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October 11, 2001

The Left ‘Wing’

http://www.jewishjournal.com/up_front/article/the_left_wing_20011012

As networks rushed to excise programming that might evoke the Sept. 11 tragedy, a record 25. 2 million viewers tuned in to watch a stand alone episode of "The West Wing" last week that explored issues raised by the attacks.

The special episode, "Isaac & Ishmael," began as a security lockdown at the White House, which led to a discussion between staffers and visiting high school students.

Creator Aaron Sorkin's liberal values prevailed as Toby Ziegler, the Jewish Communications Director (Richard Schiff) -- who in a previous episode quoted Talmud to condemn capital punishment -- worried that civil liberties might be stifled.

A nod to the Jewish State occurred when a student asked: "What do you call a society that has to just live every day with the idea that the pizza place you're eating in could just blow up without any warning?"

"Israel," replied Deputy Communications Director Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe).

Critics were sharply divided over the episode, calling it everything from "preachy" to "insightful." The show was widely praised as the first entertainment program to break the taboo against mentioning anything to do with Sept. 11.

After the attack, CBS' "The Agency" shelved a show about a terrorist bombing, and HBO's "The Sopranos" deleted a title-sequence shot of the World Trade Center. Sorkin, on the other hand, asked NBC executives if he could write a morality tale about tolerance in the aftermath of the terror.

Though network officials were initially reluctant, they relented after reading the script that he dashed off within days. A breakneck production schedule ensued as three directors and two teams of editors raced to finish the sequence in a record two weeks.

Sorkin, 40, who was raised in Scarsdale, N.Y., has always been a quick study. Though he had no formal Jewish education, he phoned a rabbi three months before his 13th birthday and asked for help cramming for his bar mitzvah. (He ended up having merely a party instead.)

The playwright and screenwriter ultimately created "The West Wing" in 1999 to tell the stories he couldn't fit into his 1995 film, "The American President."

This week, the series resumed last season's storyline as embattled President Josiah Bartlett (Martin Sheen) announced he'll run for reelection. But the show will no doubt continue to advocate the liberal Jewish values espoused in the Oct. 3 episode. "Embrace pluralism," Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford), the Jewish deputy chief of staff told the students. "Accept more than one idea. Makes [the terrorists] absolutely crazy."

As networks rushed to excise programming that might evoke the Sept. 11 tragedy, a record 25. 2 million viewers tuned in to watch a stand alone episode of "The West Wing" last week that explored issues raised by the attacks.

The special episode, "Isaac & Ishmael," began as a security lockdown at the White House, which led to a discussion between staffers and visiting high school students.

Creator Aaron Sorkin's liberal values prevailed as Toby Ziegler, the Jewish Communications Director (Richard Schiff) -- who in a previous episode quoted Talmud to condemn capital punishment -- worried that civil liberties might be stifled.

A nod to the Jewish State occurred when a student asked: "What do you call a society that has to just live every day with the idea that the pizza place you're eating in could just blow up without any warning?"

"Israel," replied Deputy Communications Director Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe).

Critics were sharply divided over the episode, calling it everything from "preachy" to "insightful." The show was widely praised as the first entertainment program to break the taboo against mentioning anything to do with Sept. 11.

After the attack, CBS' "The Agency" shelved a show about a terrorist bombing, and HBO's "The Sopranos" deleted a title-sequence shot of the World Trade Center. Sorkin, on the other hand, asked NBC executives if he could write a morality tale about tolerance in the aftermath of the terror.

Though network officials were initially reluctant, they relented after reading the script that he dashed off within days. A breakneck production schedule ensued as three directors and two teams of editors raced to finish the sequence in a record two weeks.

Sorkin, 40, who was raised in Scarsdale, N.Y., has always been a quick study. Though he had no formal Jewish education, he phoned a rabbi three months before his 13th birthday and asked for help cramming for his bar mitzvah. (He ended up having merely a party instead.)

The playwright and screenwriter ultimately created "The West Wing" in 1999 to tell the stories he couldn't fit into his 1995 film, "The American President."

This week, the series resumed last season's storyline as embattled President Josiah Bartlett (Martin Sheen) announced he'll run for reelection. But the show will no doubt continue to advocate the liberal Jewish values espoused in the Oct. 3 episode. "Embrace pluralism," Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford), the Jewish deputy chief of staff told the students. "Accept more than one idea. Makes [the terrorists] absolutely crazy."

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