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Get briefed on ‘West Wing’ podcast details and guests by Joshua Malina himself
He played Will Bailey for four seasons. Now he’s ready to take a look back, episode by episode.
Joshua Malina and I have spent a lot of time in bed together.
He happens to co-star in both the shows I’ve recently binge-watched, The West Wing and Scandal. While it was my first go-round with TWW, for so many fans of the White House drama, the show is less of a TV phenomenon and more of a religion. That’s why Malina, along with friend and business partner Hrishkesh Hirway, have set out to relive it all on a new podcast that launches today.
The West Wing Weekly will follow Malina and Hirway as they pick apart each episode of Aaron Sorkin’s cult hit, which aired from 1999 to 2006. Malina first appeared on TWW in season 4, episode 5 as Will Bailey (then a campaign manager for a deceased California representative candidate, and later on—spoiler alert—a speechwriter for President Josiah Bartlet) and remained through the end of the show’s run. He joins forces with Hirway, a mega-fan of the show and the composer who launched the podcast Song Exploder more than a year ago.
To give you an idea of just how pumped people are, the podcast was already No. 3 on the iTunes chart before the first episode even went live.
“I’m really touched that people are so excited about our podcast, and I’m just crazy excited for people to start listening to it,” Malina told the Daily Dot via phone from L.A. He and Hirway spoke excitedly from the comfort of Malina’s car, tossing out a few breadcrumbs about how the wildly anticipated show will go down.
On the ticket
A short teaser that dropped on iTunes last week revealed that other former stars of the show, writers, directors, and fans of the show from the worlds of comedy, news, and politics will also join Malina and Hirway to chat about all things TWW.
As for bringing fans on the show, Malina said they were inundated with followers vying for a coveted guest spot, desperate to prove just how many of the patented “walk-and-talks” they’ve watched. There’s a lot of talk about fandom for comic books and teen romance thrillers, but in terms of a mainstream network drama, TWW’s fan circles might have some of the most committed members.
Even Lin-Manuel Miranda, writer and star of the Broadway smash musical Hamilton, could barely contain his excitement.
But even more than getting a quick spot with the hosts, fans want to know which other former staffers will pop up to talk about life in the Bartlet administration. Malina and Hirway revealed that their first big guest will be Dulé Hill, who played the president’s loyal personal aide Charlie Young and boyfriend to Zoe, the youngest of the first daughters. Hill, now 40 and still acting, remained a beloved member of the cast for all seven seasons.
They also shared that Bradley Whitford, who played Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman, would likely stop by once schedules line up. “I also talked to the big dog himself, Aaron Sorkin, and I think he’s game,” Malina said. But fans might be disappointed to hear that Allison Janney, who starred as universally adored White House Press Secretary C.J. Cregg, is “not 100 percent guaranteed.”
“I’m gonna twist a lot of arms if I have to,” Malina said. “I feel confident that we’re gonna book a lot of great people.”
Malina and Hirway both attended Yale University, albeit 13 years apart, and when Hirway moved to L.A. 12 years ago, he reached out to his high-profile fellow alum for career advice. When Hirway pitched the idea of the podcast to his now-friend more than a decade later, Malina was ready to reflect upon his days in fake Washington.
While Malina certainly brings the behind-the-scenes expertise, Hirway provides insight into the world of podcasting and more technical know-how. “One rule you need to follow when making a podcast is just be really in love with your subject matter in order to commit to the time and regularity that it requires,” Hirway told the Daily Dot. “The other thing that I love besides music is The West Wing, so I wanted to figure out a way to combine these things.”
‘Warts and all’
The pair was quick to assure that this isn’t going to be an all-out celebration of the most perfect show in history. No, even Malina, who looks back on his time there with great fondness, will be looking at this rewatch through a critical lens.
“We’re discussing it as fans of the show, but it’s also not purely a lovefest,” Hirway explained. “We’re talking about everything about the show: things that we thought were successful, things we thought weren’t successful. But our love of the series is a warts-and-all approach.”
Speaking of warts, TWW is broken into two parts: before Sorkin and after Sorkin. The TV mastermind was key to the genius of seasons 1 through 4. But when he departed after the fourth season, fans say they noticed a considerable drop-off. But considering Malina’s character only hit his stride in the post-Sorkin era, what does he say to this criticism? And how will be address it on the show? The short answer: diplomatically.
“I’m not a huge fan of watching myself,” Malina admitted. “I can see my face in the mirror, I don’t need to see myself in hi-def. I haven’t thought about it [the transition] in many years. I think that, given the enormity of the task of taking over for an auteur like Aaron Sorkin, that John Wells and staff did a tremendously good job at continuing to make a very high-quality piece of television.”
He called it a “very unenviable task, taking over from Aaron—and trying to keep audience from revolting.” The show would last another three seasons, including through the campaign for President Bartlet’s successor.
Timing is everything
The podcast is making its debut during an undeniably politically tense time. During a recent TWW mini reunion, Bradley Whitford, reflecting on the 2016 presidential election, said: “This is horrible writing.” (He’s referring to what Hirway calls the “petty, horrible penis talk” of this election cycle.)
Malina and Hirway agree that the storyline playing out in real life would have never made it past TWW writers’ room. But they also agree that in some ways, the timing of the podcast couldn’t be better.
“Not even having really launched, just mentioning the podcast, we’ve had an incredible reaction. Hrishi was very clever and prescient with the timing,” Malina says of his co-host. “For a lot of people, the original show functioned as a sort of alternative political universe to the [George W.] Bush years. And I think a lot of people, no matter what side of the aisle you’re on, are getting tired and dismayed by the current political scene and the presidential campaign… I think the podcast and a revisit to The West Wing is going to function as a delightful respite from the real political world.”
Hirway believes there’s a sort of “double nostalgia” at play, in which people long for the Barlet years and also have a wistfulness about the end of Obama’s presidency, who he calls a great and “inspirational” orator.
“The nostalgia is for this imaginary universe as well as what we’ve just experienced, in terms of real-life politics,” Hirway says. “Hopefully re-watching is a soothing experience for people on both levels.”
The road ahead
If Malina and Hirway are truly committed to seeing this thing through, they have a long trail ahead. With 154 regular season episodes of the series, they’ll be talking weekly for roughly the next three years. But for Malina, it could serve as a welcome contrast: If TWW is Washington through rose-colored glasses, then his current show Scandal is the nation’s capital as told by the Grim Reaper.
Malina references the pilot of TWW in which Sam Seaborne, played by Rob Lowe, accidentally sleeps with a sex worker. Or, in 1999 speak, a “call girl.” While Lowe’s character goes to great pains to fix the mess, he also tries just as hard to make the young woman, played by Lisa Edelstein of Bravo’s Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce, feel valued and important.
“In the world of Scandal, he would’ve had her killed by the end of the episode,” Malina says.
So has all this political acting—good and evil—inspired Malina to get in on the real action?
“God, no,” he says. “The world of faux politics has been very good to me. I wouldn’t want to jeopardize any of that by getting into the real political world.”
That’s OK—all the more time for my Netflix queue.
Illustration by Max Fleishman
Marisa Kabas is a lifestyle reporter and activist. Her work has been published by Fusion, Fast Company, and Today. She’s also served as an editorial campaigns director for Purpose PBC, a social movement incubator.