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How to watch The West Wing

Martin Sheen, Richard Schiff and Rob Lowe in The West Wing
(Image credit: Collection Christophel / Alamy Stock Photo)

It's been more than 20 years since The West Wing made its debut on NBC. The hourlong drama managed to make politics smart, fun and occasionally sexy, teaching its viewers something while feeling relatable and entertaining. It combined the best of Washington with the best of Hollywood.

This is why the show, created by Aaron Sorkin, has remained a popular rewatch all these years later. But just where do you need to go if you want to catch up with some of your old favorites or start the show brand new?

We've got you covered there, as you'll read below just where you can find The West Wing available to watch online right now and other info you'll want to know about the show.

How to watch The West Wing

The West Wing is available on HBO Max. All seven seasons — 156 episodes in all — are available to all HBO Max subscribers.

HBO Max also is carrying the two West Wing special episodes. The first — "Isaac and Ishmael" — premiered on October 3, 2001, ahead of the first episode of season 3. It was written and recorded in the space between its air date and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and addresses the complexity of being an ethnic minority in the aftermath, as well as the government's response to potential attacks.

The second special episode is listed as The West Wing Special Episode and lands as the 19th episode of season 3. It's a pseudo-documentary, interspersing interviews with real West Wing staffers and executives along with Presidents Ford, Carter and Clinton. 

If you're in the mood to purchase instead of stream, The West Wing also is available on iTunes, Amazon and Google Play.

You must have an HBO Max subscription to watch The West Wing on HBO Max.

Individual episodes and full seasons of The West Wing are also available to rent digitally on-demand

What you need to know about The West Wing

The West Wing was born in the waning years of the Clinton administration, with the pilot airing in September 1999, showing the inner workings of an uppercase Democratic administration helmed by President Josiah "Jed" Bartlet, played by Martin Sheen. The ensemble cast served as an introduction to the White House org chart for many. Chief of staff. Deputy chief of staff. Communications director and deputy. Press secretary. The president's personal aide.

The West Wing was born from the brain of writer Aaron Sorkin, as well as that of executive producers John Wells and Thomas Schlamme, who had the monster hit ER for NBC from 1994 to 2009. It's famous for its fast dialog and single-take walk-and-talks, which you get first thing in the pilot and set the tone for the entire show. The West Wing was going to be something different and you were going to want to take it all in.

And it did so over seven seasons. The series started in the second year of the Bartlet administration and followed the gang through crises domestic and international (sometimes simultaneously). It followed the re-election campaign and the writing of State of the Union speeches. It followed the health concerns of the nation's chief executive. It tackled tax policy and racial issues and prostitution and kidnapping and the 25th Amendment. The West Wing touched on the county's changing minority demographics.

The West Wing in many ways packed the production of a movie into the time and space of a network series. (Much to the chagrin of the folks paying for it in the beginning.) But the product more than made up for it. 

The West Wing was an awards powerhouse, taking home wins for just over a third of its nominations. It won two Golden Globes — Best Drama Series and Best Actor for Martin Sheen in 2000. It garnered 95 Emmy nominations and 26 wins. Creative Emmy Awards, Screen Actor Guild Awards, and so many others.

In many ways, it was a fictional mirror of the United States, with disfunction and deceit. In others, it was a delusional fever dream, showing compromise and happy endings.

That's what made The West Wing so great for seven seasons through May 2006, halfway through the second term of George W. Bush.

How to watch A West Wing Special to Benefit When We All Vote

HBO Max also is home to A West Wing Special to Benefit When We All Vote (opens in new tab). It premiered on the streaming service in October 2020, ahead of the presidential election, to implore Americans to vote that November. 

The special featured a theatrical stage presentation of the "Hartsfield's Landing" episode from season 3. The special marked the first time in 17 years that the original cast got together in full (there had been smaller events ahead of previous elections) along with Sorkin and Schlamme. The special saw Dule Hill, Allison Janney, Rob Lowe, Janel Moloney, Richard Schiff, Bradley Whitford and Sheen reprise their roles, with Sterling K. Brown filling in for the late John Spencer.

The special also featured appearances from former president Bill Clinton and former First Lady Michelle Obama, as well as Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Phil Nickinson
Phil Nickinson

Phil spent his 20s in the newsroom of the Pensacola (Fla.) News Journal, his 30s on the road for AndroidCentral.com and Mobile Nations and is the Dad part of Modern Dad.