DEMAND AN END TO POVERTY THIS GENERAL ELECTION
TAKE ACTION
Radio

The West Wing Weekly ensures President Bartlet remains POTUS of our hearts

Once a hopeful vision of the future, political drama The West Wing now looks like escapist fantasy. Little wonder it's found new life as a cult podcast.

Puzzled, baffled, bemused. Trying to explain what “I’m going to see a podcast live!!!” means, and why you are so excited about it, elicits a panoply of confused expressions on the face of the person you’re enthusing at.

My experience of The West Wing Weekly Podcast (Live) taught me a few things. It turns out many people have never listened to a podcast; some have never heard of podcasts. I explain it’s like an amateur radio show, on the internet. It’s brilliant for listening to in the bath. “So what does ‘going to see it live’ mean?” They record it in front of an audience. Like a gig for geeks! This is not an easy sell.

The podcast causing my excitement was The West Wing Weekly, which dissects, episode-by-episode in fan-pleasingly tiny detail, Aaron Sorkin’s seminal political drama The West Wing, which aired from 1999 to 2006 with magnificent Martin Sheen as Democratic President Josiah Bartlet.

Live episodes recorded in the US have had special guests including Alison ‘CJ’ Janney, Bradley ‘Josh’ Whitford, Dulé ‘Charlie’ Hill, Melissa ‘Carol’ Fitzgerald, Janel ‘Donna’ Moloney – most of the main cast. When tickets for the first European recordings went on sale they sold out in hours, and I got one!

I’ve watched The West Wing repeatedly through thick and thin. It’s there if you’ve had a bad day or when you’re happy and want to do the bossa nova with Ainsley Hayes. Fans rejoice in characters’ triumphs, lament their losses. It brings solace in sadness. It’s smart, enriching, comfort-blanket TV. And that’s the key to its recent renaissance.

In 2016, horrified by rabid deterioration of politics fuelled by Trump and the Brexit vote, people on both sides of the Atlantic were bingeing on old West Wings for escapist fantasy. A redemptive antidote to the festering twitterification of government.

The West Wing Weekly Podcast caught this zeitgeist just as the Trumxit rollercoaster sent us screaming into a blind future. Hosted by Hrishikesh Hirway, an über-fan like us, and acerbic West Wing actor Joshua Malina (who played Will Bailey, replacing Rob Lowe’s super-dishy Sam Seaborn), through its messageboard and social media we found like-minded souls. Week by week, episode by episode, Bartlet’s Army quietly grew. 

In this packed-out venue where we love them to the holy rafters Josh and Hrishi are our Springsteen and our Dylan, our Mick and Keef, our Sonny and Cher

And now it’s not just on TV or the internet. I’m queueing outside London’s Union Chapel in a line of ‘Wing-nuts’, doing “the signal” (Season 1, Ep 22, What Kind of Day Has It Been), ebullient about seeing Josh, Hrishi and special guest Richard Schiff (Toby! Love grumpy Toby!) plus West Wing scriptwriter and former aide to President Clinton, Eli Attie. 

It’s showtime, fantasy-podcast-TV made flesh: The Swingle Singers (Season 3, Ep 21, Posse Comitatus) harmonise The West Wing theme and we all rise in a raucous storm of cheers. Under discussion is Life On Mars, the third-last episode of  Season 4, just before Sorkin’s tenure abruptly ended. Attie has the best behind-the-scenes insider gossip (Schiff doesn’t remember much, Malina was too busy pranking co-stars). We laugh, gasp, exchange knowing glances. 

This is rock’n’roll podcasting. In this packed-out venue where we love them to the holy rafters Josh and Hrishi are our Springsteen and our Dylan, our Mick and Keef, our Sonny and Cher. Heck, they’re our Josh and Donna. Rejoice!

Then it’s over, the guys leave the stage to whoops, hollers, a standing ovation. The Swingles do Bowie’s Life on Mars?. I might have shed a tear.

Catch up on all West Wing Weekly episodes including this one at thewestwingweekly.com

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Uncanny USA podcast host Danny Robins on Bigfoot, UFOs and why Americans scare differently to Brits
Danny Robins on set for Uncanny USA sitting on a rusty car
Podcasts

Uncanny USA podcast host Danny Robins on Bigfoot, UFOs and why Americans scare differently to Brits

Rick Edwards: 'I assumed I'd embrace being famous. I quickly realised that wasn't the case'
Rick Edwards
Letter To My Younger Self

Rick Edwards: 'I assumed I'd embrace being famous. I quickly realised that wasn't the case'

BBC cuts to local radio are a cost we cannot afford: 'Vulnerable people rely on radio'
A 1970s radio
Radio

BBC cuts to local radio are a cost we cannot afford: 'Vulnerable people rely on radio'

Shaun Keaveny: 'I was burnt out by the callousness and cruelty of this government'
Shaun Keaveny in a white t-shirt, smiling
Interview

Shaun Keaveny: 'I was burnt out by the callousness and cruelty of this government'

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know