`West Wing’ stars unveil new episode to GW students

GW students who got a sneak peak at the West Wing of the White House Friday afternoon were not surprised to find that President Bill Clinton had been replaced by actor Martin Sheen.

In fact, some said they welcomed the new chief executive as they were treated to an advance screening of an upcoming episode of the NBC drama The West Wing on the fifth floor of the Marvin Center.

In the episode, which ran only 37 minutes without commercials, the president and his lovable staff of advisers and press handlers played poker, hung out in a Georgetown bar and successfully lobbied a congressional amendment to allow sampling as a valid form of census taking.

After the viewing, about 80 students listened as one of the show’s producers and two of its supporting actors discussed the creative process behind The West Wing.

Our primary concern is telling stories, said actor Bradley Whitford, who plays Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman on the show. We’re not trying to be C-SPAN.

Nor is the show, which premiered in September, intended to mimic the Clinton administration or to follow daily political news, said producer Llewellyn Wells.

But the show does strive for a certain aesthetic authenticity. The West Wing retains full-time consultants like former Clinton press secretary Dee Dee Meyers. Its Oval Office set, used in movies Dave and The American President, is nearly an exact replica of the real thing, as are most of the other sets on which the majority of the show’s scenes are shot. Despite the on-screen lip service West Wing characters pay to D.C., most of the show is filmed on a Warner Brothers Studios back lot in Southern California.

Wells said the crew and certain cast members will journey to the District about four times during each season to shoot outdoor footage around the city.

This weekend the show taped outside of the Old Executive Office Building and at Arlington National Cemetery.

It’s a lot of fun to be able to come to D.C. and be able to shoot at these historic places, Wells said. If I were doing `Felicity,’ I would probably have to go hang out in a college diner somewhere.

Wells, Whitford and actor Dule Hill, who plays the president’s personal assistant, said the strong writing of the show’s creator Aaron Sorkin is what drew them to the show. So far this season, the president’s staff tackled the religious right and made a tough decision to bomb Syria. In upcoming episodes, the show will deal with issues like veterans’ rights and how Hollywood influences violence in America.

That one should be great, said Whitford, who was best known to the GW crowd for his role as Adam Sandler’s nemesis in Billy Madison. The Hollywood guys are going to look like idiots.

Wells said fear of scandal was unlikely to deter Sorkin, who also wrote The American President, from weaving hot-button issues into the story line.

But viewers should not anticipate a Monica Lewinsky-esque plot to unfold, Wells said. The West Wing staff is too wholesome for that kind of crude behavior, he said.

However, one character does casually refer to his recent night with a prostitute in the episode students viewed Friday.

We will go far to have a balance of opinions presented on the show, Wells said.

For some students who attended the event, presented by University Relations, the show and subsequent presentation were both hits.

Junior Rachel Bair, a fan of the show, said the presentation was well done.

I was surprised how intelligent the actors were, she said. They really seemed to have a grasp on the meaning of the show.

I always rush home from bio lab to catch the show, said freshman Arturo Carrillo. I think it shows what the real White House could be like if it only wanted to.

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