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Throwback Thursday - The West Wing - Pilot

Throwback Thursday, a weekly article in which we look back at our favorite TV episodes from over the years.

On September 22, 1999, a new commander-in-chief was introduced to the American public -- President Josiah "Jed" Bartlet from The West Wing. The season premiere of NBC’s season season drama introduced viewers to a new president (Martin Sheen) and the trials and tribulations of the West Wing staffers.


The episode opened with an introduction to the main cast of characters. Speechwriter Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe) talking to a reporter in a Washington, D.C. bar. Chief of Staff Leo McGary (John Spencer) is lamenting about the errors in the newspaper crossword puzzle. Press Secretary C.J. Cregg (Allison Janey) running on the treadmill. Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford) is sleeping at his desk, and Director of Communications Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff) is typing on his laptop aboard an airplane. Each of these characters received a message on their pager that POTUS (President of the United States) was just in a bicycle accident and they should immediately report to the office.
 
While we don’t see President Bartlett until nearly the end of the episode, the rest of the time is filled with subplots including whether Lyman will keep his White House job after publicly criticizing Mary Marsh, a Conservative Christian activist, on a televised debate with the line, "Lady, the God you pray to is too busy being indicted for tax fraud."

Later in the episode, Lyman and Ziegler meet with Marsh and several other members of the Christian coalition to offer an apology. The meeting goes haywire when the members use the apology as a way to negotiate their agenda, while Ziegler is offended by what he perceives as an anti-Semitic remark. They all launch into a heated discussion about the Ten Commandments, just as Bartlett enters the room (donning crutches for his broken ankle) and corrects one of the attendees on their theology.

He tells Marsh and her constituents that the reason he crashed his bicycle was distraction over his granddaughter receiving a Raggedy Ann doll that had a knife in its throat. This was sent to his granddaughter from an extremist group after she made pro-choice comments to a teen magazine. Bartlett denounced the group’s activities and abruptly ends the meeting.

Meanwhile, Seaborn realizes the woman he spent the night with was a prostitute after he inadvertently takes her pager instead of his own after leaving her house that morning. In what ends up being one of the more comical scenes in the pilot episode, Seaborn is asked to give a White House tour to Mallory O’Brien’s grade school class. In a moment of frustration, he admits to O’Brien that he accidentally slept with a call girl, not realizing that O’Brien is the daughter of his boss, McGary. Finally, Bartlett and staff are dealing with a crisis that includes a large number of Cuban refugees that left Havana for Miami, all while an impending tropical storm threatens their lives. At the end of the episode, Bartlett learns that 700 refugees returned to Cuba, 350 were missing, and 137 individuals made it to Florida and claimed asylum.

The episode ends with Bartlett uttering what will become his signature line throughout the series: “What’s next?”

It’s hard to believe The West Wing premiered 18 years ago. Many individuals long for the days of this fictional president and his administration. Luckily you can catch the pilot and all seven seasons of “The West Wing” on Neflix.

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