“This came from Maureen,” he said, pointing to a framed New Yorker cartoon. Sorkin had a long relationship with New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, and they remain close. In the cartoon a man is wearing a tuxedo, preparing for a big night out, while a woman admires him. The caption reads come on. you’ll have fun. all the men will respect you and all the women will love you. He sighed. “Maureen seemed to understand me so well.”
Sorkin sat in a gray leather club chair, which matched his gray suit. In his office, which is lived-in and full of leather and mahogany, he seemed like he was back on the East Coast. “All my heroes wore coats and ties to work,” he said, looking around the room. “What happened to men wearing hats? Maybe I should bring back hats.”
Sorkin’s affection for the glory days of show business began when he was a child growing up in Scarsdale. His father (a lawyer), his mother (a fourth-grade teacher), and his two siblings (now both lawyers) were not particularly theatrical, but Sorkin used his allowance to take the train to Manhattan and sneak into plays. “I’ve seen the second act of everything many, many times,” he said. “The ushers started to recognize me, and they’d find me a seat.”
During college he tended bar at Broadway theaters and wrote most of A Few Good Men on cocktail napkins during the first act of La Cage aux Folles. “For 500 nights in a row,” Sorkin added as he lit another Merit. Before he was holed up at the Four Seasons, writing The American President and taking drugs, he wasn’t particularly intrigued by TV. “I’d write very, very late into the night, and to keep me company I’d watch ESPN’s SportsCenter,” Sorkin recalled. “I thought it was the best-written show on TV. And SportsCenter seemed like such a fun place to work—you’d meet your best friend there, you’d meet your girlfriend there.”
Sports Night, which aired on ABC from 1998 to 2000, started a method of writing that is unique to Sorkin: When he was running his three series, he wrote every episode. “When I create a TV show, it’s so that I can write it,” he said. “I’m not an empire builder; my writing staff is usually a combination of two kinds of people—experts in the world the show is set in, and young writers who will not be unhappy if they’re not writing scripts. A lot of members of the Writers Guild are not happy that I write all the episodes. But writing is something that I do by myself.” When Sports Night and The West Wing were on the air simultaneously, Sorkin would write the half-hour comedy Friday through Sunday, and then concentrate on the hour-long drama Monday through Thursday. “Being up against the wall seems to work for me,” he said.