On May 14, 2006, more than 10 million people tuned in across the United States for the series finale of Aaron Sorkin’s political drama “The West Wing.”
Fourteen years later, fans not only are still connected to the show about politics and the White House but reunited to celebrate the end of “The West Wing Weekly,” an episodic podcast about the beloved series. Approximately 1,600 fans and 30 “West Wing” alumni gathered in Los Angeles for a special sold-out live taping of the finale to say goodbye.
Over the past four years, hosts Hrishikesh Hirway (“Song Exploder”) and “West Wing” actor Joshua Malina (Will Bailey) connected fans from around the world with prestigious cast, crew, government officials and policy makers to relive the award-winning series. Each week the podcast analyzed every episode and shared behind-the-scenes tidbits.
The friendship and partnership between Malina and Hirway, both Yale graduates, began when Hirway reached out to Malina for career advice. Years later, Hirway reached out again after moving to Los Angeles.
“We immediately hit it off and became friends,” Malina told the Journal in a phone interview. “He had this idea. It was all his to do a podcast about ‘The West Wing.’ It took a while for him to persuade me. All the credit to him that he kept at it.”
Malina said that co-hosting the show awakened him to the millions of dedicated fans who have watched and re-watched “The West Wing” in order to follow along with the podcast. He said it became the 21st-century book club for “West Wing” fanatics.
“I know that I relished the [show] when it happened. [Recording the podcast] reminded me how special the whole thing was in terms of the end result of what we all made together. Doing the podcast got me back in touch with some people I haven’t spoken to in years and others that I see only intermittently. It’s been a hugely positive experience for me.”
The podcast has been downloaded more than 55 million times, Malina said. The Facebook page has 57 thousand followers, the podcast fan page has more than 7,000 members and the Twitter page has more than 110 thousand followers.
“I know that I relished [‘The West Wing’] when it happened. [Recording the podcast] reminded me how special the whole thing was in terms of the end result of what we all made together.” — Joshua Malina
Malina frequently peppered in his Judaism throughout the podcast. During the “Big Block of Cheese Day” episode he made a donation to the Jewish nonprofit MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger and encouraged others to fight hunger and poverty. He also worked with “West Wing” actor Lisa Edelstein on a Hillel “MitzVote” Get-Out-the-Vote campaign during the 2018 midterm elections campaign. Throughout the podcast, he brought out Jewish themes, history and religious facts where relevant, providing a proud, natural Jewish voice to a wide listenership.
“Hrishi and I always felt comfortable being ourselves,” Malina said. “In terms of my being Jewish and Judaism creeping in, that just is such a prime identifier for me that’s at the base of who I am. I didn’t consciously inject it into the conversation but I was happy to do so.”
For the finale, Malina and Hirway welcomed back 29 members of the show including creator Aaron Sorkin and executive producer Tommy Schlamme; cast members Martin Sheen, Bradley Whitford, Richard Schiff, Marlee Matlin, Melissa Fitzgerald, Jimmy Smits and Teri Polo; “executive producer Christopher Misiano and writers Eli Attie, Josh Singer and Lawrence O’Donnell — to name a few.
Our many, many guests. pic.twitter.com/nVawgsnh8D
— The West Wing Weekly (@WestWingWeekly) January 29, 2020
The final episode, which is now available, broke down Episode 22 of Season 7 titled “Tomorrow.” Fans from all over the country flew in to attend the show. Many passed around tissues during the three-hour emotional taping.
Sorkin received a standing ovation after surprising the audience during the second act. Sorkin, who left the series after the fourth season, shared memories and thanked his colleagues and fans.
“The way that it landed with the audience … We’re in a bunker when we are doing the show … an event like this is really incredible,” he said.
Malina told the Journal that his friendship with Sorkin is one he will cherish forever because Sorkin gave him his first big break on Broadway in 1991’s “A Few Good Men,” then in the film “The American President” (1995), followed by television’s “Sports Night” (1998).
“He has been a true friend,” Malina said of Sorkin. “In addition to being a great, upright guy, he is one of the great writers, I think of our age, so it is my great good fortune to become good pals with him and have had him see me as someone he can use multiple times.”
At the conclusion of the podcast, Malina thanked attendees and listeners for the second ride.
“I was hoping to have something profound to say at the end, but I don’t,” Malina said. “What I do have is profound gratitude to Aaron, first and foremost, and Tommy and all the people that are on stage and that worked in front of and behind the camera to make this show such a special experience, that in gratitude to Hrishi, found a way to relive for a few more years.”
He concluded, saying, “I hope for you guys, the experience will continue because tomorrow you can go home, hit a button and watch the pilot again.”
Learn more about “The West Wing Weekly” by visiting their website.