Aaron Sorkin

imgAaron Sorkin is one of the most acclaimed, beloved, hated and, if nothing else, identifiable screenwriters of modern times. Probably best known for his primetime drama The West Wing, the sound of a Sorkin screenplay is unmistakable—witty, fast-talking dialogue or monologue, intelligent-but-acerbic male protagonists, and morality tales with politically liberal messages. While known for his smart stories of government and politics, he’s also written quite a bit about the media industry and television in particular.

While his style can be polarizing, Sorkin is an undeniably brilliant writer, responsible for modern classics such as A Few Good Men, and recent hits like The Social Network. He’s won an Academy Award, a Golden Globe and several Emmys, and continues to be a powerhouse in both Hollywood and television.

Early Life

Sorkin was born in 1961 in Scarsdale, a suburb of New York City, and while growing up was very active in theater. He actually wanted to be an actor during college, when he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at Syracuse University in theatre. Sorkin worked as a limo driver and a singing telegram performer while struggling as an actor in New York while in school. But he soon realized that his greater talent was in penning characters rather than playing them. Soon after graduating, he began writing off Broadway plays, including his first script Removing all Doubt, and then Hidden in This Picture in 1988.

Breakthrough Scripts

It was while talking to his older sister Deborah, a Navy Judge Advocate General, about a case she was working that he came up with the idea that broke his career. Based on the case, he wrote a stage version of A Few Good Men, a military courtroom drama about Marines who killed their fellow soldier. Before the play ran, Sorkin sold the movie rights that would lead to an Oscar-nominated film starring Demi Moore in the role based on his sister.

His next movie was Malice, a so-so crime thriller starring Alec Baldwin and Nicole Kidman. But Sorkin would really find his niche and his style with The American President, a romantic comedy about a widowed president played by Michael Douglas, and his attempt at dating an environmental advocate played by Annette Benning. The film was a huge hit, and earned him a reputation for portraying realistic and relatable characters and situations in American politics.

Television Success and The West Wing

In 1998, Sorkin turned to writing for television with the cult hit Sports Night, about the cast of a fictional sports news show not unlike ESPN’s Sports Center. The show was worshipped by many critics and fans and won multiple awards, but had poor ratings, only staying on the air for two seasons on ABC.

Undaunted, his next project would be the most Sorkin-ey, for better or worse, and earn him a name as one of the best American television writers in history. When he originally wrote The American President, the screenplay was a massive, overloaded 385-pages. Sorkin cannibalized some of the content that didn’t make it into the film to create The West Wing, an hour-long primetime drama about the staff of fictional Democratic President Jed Bartlet, expertly played by Martin Sheen. The show ran for seven seasons, but Sorkin and his writing and production partner Thomas Schlamme left as executive producers after the fourth.

The West Wing is considered by many to be one of the best television dramas of all time. It featured a dazzling ensemble cast of Bradley Whitford, Allison Janney, Rob Lowe, Stockard Channing, Alan Alda and a number of other rotating names. The show earned Sorkin his reputation for a specific style of writing—fast-paced, witty, sarcastic and at times a bit condescending. Nothing exemplifies this style more than the “walk and talk” in which characters would walk briskly together down hallways, firing razor sharp lines at each other at near-superhuman pace.

The show also earned Sorkin a reputation for having a heavy-handed political voice that conservatives loathed and even liberals could find preachy. The Bartlet Administration presented Sorkin’s ideal progressive administration, and characters would frequently deliver lengthy monologues on current events and controversies. But none of this held the show back as it continues to hold an esteemed place in television history.

Following The West Wing, Sorkin went on to produce and write Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, based on a fictional sketch comedy show. There was a great deal of buzz surrounding the show, and critics gave it positive reviews, but it was ultimately canceled after the first season. Many chalked up the failure to unfortunate similarities to 30 Rock, the successful Tina Fey comedy that launched at the same time.

Recent Movies and Shows

After the disappointment of Studio 60, Sorkin took a hiatus from television and film for a few years, but he very quickly bounced back with two huge screenplays. He wrote the Facebook CEO-skewering film The Social Network, which earned eight Oscar nominations and a best screenplay award for Sorkin. The very next year, Moneyball, adapted from the popular book of the same name, would nab Sorkin yet another Oscar nomination.

