Since Frank Underwood became president on Netflix’s House of Cards, I’ve had this geek fantasy of him debating Josiah Bartlet, Martin Sheen’s idealistic and professorial president from The West Wing. Bartlet’s Washington, D.C., was the proverbial shining city on a hill, a place where intelligent, well-intentioned people gravitated to do the peoples’ business. Underwood’s capital is the nasty underbelly of a trough coated by man’s craven pursuit of power for power’s sake. It’s practically Kennedy’s Camelot versus Nixononian realpolitik. To paraphrase Anthony Hopkins’ Nixon in Oliver Stone’s 1995 movie, “When [people] look at The West Wing, they see what they want to be. When they look at House of Cards, they see what they are.”
The West Wing was a political world worth aspiring to, and eight years after the show went off the air, many young politicos — more liberal than conservative, of course — reference Aaron Sorkin’s show as an early influence that pointed them towards D.C. The Hollywood Reporter recently published an oral history, celebrating the 15th anniversary of the show’s premiere, with Sorkin, showrunner Tommy Schlamme, and many from the cast and crew contributing. It’s a fun, nostalgic read, one that digs into several what-ifs and reinforces my belief that Bartlet would debate “There’s No ‘U’ and ‘I’ in Education” Underwood under the table.
1. Martin Sheen was practically an accidental president
The show first offered the nation’s top job to Sidney Poitier, and Jason Robards was high on everyone’s list, but the 77-year-old was not in good health and would die in 2000. Hal Holbrook and John Cullum (ER) also read for the part. But Sheen, who’d worked with Sorkin on The American President, was a natural who made the showrunners reconsider the size of the role of their president. READ FULL STORY