The West Wing Weekly Revisits One of the Most Beloved Shows Ever

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Answer by Hrishikesh Hirway: I think the most important aspect is to never lose focus on the question: "Why would someone want to listen to this?" Your subject matter has to be interesting and your execution should be compelling. In both respects, editing is key.

Listen to the podcasts you love with a discerning ear and recognize what they do well and try and emulate that, but a great podcast also requires originality. So, I suppose there's also an implied second half to that main question: "Why would someone want to listen to this over something else?" It helps to have an original concept or niche for your subject matter; but if your subject matter isn't unique, your approach should be. In all things, serve the listener.

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Answer by Hrishikesh Hirway: For my part, I try to watch the episode twice. The second time through, I'll pause the episode, take notes on things I liked and things I want to research further. After that, depending on the issues raised in the episode and my familiarity with them, I'll spend a couple hours reading. If we're talking to a guest, I do some more research to prepare for the interview. So, all told, I spend maybe four or five hours on research (including watching the episode) before I talk to Josh.

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Answer by Joshua Malina: As we have touched on in our podcast, there is no ad-libbing or improv on an Aaron Sorkin set. Literally none. I have no problem with this. Aaron Sorkin is a superb and precise writer. I'd like to meet the actor who can improve on his dialogue through improv.

I have, however, been successful twice in getting Aaron to change or add a line of dialogue before shooting. Both instances were on Sports Night. In the pilot episode, my character (Jeremy Goodwin) has a long, comic monologue as he melts down during a job interview. The speech ends with the following line:

"I can tell you what Ewing and Oakley are shooting from the field, and that you're not gonna stop John Starks if he squares up to the basket, and put any defensive pressure on Charlie Ward, he's gonna fold like a cheap card table, but if you're asking me for genuinely sophisticated analyses, and I sense that you are, you gotta give me some time, at least twenty minutes. Did that make any sense?"

In the original script, the words "and I sense that you are" didn't appear. When I ran the speech that phrase kept occurring to me. I just felt that I really wanted to say it. I thought it would work as a little pressure release from the tumble of dialogue that preceded it, and maybe give the audience the chance to catch up and laugh. I pitched the idea to Aaron, and he gave me the go-ahead to add the line.

The other successful pitch I made was for Robert Guillaume's character in a first season episode of Sports Night, called "Intellectual Property." One plot involved having to pay royalties for the song "Happy Birthday," which was written by Mildred and Patty Hill. I thought it would be funny for Isaac to ask "It took two people to write that song?" I was psyched when Aaron took my suggestion and included the line.

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Answer by Joshua Malina: I've talked about it before, but the all-time best prank we pulled on TWW was an idea Janel Moloney had to send flowers to Jimmy Smits from Brad Whitford. Brilliant idea.

Jimmy joined the cast a few weeks before Valentine's Day. He and Brad had been working together a lot. Janel and I had an enormous bouquet of gorgeous roses -- maybe three dozen -- delivered to Jimmy on set. I had stolen some personalized stationery from Brad's trailer, and I wrote a mildly homoerotic note from him to Jimmy. Something about how wonderful it was to work with him, and would Jimmy be his Valentine.

Sadly, I wasn't on set to see the moment, but apparently the delivery was deliciously awkwardly, with Jimmy thanking Brad, and pointing out that it was nicer than what he'd gotten his girlfriend.

A while later, when the show was going off the air and we all appeared on The Ellen Show, Jimmy got me back by getting the whole cast to hunt me down and shove cake in my face. That video is on YouTube, I think.

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