And in 2012 he made a big return to television with the HBO series The Newsroom, this time taking on the media and TV news programs. The high profile show features Jeff Daniels as heroic, truth-spewing nightly news anchor Will McAvoy. He and his staff at a fictional network relive actual, recent news events but through Sorkin’s lens of what an idealized, romanticized news outlet would have done. The show has earned mixed reviews, with some loving it, and others finding it smug or like a series of self-serving lectures from Sorkin.

Love him or hate him, Aaron Sorkin has earned his spot on the Mount Rushmore of American screenwriters, and established his own genre of sorts. And while he’s faced his share of stumbles and criticism, he’s nothing if not resilient, firing off the next Academy Award-winning blockbuster or critically adored TV show before the ink on his last review has dried.

Sources:

  • http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0815070/
  • http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0815070/bio
  • http://www.tvguide.com/celebrities/aaron-sorkin/bio/214329
  • http://movies.nytimes.com/person/112161/Aaron-Sorkin/biography
  • http://movierewind.com/profiles/aaron-sorkin/

Comments (29)

  • ren

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    WTF!!! learn how to write with some balls! newsroom has so much more

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    • Michael Fairney

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      Dear Mr. Sorkin,
      A couple of things
      a) inspired by one of Jeff daniel’s rants on the newsroom, I took to posting comments on the net using my real name, as above, michael Fairney. I almost immediately regretted it.
      b) you are an undeniably brilliant writer, inspiring in me a great deal of jealousy, as I feel that if I just wasn’t so lazy, I could write a pretty decent tv series or movie myself. Nonetheless, there is something about you that irks me.
      c) I know what it is..
      d) It’s that you really give off a student council president sort of straight A student kind of vibe
      e) but you were a drug addict, so that sorts of makes you cool
      f) do you do all your own research? Cos you write with great authority about politics and journalism and the military and law- that’s impressive
      g) also you clearly are very impressed with your own intelligence, which is I think what irks me
      h) but in a society which is so determined to be anti intellectual, how can I really complain about someone who flaunts their GPA so much?
      i) so , i suppose I will give you a pass on that
      j) but nonetheless, when I see a review of your work, I read it hoping to read some nice snarky remarks
      K) does this make me a bad person? or what ?

      Reply

  • beth nave

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    Are you aware that Closed captioning (which MUST be used to capture your great dialogue) either cannot keep up with or cannot understand the garbled, mush-mouth words of MacKenzie? It’s bad enough she doesn’t enunciate, but then pile on that ridiculous accent, and ALL of her words are lost to the audience. I’ve seen that actress when she doesn’t have that “accent”, perhaps you can make some changes there.
    Also, the only interesting female role was Sloan because she was strong, feisty and didn’t take any guff. Now, even she is portrayed as a loser. Why????
    If these two aspects of the show don’t change, I’m afraid I’ll have to TWEET to Will, “YOU’VE LOST A VIEWER.’

    Reply

    • ROBERT HUDSON

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      Then I don’t think they’ll worry too much about that. Mackenzie’s words may be hard for you to understand, but to most people they are as clear as a bell. Sure, she has an English accent, but surely that isn’t too hard to understand ?
      Maybe you should get your hearing tested !!

      Reply

  • Joseph

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    To the comments above. This is the only writer who has spoke the truth, I myself fall on the republican side more times then not. I only dream of the day I can see a politician which speaks with as much fire and love of this country. As I see in the writing of Mr. Sorkin, put that politician I front of me I will vote that way each and every day. To say he has no guts is a joke. And his shows and movie are filled with only the best actors, from Martin sheen, to Jeff Daniels, and my favorite who I must say has not been used enough and I hope to see more William Devane. Thank you for giving America Television we can be proud of.

    Reply

  • Jane

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    I am a 59 year old woman and I am totally enthralled with Newsroom. This show has the ability to teach many Americans how to better behave, to ask questions, to act ethically. And to think it’s called entertainment – I love it!

    Reply

  • Jamie Walner

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    Dear Mr. Sorkin,

    I am not a tv watcher. The only television show I have watched in the last year and a half is “Newsroom.” It is so refreshing to watch a show that requires a little thought to follow the dialogue and that presents a view of ” what should happen in this country.” I loved “West Wing” and “Newsroom” is one of the few shows in a long time that captures my attention. It would be a great loss not to have this show enter its third season so please, make a commitment to season 3.

    I don’t know who your typical viewers are but I am a 48 year old female with a full time teaching job, a graduate degree and a family and your shows renew my faith in our country and reminds me of who we are supposed to be. So please, keep doing what you do so well and continue a third season with this fabulous show!

