "well I don't see race." It's fine for a white person to assert that but they have greater social power in society.

When a person with power pretends not to have it, people with less power feel doubly vulnerable. Although they continue to be unequal, they are now asked to put aside the psychological defenses they have constructed against that inequality, including a certain amount of self-protective guardedness. So they clam up or get sore, which leaves the more powerful person feeling that his or her big-hearted gestures are being rebuffed. (Not unlike an actor or director interacting with fans).

**I don't hate Sorkin, I don't think he's a bad guy. But he cannot run from the fact that the stories he wrote about Twop now sell on DVDs. He has more power to speak than me or his fans. And that's what I was critquing him for.**

NewsCat said...

If you (or anyone actually) were interested in communicating with me privately you are always welcome to e-mail me at catrina_dirk (at) hotmail dot com

Confidentiality garenteed for those who ask for it (I also work in the public sphere, but in DC).

Rains said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dimitra Ekmektsis said...

I'm glad I found your blog. I don't hate Sorkin personally, either, but he does seem to live in a proverbial cave, when it comes to women's issues. And he certainly is the sort of hypocrite who sees call girls, and then denies it -- and even steals their lines for his work. But as you know, I have written a book about it, and explained it all. Dimitra Ekmektsis

Steppy said...

"October 10, 2001" - comment taken out of context.

Issac & Ishmael was extraordinary. Even more impressive when you know it was done so quickly.

Your intense hatred of Sorkin is odd and makes everything you write seem laughably biased.

Anonymous said...

I've been trying to put my finger on what bothers me about this show's discussion of women and feminism and you totally nailed it.
I just want to add that C.J., who throughout season one is portrayed as the only member of White House staff who is both female and resoundingly competent at her job [Mandy rarely pops up except in the middle of some crisis she's created and/or to give advice that gets people killed], is also portrayed as being so ill equipped to handle adult relationships that she gives in to reporter Danny's push to date her--in spite of the fact that a) he's an arrogant, pushy jerk and b) she compromises her job in doing so. In typical 'woman who cannot control her lustful urges' storyline, C.J. makes out with Danny in her office for a week but refuses to actually go on a date with him outside of the office..because "women are so tempestuous 'n like to jerk men around", presumably; certainly, we viewers are given no real explanation about this.
It's just. I would like to see a woman treated like someone capable of being sexually attractive and owning her sexuality without a) interacting sexually with a lead male character in a professionally inappropriate way [the kind that in real life would be sure to get HER fired if it ended badly, whereas he would surely be protected under the 'bro code of conduct'] or b) being incompetent and hired at least in part as a result of being on the staff's radar as the result of her sexual involvement with one of them. If a woman cannot be sexually attractive, meaning neither physically awkward nor geeky nor apt to fall into pools and/or get her car towed for parking illegally [all in the first flippin' season], yet still be competent at her job [which includes being able to set personal and professional limits in her interactions with the males she works alongside]..that just presents women with the choice we already face on a regular basis, i.e. for men to consider us to be attractive enough to get a mate [and show our confidence in our looks in how we dress]'--or competent enough to hire professionally [on the merits of our work ethics not expecting us to bow to the pressure they put on us to hop into the sack with them]?

sammy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sammy said...

I have heard news about this guy and I think he has its own story to deal and tell.

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