The West Wing
Season 4
DVD box cover. Cast from top to bottom and left to right: Donna, Josh, Will, Sam, Charlie, C. J., Toby, Abbey, President Bartlet and Leo
Country of originUnited States
No. of episodes23
Original networkNBC
Original releaseSeptember 25, 2002 (2002-09-25) –
May 14, 2003 (2003-05-14)
Season chronology
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Season 3
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Season 5
List of episodes

The fourth season of the American political drama television series The West Wing aired in the United States on NBC from September 25, 2002 to May 14, 2003 and consisted of 23 episodes.


After the difficulties Aaron Sorkin encountered in writing Season 3, he saw Season 4 as a return to the form he and the show had previously enjoyed, saying "[we] came back to work, after the hiatus, and didn't feel any of that, just felt the week-to-week pressure of trying to write well."[1] In 2003, at the end of the fourth season, Sorkin and fellow executive producer Thomas Schlamme left the show due to internal conflicts at Warner Bros. TV not involving the NBC network, thrusting producer John Wells into an expanded role as showrunner.[2] Rob Lowe departed the series after episode 17, saying he was not happy with his character Sam Seaborn and believed he did not fit in the show anymore.[3]

On December 11, 2015, in an interview with the Archive of American Television, producer John Wells said that Sorkin was unhappy with two of the cast members, and wanted one in particular removed from the show. NBC disagreed, but Sorkin "just stopped writing the character." As the season progressed, with ratings cresting and episodes consistently going over-budget, Wells told Sorkin he would have to be more responsive to the demands of the network and the studio. When a meeting with Warner Bros. executives, backed by NBC, was held at the end of the season, Sorkin declined to make any changes to the way he worked, and quit the show.[4]


The fourth season had star billing for ten major roles. Nine of these were filled by returning main cast members from the third season. Rob Lowe received star billing for the episodes in which he appeared, while Martin Sheen received the final credit for his role as President Josiah Bartlet. The rest of the ensemble, including (from episode eleven) Joshua Malina, were credited alphabetically. Rob Lowe departed in episode seventeen. Channing was only credited for the episodes in which she appeared.

Main cast


The fourth season covers the end of Bartlet's fourth year of his first term in office through the beginning of the first year of his second term. The season begins with the continuation of the election storyline with the president touring the nation and his staff trying to firm up presidential debates. The storyline ends in a clear victory for Bartlet less than halfway through the season in "Election Night". Other plots include Sam leaving the White House to run in a special election in California, the news of the Abdul Shareef assassination resonating both inside and outside the U.S., Will Bailey taking Sam's position after coming over from the California campaign's staff, the President and his staff facing the reality of an overseas genocide, and Vice President Hoynes being forced to resign after a sex scandal is uncovered. The fourth season ends with Bartlet's youngest daughter being taken hostage. Bartlet ends up invoking the 25th Amendment in the final episode, "Twenty Five." Since no one had been nominated to replace Hoynes, the presidency passes to the iron-willed conservative Republican Speaker of the House, Glen Allen Walken.


No. in
TitleDirected byWritten byOriginal air dateProd.
US viewers
"20 Hours in America"Christopher MisianoAaron SorkinSeptember 25, 2002 (2002-09-25)175301
Donna, Josh and Toby are stranded in Indiana when the presidential motorcade leaves a campaign stop without them, leaving Sam to staff the President alone. Leo is informed that Qumar has reopened the investigation into the death of its defense minister, Abdul ibn Shareef. In a stop in a hotel bar on their way back to the White House, Donna, Josh and Toby meet a man who is struggling with the thought of paying for his daughter's education. Sam spends the day as the President's "wide-angle lens" on policy issues. Debbie Fiderer has a second job interview with the President and her impressive ties to Charlie Young are revealed. A bombing at a collegiate swimming meet sparks a national tragedy.
683"College Kids"Alex GravesStory by : Debora Cahn and Mark Goffman
Teleplay by : Aaron Sorkin
October 2, 2002 (2002-10-02)17530316.70[6]
Josh and Toby consider a way to help parents pay for college tuition. Leo approaches Jordon Kendall for legal advice on the Shareef assassination. The staff are concerned by a judicial ruling that allows third party candidates into the presidential debates.
694"The Red Mass"Vincent MisianoStory by : Eli Attie
Teleplay by : Aaron Sorkin
October 9, 2002 (2002-10-09)17530415.99[7]

A terrorist standoff in Iowa is complicated by the presence of a sick child. The White House negotiates on the number of presidential debates, which results in Sam advocating a risky strategy. Senator Howard Stackhouse considers a third party candidacy, leading Josh to accuse him of potentially stealing "the President's votes". Leo and the Israeli defense minister discuss Qumar's investigation into Shareef's death.

