It’s not easy being Aaron Sorkin. Not only is he responsible for 22 episodes of The West Wing this season; his distinctive writer’s voice compels him to try to crank out 22 editions of ABC’s Sports Night as well. Sometimes inspiration comes easily. For West Wing, he says ”it can be something as simple as a news clipping about a small town in Alabama [that’s] thinking about abolishing all laws other than the Ten Commandments. That’s pure gold—I know I can get two [scenes] out of that.”
Sometimes the going is tougher. Sorkin cites Sports Night’s ”Dana-Casey dating plan” (in which Felicity Huffman’s TV producer Dana insists that Peter Krause’s anchorman Casey date a few other women before they get serious about their own relationship) as one of his less successful flights of fancy. ”Almost from the get-go I didn’t like it,” he says. ”I feel I can do better in Sports Night’s third season” (nudge-nudge, ABC).
Well, heck, they can’t all be gems—especially when you’re trying to bang out Emmy-worthy stuff for two very different shows. Just how hectic does Sorkin’s life get? Here’s a rundown of a recent week in which the inevitably harried writer admits, ”I was in deep trouble.”
SATURDAY AND SUNDAY
”Ordinarily, I finish a [Sports Night] script by Sunday night, [the cast] reads it Monday morning, we rehearse Monday and Tuesday, and we shoot Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. I write West Wing while they shoot Sports Night, but this week I didn’t get Wing done in time.”
”I had to cancel Monday and send everyone [in the Sports Night cast] home. I wrote.”
”Tuesday morning we read a little more than half a script, which was all I had completed….”
”By Wednesday midday, as they were shooting the first half [of Sports Night], I had finished the rest of the script. That’s missing the deadline by 48 hours.”
THURSDAY AND FRIDAY
”The West Wing script I’m on page 6 with right now was due a week ago today, and I’m not kidding when I say I don’t know what’s going on in page 7…. There’s a horrible domino effect that takes place. By the way, that’s why [an upcoming] Sports Night won’t be written by me,” says a miserable Sorkin. ”I feel like I’ve sent my kids off to school for the first time and they’re gonna like the teacher more than they like me.”
After this initial conversation, ABC decided to pull Sports Night from its schedule until Feb. 29. How does that make Sorkin feel about the show’s chances for a third season? ”We’re worried,” he says. ”Right now, we’re not as good at getting ratings points as a Drew Carey rerun. That’s a bummer.” On the bright side, however, he did manage to put a polish on that Sports Night script he was worried about, and—provided ABC doesn’t play more games with the series—the episode will air in late March.