    Thanks. Jamie Walner

    Reply

  • Mike Camardese

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    I am a huge fan of The Newsroom and watch each episode with great anticipation. I have also seen you on interview shows where you are keen to get things right. During the latest episode, Will is talking to the lawyers about the Genoa screw-up and he is waxing poetic about the one time occurrences that changed history.

    When he mentioned the Challenger mishap and how the O-Rings were used to keep the hydrogen from leaking out and causing an explosion, that was incorrect. The hydrogen and oxygen are actually in the External Tank (ET) which is attached the underside of the Shuttle.

    The O-Rings are integral to the Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) that are attached to the side of the Shuttle. The ET is coated in an ablative material that keeps the tank cool during the warm days in Florida as the Hydrogen and Oxygen are gases that are very cold. The SRBs contain a material called ammonium perchlorate (AP) that is a solid material that burns very hot. There are three segments that are joined together along with an Aft Skirt and Frustrum to form the SRB.

    O-Rings are used to seal the segments when joined together to keep the AP from burning through the joints. The cold weather did caused them to shrink enough to allow the burning AP to escape and cause the explosion. I know that this was only a 20 second piece but I think that it need to be corrected.

    Reply

  • Lori Campanelli

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    I usually don’t bother watching HBO because I don’t care much for vampires, Steve Buscemi, or homely girls’ sexual romps, the exception being The Sopranos, which only had one of thse elements. So, when I accidentally fell upon ‘The Newsroom’, only because of its connection with ‘The West Wing’, albeit you, I was more than pleasantly surprised.

    Grant it, I find mysef replaying some conversations by Mac and Sloan either because of their fast wit or clever analogies, but it’s time well spent. I say boo to the haters that compare the realities of the interactions of the staff to present day newsmen, because it’s not a reality show, folks! Last week’s episode with the stop clock was simply brilliant! I wonder how many viewers got it before the reveal?

    All I can say is that I hope you have mentored someone to copy your writing and casting skills for a future with no Sorkin in it.

    I am an educated baby boomer female who reads a book a week and in another life will be a screenwriter. Sad, that more of the human race do not prefer a well written, educational, and witty show, over vampires and zombies. Thank you for giving me true entertainment!

    Reply

    • ROBERT HUDSON

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      Well said !

      Reply

  • cromeo

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    I am intrigued by you and your brilliantly interesting writing style. I love the rhythm of your dialogues! I really admire your work that I have seen or heard. (Don’t know if you’ll ever read this, but just wanted to say that.). Wish you the best. -

    Reply

  • ianthe

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    Please look into and do some episodes dealing with fractional reserve banking and Americas monetary policies. Is there an alternative? Check out Bill Still’s ‘The moneymakers’ (dry but relevant). Also Guernsey Island… There is a way to have money that has been historically used that emphasises sovreignty not private individuals.

    Reply

  • ianthe

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    Guernsey island monetary experiment….sorry.

    Reply

  • Roslyn Taylor

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    I just caught the interview with Dan Rather dated 16 September 2013 on AXS. I was surprised at Mr. Sorkin’s comment that there were negative reviews of Newsroom. I typically watch film noir and not many contemporary shows. I do not subscribe to HBO, but I do occasionally have the opportunity to watch HBO and caught the Newsroom. Wonderful show. Don’t know how realistic it is, but I do believe it captures the dynamics associated with late breaking stories in a newsroom as well as the personal interplay amongst co-workers who work in a pressure environment. Watching Newsroom is my time well spent. No, I do not usually comment on movies or television shows.

    Reply

  • Thomas Walsh

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    Coming in late but recalling enjoying The Newsroom. This show is obviously topic driven. Should you start to run out of ideas or directions to go, have a staff member research Senate Report 93-549 and maybe use the results of said research to wake up most average American voters who have no idea that the provisions of the War Powers Act have placed all the power in the Executive Branch who since 1933 have used the so called “Executive Order” to usurp the balance of powers.

    Reply

  • Sam

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    Why did you and Lily Tomlin stalk Deborah Fiderer for years?

    Reply

  • pat perrone

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    Call me crazy but I found the episodes in Season One (my son brought them with him on our family vacation) to be very good as far as character development but I found them vastly insulting politically. We have a lying, cheating administration on board right now, but you decide to focus on the Tea Party? While some of what he says might ring true, where is the balance? Hollywood is so far up Obama’s butt that they really don’t even know when they aren’t being “fair and balanced”. Go ahead and take your pot shots at Fox News, but I suggest you also read the Wall Street Journal for some material for your entertaining but deeply flawed show.

