A Conversation with Aaron Sorkin

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NBC Today Show
Katie Couric
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Video News Report
NBCUniversal Media, LLC.
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Aaron Sorkin, creator of the television series "The West Wing" discusses his creation of characters, his love of dialogue, how he writes, and why he procrastinates.



"A Conversation with Aaron Sorkin." Katie Couric, correspondent. NBC Today Show. NBCUniversal Media. 22 May 2002. NBC Learn. Web. 11 January 2020.


Couric, K. (Reporter). (2002, May 22). A Conversation with Aaron Sorkin. [Television series episode]. NBC Today Show. Retrieved from https://archives.nbclearn.com/portal/site/k-12/browse/?cuecard=2090


"A Conversation with Aaron Sorkin" NBC Today Show, New York, NY: NBC Universal, 05/22/2002. Accessed Sat Jan 11 2020 from NBC Learn: https://archives.nbclearn.com/portal/site/k-12/browse/?cuecard=2090


A Conversation with Aaron Sorkin

KATIE COURIC, co-host:

Tonight, NBC will air the much-anticipated season finale of its award-winning drama “The West Wing”. Sure to please the show's millions of fans, the show's creator and executive producer, Aaron Sorkin, has a new book coming out called “The West Wing Script Book”. I recently had an opportunity to sit down with Sorkin, who began his career as a playwright. We started by talking about his second play, “A Few Good Men”, which opened on Broadway when he was just 28 years old. A little while later, Hollywood director Rob Reiner turned it into an unforgettable film.

That was such a powerful movie, and I think it's a very good example of how your writing is dialogue-driven.

Mr. AARON SORKIN: Yeah, I really love dialogue. And--and the most dangerous thing about that is that, you know, I can sit at home and--and--and I'll write a hundred pages of crackling dialogue and realize on page 101 that I--I haven't begun telling a story yet, and you're obligated to do that.

COURIC: Is the story sort of secondary to the interaction among the characters?

Mr. SORKIN: Well, for me the dialogue is the fun part, and the plot is intrusive. It's necessary, but you have to do it.

MARTIN SHEEN, Josiah Bartlett from “The West Wing”: If anybody’s out there, I’m going off for the night. Have a good one.

COURIC: When you came up with the character of Josiah Bartlett, what kind of qualities did you want him to embody specifically?

Mr. SORKIN: Mostly my father's who really has a great love of education and literature, all things old. And believes in a genuine goodness in people. And has a real ‘Aw, dad’ sense of humor. I really wanted to be able to try to capture that.

COURIC: You also are very patriotic and I think that's very a--apparent on the program.

Mr. SORKIN: Uh-huh.

COURIC: Would you say that's a fair assessment?

Mr. SORKIN: Yeah, I love the country. I mean, I think everybody does, and when I grew up, and I was born in 1961, patriots wore hard hats. Anybody with hair like my length, you know, didn't like the country somehow. So I was really excited to write about a different kind of patriotism once I became old enough.

COURIC: When do--where do you get some of these story ideas, Aaron?

Mr. SORKIN: Mostly I--I'm surrounded by people who are a lot smarter than I am, a lot more creative than I am. And they'll say, you know, ‘Hey, what if we did something with this? Let me do some research for you and show you how good this can be.’

COURIC: So it doesn't necessarily come to you in the middle of the night. ‘Ah-ha! I'll give President Bartlett MS.’

Mr. SORKIN: Right.

COURIC: It really sort of...

Mr. SORKIN: So seldom does it come to me in the middle of the night. I wish it would come to me in the middle of the night.

COURIC: Some people have said that the writing is a little too eager. You even said, ‘Someone accused me of writing as if I'm perpetually on a first date with a girl I really want to have a second date with.’

Mr. SORKIN: That was my--that was my mentor, William Goldman, the writer, who told me that.

COURIC: Have you been able to harness that--that desire...


COURIC: ...or inclination?

Mr. SORKIN: I have not. Neither in my writing nor in my dating have I been able to do that.

COURIC: I hear you're a master procrastinator, that--that sometimes you'll say, ‘Oh, my god, there's going to be an hour of dead air next week on NBC if I don't get cranking on this thing.’

Mr. SORKIN: Well, Katie, you call it procrastination, I call it thinking.

COURIC: You do?

Mr. SORKIN: Yeah.

COURIC: But I hear you give people the scripts, sort of, in the middle of the show, and they both love you and hate you for it because it is so darn good and on the other hand...

Mr. SORKIN: They hate me.

COURIC: ...they're like, `Hello!'

Mr. SORKIN: There is no love there.

COURIC: No, no, that's not true. You must thrive under pressure, though. You must like that.

Mr. SORKIN: I don't like it, but it's the way it is, and I really--I--I'm really grateful to--to the people I work with and the people I work for, who are also the people you work for that...

COURIC: They put up with you?

Mr. SORKIN: They haven't fired me, yeah.

COURIC: How realistic is your show?

Mr. SORKIN: I'm--I don't know. I've never worked in the White House. And I'm--I don't care that much. I'm--I--I'm much more interested in the television show than--than the reportage, than element that--of it which is documentary. The appearance of reality is terribly important to me.

Filming of “The West Wing”: Action.

Mr. SORKIN: You--you don't want it to seem like a fairy tale world.

COURIC: Anything in mind now that you’re thinking about writing?

SORKIN: No, you know, with this job really the West Wing is just sunrise and sunset and there’s no time to think about anything else.