NBC’s The West Wing is leaving office for good May 14. But actor Bradley Whitford, who starred as the always frazzled Joshua Lymon for the show’s seven-year run, isn’t going to become a highly paid lobbyist. Instead, he’s starring in Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, a drama that goes behind the scenes of a Saturday Night Live­like series, to which NBC has already given a commitment. Whitford spoke to B&C’s Ben Grossman about whether it was really time for West Wing to go, show scheduling, and why he’d mow Aaron Sorkin’s lawn.
How did the shooting of the finale go?
I think it’s very hard emotionally when shows like this end, but some of that has been put into perspective by the death of John [Spencer, who played politico Leo McGarry on West Wing]. So the end of a show feels pretty puny. But the last thing we shot was Martin [Sheen] walking out of the West Wing, and everyone gathered when it was shot; it was pretty emotional.
It was also a nice moment for Martin because the way our characters are supposed to feel about Bartlett [Sheen’s presidential character] is the way we feel about Martin.
What sticks out about the show as it reaches its conclusion in the next couple of weeks?
One of the most underreported parts about the show is, we got a great full run and [we had] cultural impact, and a lot of people made a lot of money, and we never once had a lead-in. I can tell you that, if we had been following Friends for five years, it would have been different. We had a full run with it, even in this era of procedural crime dramas and reality programming with people eating slugs, but it had a certain commercial power that was underrated.
Did you want to see another season?
There were areas I would have been interested in going into, but it did make sense to end it now. Plus, the network made it clear when it moved us to Sunday night that the show was not going to be a priority.
How is it reuniting with Aaron Sorkin, who created both West Wing and Studio 60?
There are two kinds of product in Hollywood, and there is an unmistakable stench to the first kind, which is when smart, talented people are producing shows they wouldn’t watch themselves.
Then there are guys like David Chase [The Sopranos], David Milch [Deadwood] and Aaron Sorkin, who are going on the assumption that the audience is as smart and funny as they are. Both West Wing and this new show have that in common. It’s so great working with Aaron again, I’d mow his lawn.
How important is Studio 60’s success to NBC?
We all know there is pressure on NBC, but the No. 1 network has incredible pressure to stay there, and No. 2 needs to catch No. 1. Luckily, it’s very clear to me that those kinds of pressures are beyond my cosmic eggshell, so the best thing I can do for NBC is just to make the next scene work and concentrate on my hair.
When on the NBC schedule would this show make the most sense?
The show probably makes the most sense at 10 p.m. All I know is that the implication is, it will be a pretty good slot. It’s no secret it’s not going to be on Friday or Saturday night, and probably at 9 or 10 whatever night they choose.
Plus, at 10, you can show full frontal nudity.