    Reply

  • Robert G.

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    I’m gonna have to checkout some of these other shows. My wife and I still watch the West Wing, over and over. It’s, hands down, the best damn show in a VERY long time and there hasn’t been another one like it, since. Intelligent, snappy dialogue, meaty issues and even better: Character development. They talk to each other like real people do, with sarcasm, derision, compassion and real tension. I don’t gush over shows, but I like shows that challenge you morally, ethically, philosophically and intellectually. Just proves that “smart” shows can work and work well…Make more! LOL

    Reply

  • Scott Webb

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    I’m a student at Full Sail University in the Creative Writing for Entertainment BFA so I study a lot of TV shows. I stumbled onto the first episode of The Newsroom and in the first 5 minutes I was in tears. I am a cold hearted son of a bitch but I balled like a baby. The structure is great, the dialogue witty and true, but the message is the star in your work. I’m a believer and I stand in awe. I want you to know that not only did I watch every episode but I then watched all of the west wing 3 times. I’m in on the mission to civilize, lets raise the level of public debate in this country and let that be our legacy!

    Reply

  • Roberto

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    Suggested script, use the City Ville’s face as a backdrop, the users are transported to the game and form a plot, interacting with the everyday life of the match between villains (bandits, sharks etc ….) Michael Jackson show , good guys that can be the users themselves. Making an advertising job in a draw, City Ville will be chosen among several users of the game.

    Reply

  • Ray Graff

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    Sports Night was the BEST show you have ever produced. You ended it too soon and it is ripe for new life. Find you original cast and writers. How did this ever get cancelled???

    Reply

  • Josephine Rawson

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    My husband and I live in country Victoria (near Melboure) Australia, and each winter start from the beginning of West Wing and work our way through each season and on each viewing we discover something new! The characters seem like old friends to laugh and cry with.
    We also love Newsroom and equally applaud the characterisations but both shows are more understandable with subtitles.
    Aaron Sorkin – we salute you Please come to dinner if you’re ever in Australia……..

    Reply

  • pat

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    Keep newsroom…don’t think it needs changing. Love it..Love Daniels and all the cast. Only problem is that you will End it. It So reminds me of keith..miss his msnbc show. I’ve watch all the shows at l east 4 times. I enjoy all of your work. You are talented and we need that in tv..so sick of reality shows..very mean spirited stuff.keep writing..tks arron

    Reply

  • Kevin Leitner

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    Isn’t it time for Sam Seaborn to run for President and a new West Wing?

    Reply

  • Sherry

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    I love the factual presence behind Newsroom and The West Wing is my favorite all time show. It’s my go-to show on Netflix when the pickings are slim! I never get tired of the intelligent dialogue. Would you consider a sequel with Sam Seaborne as president and Ainsley Hayes as his wife? The dynamics between a loving couple in the White House with opposing political views would be exceptional.

    Reply

  • veronique raskin

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    I cannot believe that your Newsroom was cancelled after two seasons! Why? Are you kidding me, out of 300m people not enough of them appreciate the brillance , the intelligence of that show? OMG, what an statement about our current socciety that the Kardashians ‘ rear end location gets so much interest and something as thougth provoking as the Newsroom does not. This is shameful.
    I am so furious and frustrated and so missing my characters… Thank you Mr Sorkin, and do keep up the good work for the few or us, ratins or not. Veronique

    Reply

  • Paul Joseph, Luiso

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    I would very much like to see a reboot of The West Wing with Dule Hill as the President. you could even bring back Josh Lyman as Bradley Whitford is now available.

    Reply

  • Valerie Valenta Prater

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    So sad to hear The Newsroom is ending – BIG FAN of all things Sorkin. Will patiently wait until the next project rolls around.

    Thanks Mr Sorkin – you are one of a kind.

    Reply

  • Herbert Hoeckl

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    Dear Mr. Sorkin,

    since Mr. Christian Bale doesn’t want to play the role of Steve Jobs, I’d suggest to ask Mr. Mark Harmon who plays the role of Leroy Jethro Gibbs in “Navy CIS”. I think he could be the perfect actor for this project.

    Kind regards,
    Herbert

    Reply

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