Pilot (The West Wing)

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The West Wing episode
Episode no. Season 1
Episode 1
Directed by Thomas Schlamme
Written by Aaron Sorkin
Production code 475151
Original air date September 22, 1999
Guest appearance(s)
Season 1 episodes
List of The West Wing episodes

"Pilot" is the first episode of the American serial drama The West Wing.


In the series premiere, the White House staff is being called into work in the early hours of the morning to the news that President of the United States Josiah Bartlet has crashed his bicycle into a tree, much to the press' enjoyment. The staff must run damage control on this and a gaffe by White House Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman who, after provocation by Christian activist Mary Marsh on a televised debate, quips "Lady, the God you pray to is too busy being indicted for tax fraud." Also, White House Deputy Communications Director Sam Seaborn meets and spends an evening with Laurie (Lisa Edelstein), unaware that she's a call girl, and then tells White House Chief of Staff Leo McGarry's daughter, Mallory O'Brien, about it before he knows whose daughter she is.

While Mary Marsh and Josh are discussing an appropriate compensation, in the form of a public debate on one of several volatile Christian issues, President Bartlet enters and corrects one of the attendees on a theological point. He explains that he crashed his bicycle while distracted by anger after discovering that his granddaughter, after expressing herself as pro-choice during a pre-teen magazine interview, was mailed a Raggedy Ann doll with a knife stuck in its throat. The doll was sent by an extremist group whose activities the attendees, to his displeasure, have not denounced. He tells them that not only will there be no debate, but that they'll denounce the extremists publicly, and are barred from the White House until they do so.

Bartlet meets with his senior staff, telling them, "Break's over." Before Josh leaves, he says, "'Too busy being indicted for tax fraud? Don't ever do it again", implying that he is allowed to keep his job. The episode ends with the President calling, "Mrs. Landingham! What's next?"

Sub-text - Cuban refugees[edit]

The sub-text story throughout the episode is the plight of a large number of Cuban refugees, thought to be leaving Havana for Miami. At the episode's end, President Bartlet receives news that the U.S. Navy's Office of Naval Intelligence reported that approximately 1,200 people had left Havana and, with an approaching storm, about 700 had turned back, about 350 were missing assumed dead, and 137 refugees had landed in Miami and claimed asylum.

End Scene[edit]

The end of the series finale, "Tomorrow", is very similar to the final scene of the pilot. In the pilot, President Bartlet calls to Mrs. Landingham to tell him 'what's next', and she recites his schedule for the day, her voice fading off as the episode ends. In the penultimate scene of the series finale, President Santos asks 'what's next' as well, ending with Josh similarly reciting his schedule before the final scene showing President Bartlet flying home to New Hampshire.



Emmy Awards[edit]

  • Outstanding Art Direction for a Single-Camera Series (recipients: Tony Fanning, Jon Hutman, and Ellen Totleben)
  • Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series (recipient: Thomas Del Ruth, A.S.C.)
  • Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series (recipient: Thomas Schlamme)


  1. ^ Bozell, L. Brent III (1999-10-06). "Again, Faith Flogged in Prime Time". Media Research Center. Retrieved 2007-09-08.  (episode cited: "Pilot")
  2. ^ ASC awards

External links[edit]