Note: The episode title refers to a Mass celebrated in the Catholic Church for members of the legal profession.
705"Debate Camp"Paris BarclayStory by : William Sind & Michael Oates Palmer
Teleplay by : Aaron Sorkin
October 16, 2002 (2002-10-16)17530515.90[8]
Tension between Israel and Qumar escalates while Bartlet is preparing for the Presidential debate. Both the questions raised in debate preparation and those present lead to flashbacks to the administration's first weeks in office. Toby tries to get his pregnant ex-wife to remarry him.
716"Game On"Alex GravesAaron Sorkin & Paul RedfordOctober 30, 2002 (2002-10-30)17530615.73[9]
The President and staff travel to California for the Presidential debate. CJ is concerned over which Bartlet will be debating, the President at his best or "Uncle Fluffy." Sam travels ahead to meet with the campaign manager of the deceased Horton Wilde to urge him to stop the campaign but ends up making a deal with him instead. Leo remains at the White House to meet with a representative from Qumar.
727"Election Night"Lesli Linka GlatterStory by : David Gerken and David Handelman
Teleplay by : Aaron Sorkin
November 6, 2002 (2002-11-06)17530816.22[10]
Results are coming in from around the country. Both Charlie and the First Lady are concerned for the President's health. The stunning result in the California 47th could have serious implications for Sam. Donna, while trying to "swap votes," meets a new White House military aide. The President wins re-election in a landslide.
738"Process Stories"Christopher MisianoStory by : Paula Yoo & Lauren Schmidt
Teleplay by : Aaron Sorkin
November 13, 2002 (2002-11-13)17530915.78[11]
In the wake of the President's victory, C.J. deals with an impostor campaign advisor trying to steal the spotlight. Donna develops a relationship with Lt. Commander Jack Reese (Christian Slater). A potential military coup in Venezuela interrupts Leo's plans with Jordan Kendall, and Sam contemplates a possible congressional run, imposing on the President's private victory party with the First Lady. Toby reveals his ex-wife's pregnancy to the President.
749"Swiss Diplomacy"Christopher MisianoKevin Falls & Eli AttieNovember 20, 2002 (2002-11-20)17530715.03[12]
The Ayatollah of Iran arranges through a Swiss intermediary for his son to fly to the United States for a life saving heart operation, which sends Leo and the President into political turmoil. Josh must deal with nervous Democrats in Congress already distancing themselves from the re-elected President and manages to insult the Vice President.
7510"Arctic Radar"John David ColesStory by : Gene Sperling
Teleplay by : Aaron Sorkin
November 27, 2002 (2002-11-27)17531014.28[13]
A charge against a top female fighter pilot has the women of the White House up in arms, driving the President and Leo to frustration. Josh unwillingly plays matchmaker with Commander Reese as a favor to Donna. Toby is in the midst of a powerful case of writer's block when Will Bailey (Joshua Malina) shows up at Sam's recommendation to help with the Inaugural Address.
7611"Holy Night"Thomas SchlammeAaron SorkinDecember 11, 2002 (2002-12-11)17531115.39[14]
Zoey Bartlet arrives with a new boyfriend of French nobility, igniting jealousy in Charlie. Toby's estranged father arrives to make amends. Danny Concannon returns with a hunch about who killed the Qumari Defense Minister, as well as a present for C.J. Bartlet begins to feel the weight of Shareef's assassination on his conscience.
7712"Guns Not Butter"Bill D'EliaEli Attie & Kevin Falls and Aaron SorkinJanuary 8, 2003 (2003-01-08)17531213.96[15]

Charlie tries to impress Zoey by showing the reach of his power, and draws fire from the highest levels of the Pentagon. Josh works feverishly on a foreign aid bill and winds up in hot water. C.J. sets up an unusual photo-op for the President.

