10 - The Michigan Daily - Friday, October 15, 1999
Golden boy Sorkin does it all for two shows at once.
Lo v's T!Imes
It is I :3() a.m. and Aaron Sorkm is
slouched in a director's char, commiscr-
ating with Rob i.owe between scenes on
the t of "The West Wing" The new
NBC drama, which co-stars Lowe as a
ha tnd White House speech writer, is
one of two shows, along with ABC's
Sports Night," created by Sorkin in his
young career as TV's new golden boy.
Right now the golden boy is belea-
guer'd and exhausted. Up at dawn,
Sorkin has been going at a David E.
K Iley-style pace, writing every episode
of both shows. "It's like being with two
lovers in the same week!' he says. He
pens "West Wing" scripts on weekdays,
grabbing time between production meet-
mgs, casting sessions and visits to the set.
Over the weekend he writes "Sports
Night: which returned for its second sea-
son last week, finishing the scripts in
time to be messengered Sunday night to
past members for the show's Monday
morning table read.
By the second week of Septembet the
;train is showing. The new "West Wing"
j cript, due days earlier, is stalled some-
where in the first act. When the director
7f the upcoming episode stops by, Sorkin
bluntly informs him: "I owe you a script,
out 1 have nothing." He walks the director
aut, handing him a "West Wing" cap.
After he's departed, Sorkin turns to
Lauren Carpenter, his assistant. "Mark
this down on our calendar, h says glum-
ly. "We'l never be on schedule agan
If anyone would thrive on the hich-
wire act of doing two T\ shows simulta-
neously, it's Sorkin, a brainy. sometimes
arrogant. always ambitious y-ear-old
playwight and screenwriter\ When he
says that he loves "smai1, quick, flawed
characters, you caIt help but ihik he's
talking about himself.
fe was still in his 20s when he wrote
"A Few Good Men," the I3roadway hit he
later adapted for the screen, caming an
Oscar nomination for best screenplay and
best picture. In his early 30s, he spent two
years holed up at the Four Seasons Hotel
here, writing the script for "The American
President:' By the time the movie was fin-
ished. Sorkin's life was spiraling out of
control he'd become a cocaine addict
and had to check into the Hazelden
Institute in Minnesota to kick the habit.
So why would he want the stomach-
churning pressure of writing two TV
shows'? "It's a good question:" he says
one night. "Possibly the sort of question
best left for a therapist."
Late one Friday, bundled up in a hood-
ed sweatshirt and sneakers, Sorkin looks
like a bleary-eyed marathoner . He tells
Lowe that when he drives home at night
from Burbank he fantasizes about check-
ing into one of the gnarly room-by-the-
our motels on Ventura Boulevard for a
quick snooze. "I suppose no one actually
nscz those motels f or sleepm.ing, Sorkmn
say. 'I d have 1 bring my computer so I
-culd tell the clerk Im just a u rter who
needs to get some work done.
Sorkin can be forgiven for iaginin
he was soimewhere ee. i le thought he'd
scored a coup by hirng Wilam H. Macv
on leave from prepping a David
Mamet fim to play 'i hardball ratin
consultant on "Sports Night." But aIvM-
ing at the last minute earlier that day,
Macy gives what Sorkin describes as a
"chillingly terrible" rehearsal perfoi-
mance. Sorkin and his director stare for-
lornly at each other, wondering if this Bill
Macy,. who is manried to "Sports Night
co-star Felicity H uiman. can possibly be
the fabled theater actor who has worked
for years with Mamet and was so droli
funny in "Fargo"
Once the cameras :re running, Macy
nails every take. "He was perfect:' Sorkin
says. "Maybe that's why Mamet let us
have him he just didn't want to see
Around midnight. director Thomas
Schlamme, Sorkin's closest confidant
and an executive producer on both shows.
stops by to discuss the merits of a poten-
tial "West Wing" director. Afterward,
Sorkin shakes his head. "I wanted to tell
Tommy, 'Don't invite me to that meet-
ing.' The way things are going on this
script, I can't imagine us ever getting to
e rn' r
' . .
Aaron Sorkin works with Brad Whitford and Martin Sheen on the "West Wing" set.
