Interview

The West Wing's Thomas Schlamme

Hard to imagine anyone but Martin Sheen as President Jed Bartlet? Turns out James Earl Jones and Sidney Poitier were once higher in the polls to play the part. ''Martin didn't seem right at first,'' Thomas Schlamme, Wing's former director and executive producer turned consultant, tells EW. ''He had played chief of staff in The American President, and [creator] Aaron Sorkin and I thought it might be confusing to audiences.'' Fortunately for NBC, Schlamme and Sorkin revisited Sheen just a day before they were going to offer the role to another actor (Schlamme won't say who). The addictively good DVD of the drama's Emmy-winning first season (unrated, 15 hrs., 56 mins., 4 discs, 1999 -- 2000, Warner) includes behind-the-scenes material, deleted footage, making-of docs, and commentaries. ''Our culture was hungry for the optimism the show reflected,'' Schlamme explains about The West Wing's success. ''That enthusiasm helped the show reach its fullest potential.''

Originally posted Nov 21, 2003 Published in issue #738 Nov 21, 2003 Order article reprints