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How to watch 'The West Wing' in 2021

The West Wing on HBO Max.
"The West Wing" is now available to stream on HBO Max. (Image credit: WhatToWatch.com)
How to watch 'The West Wing'

The West Wing aired for seven seasons on NBC, from 1999 to 2006. It featured an ensemble cast, regularly starring Matin Sheen, John Spencer, Bradley Whitford, Richard Schiff, Rob Lowe, Allison Janney, Dulé Hill, and Janel Moloney.

The entire series is now available to stream on HBO Max. It's also available for purchase on iTunes, Google Play and Amazon Video.

HBO Max is available on Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Google TV and more, for $14.99 a month.

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. The West Wing managed to teach something while feeling relatable and entertaining. It combined the best of Washington with the best of Hollywood.

Starting on Dec. 25, 2020, The West Wing is available on HBO Max. (Previously it had lived its post-broadcast life on Netflix.)

The West Wing, of course, was not real. It 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 and 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. It's famous for its single-take walk-and-talks, which you get first thing in the pilot and which 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 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.

And 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 The West Wing

The West Wing is available on HBO Max, the streaming service from WarnerMedia that encompasses the world of Warner Bros. content. All seven seasons — 156 episodes in all — are available in HD resolution. (The first two seasons were shot in 480i at a 4:3 aspect ratio, the rest in 1080i and 16:9.) 

HBO Max also is carrying the two West Wing special episodes. The first — Isaac and Ishmael — premiered on Oct. 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 Sept. 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.

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. It premiered on the streaming service in October of 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 Hill, Janney, Lowe, Moloney, Schiff, Whitford and Sheen reprise their roles, with Sterling K. Brown filling in for the late Spencer.

The special also featured appearances from former president Bill Clinton and former First Lady Michelle Obama, as well as Lin-Manuel Miranda, the writer of the hit musical Hamilton.