Sorkin is still in the honeymoon period
with NBC, which has been heavily pro-
moting "West Wing smeling a potential
hit. But with ABC, relations have been
rocky from the beginning, even though
"Sports Night" was easily the third-place
networks most acclaimed new show last
season. Driving back to the Disney lot.
Sorkin passes the half-completed ABC-
TV building across the street that will
replace the network's Century City head-
quarters. [Ilaying the top brass right next
door is clearly too close for comfort.
"When it's finished," he says. "I guess
we'll have to move the show to New York."
"Sports Night" was network TV's most
pleasant surpnse a brash half-hour
comedy with the heft of an hourlong
drama. Sorkin, who wrote all 23
episodes, created a gallery of witty,
absorbing characters who labor for an
underdog, "ESPN SportsCenter"-style
Huffman plays Dana Whitaker, the
show's tightly wrapped producer, whose
suppressed attraction to co-anchor Casey
McCall (Peter Krause) provides much of
the show's sexual electricity. Two of the
show's other regulars, associate produc-
ers played by Sabrina Lloyd and Josh
Malina, provide the overt office romance,
while co-anchor Dan Rydell (Josh
Charles) gallantly survived several first-
season humiliations by the opposite sex.
The show's father figure is Isaac Jaffe, a
gruff, Lou Grant-style boss played by
Robert Guillaume who returns this sea-
son, recovering from a real-life stroke
that Sorkin has incorporated into Isaac's
Even though the show has been lath-
Bred with critical praise, both for Sorkin's
razor-sharp dialogue and for Schlamme's
innovative direction --which won him
an Emmy last month -. it struggled all
season, ending up a lowly No. 66 in the
year-end ratings. The mediocre ratings
are a particular problem for "Spoits
Night.' which costs about S1.2 million
per episode, significantly more than the
Sorkin spent much of last season nois-
ily battling with the ABC brass over
everything from the show's promo ads to
its laugh track. To make matters worse.
Sorkin aired his complaints last fall in a
New Yorker piece that cast him as a defi-
This season, Sorkin has channeled his
beefs with ABC into his scripts. The
show's third episode focuses on a trio of'
network suits who try to install the new
ratings consultant in Isaac's job, using
Isaac's laborious stroke recovery as an
excuse to put him out to pasture.
Watching the cast run through the
episode, it's impossible not to draw paral-
lels between Sorkin's script and his own
run-ins with ABC.
In one scene, Isaac tells the suits: "Just
because we didn't execute all the net-
work's suggestions doesn't mean we
weren't listening, it just means we didn't
agree. You didn't expect me to substitute
your judgment for mine, did you?"
It's unclear how ABC Entertainment
co-chairman Stu Bloomberg fuels about
the network being portrayed as a corporate
bully - he didn't respond to requests for
an interview. Sorkin says Bloomberg was-
n't thrilled. "I expect that Stu, being
human, feels like somebody just took a
cheap shot at him. But everybody fi
spitballs at network heads and politicia .
When he sees the show I really believethat
he'll say, 'Hey. this is great television.'
Barely an hour after the run-through, a
call comes in from Bloomberg. Sorkin
assures the network chief'that he's building
up the relationship between Dana and
Casey an obvious ABC' priority - and
downplays the episode's acerbic shots at
network executives. "Stu, you're not the
devil"lhe says cheerfully. "This is fiction'
[\ is not a medium for manic perr
tionists. But as a former playwright,
Sorkin values the word -and the sound
of a word so if he thinks a line of dia-
logue sounds off, he will unapologetical-
ly hit the brakes and stop the train to fix a
And once Sorkin bonds with someone,
the bond remains tight. "Sports Night's"
Malina, who first met Sorkin in high
school, has been in every Sorkin play a
film. Ron Ostrow and Tim Davis-Re
who play "Sports Night" control-roor"
technicians, are elementary school and
college buddies, respectively. "Sports
Night's" Krause first met Sorkin when
they were Broadway theater bartenders.
"West Wing's" Whitford was in "A Few
Good Men" on Broadway.
Sorkin and the actors spend so much
time together that it's often hard to tell
when art is imitating life or the other wad
around. When Sorkin is too busy
attend a party Huffman and Macy have
one night, he sends Huffman a card with
a bottle of wine and a can of Spackle
exactly what Dan gives Dana as a gesture
of apology after a spat in an upcomink
"Sports Night" episode.
b F aStudent
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