Note: The episode title refers to a macroeconomic model illustrating the effects of choices in government spending,
7813"The Long Goodbye"Alex GravesJon Robin BaitzJanuary 15, 2003 (2003-01-15)17531314.45[16]
This episode is notable as a change of pace from the typical West Wing format, as it focuses solely on one character's home life and does not touch upon operations at the White House. C.J. returns home to Ohio for a class reunion and to visit her Alzheimer's-stricken father (Donald Moffat). As Toby juggles C.J.'s daily press duties in the West Wing, C.J. struggles with how to care for her father from afar as he continues to worsen, and her feelings for a former classmate.
7914"Inauguration: Part I"Christopher MisianoStory by : Michael Oates Palmer & William Sind
Teleplay by : Aaron Sorkin
February 5, 2003 (2003-02-05)17531413.03[17]
Will struggles with the politically-correct vetting process for the inauguration speech. Charlie scrambles to find the right Bible for the President to take his oath. An African conflict begins to turn to genocide, with calls for American intervention.
8015"Inauguration: Over There"Lesli Linka GlatterStory by : David Gerken & Gene Sperling
Teleplay by : Aaron Sorkin
February 12, 2003 (2003-02-12)17531513.59[18]
As the inaugural balls commence, the President must make a decision regarding the Kundu crisis, at the risk of alienating many of his constituents. Toby wants Will considered for a promotion. Josh believes that a recent comment in the press came from Donna.
8116"The California 47th"Vincent MisianoStory by : Lauren Schmidt & Paula Yoo
Teleplay by : Aaron Sorkin
February 19, 2003 (2003-02-19)17531612.23[19]
While Leo stays in Washington to oversee the Kundu situation, President Bartlet visits Orange County to campaign for Sam, but a list of problems arise, including the President's comments about the French, a traffic jam caused by the Presidential motorcade, and an altercation that lands Toby and Charlie in jail. As the President shakes up Sam's campaign staff, Will is left with no speechwriting staff, an endless list of assignments, and four interns to get everything done.
8217"Red Haven's on Fire"Alex GravesStory by : Mark Goffman & Debora Cahn
Teleplay by : Aaron Sorkin
February 26, 2003 (2003-02-26)17531714.01[20]

Toby takes over Sam's campaign with help from C.J. and Amy Gardner, but it quickly becomes clear the ship is sinking. The capture of three Marines in Kundu leads to a larger crisis. Josh's condescending comments to the First Lady lead to new competition for his office in the guise of Amy. Will's interns prove their mettle.

Note: Rob Lowe's final appearance as a member of the main cast.
8318"Privateers"Alex GravesStory by : Paul Redford & Debora Cahn
Teleplay by : Paul Redford & Debora Cahn and Aaron Sorkin
March 26, 2003 (2003-03-26)17531811.70[21]

A member of the Daughters of the American Revolution questions the validity of Abbey's membership. On her first day of work, Amy is ordered by the First Lady to shoot down a crucial foreign aid bill. Charlie continues his quest to win Zoey back.

Note: The episode title refers to the true occupation of the ancestor who earned Abbey her membership in the DAR.
8419"Angel Maintenance"Jessica YuStory by : Eli Attie & Kevin Falls
Teleplay by : Eli Attie and Aaron Sorkin
April 2, 2003 (2003-04-02)17532012.72[22]

A malfunction on Air Force One leaves the President, Will, and C.J. airborne over the Northeast. C.J. and Will try to keep the press in the dark, and the President works on the drug war via the issue of certifying Colombia's worthiness as a partner in it. Josh works on an environmental bill with a vulnerable Republican congressman, while Leo tries to keep the President calm via phone.

Note: The episode title refers to "Angel," the Airlift Operations code word for Air Force One.
8520"Evidence of Things Not Seen"Christopher MisianoStory by : Eli Attie & David Handelman
Teleplay by : Aaron Sorkin
April 23, 2003 (2003-04-23)17531913.65[23]

A late night staff poker game is continually interrupted by crises. The President must deal with a downed spy drone in Russia without upsetting the Russian President. Josh senses something strange about his new candidate for Associate White House Counsel. C.J. tries to convince Toby and Will that an egg will stand on its end during the vernal equinox, and a gunman fires at the White House from Pennsylvania Avenue.

Note: The episode title refers to a passage from Hebrews 11: "Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen."
8621"Life on Mars"John David ColesStory by : Paul Redford & Dee Dee Myers
Teleplay by : Aaron Sorkin
April 30, 2003 (2003-04-30)17532113.18[24]
On his first day at work, new Associate Counsel Joe Quincy (Matthew Perry) uncovers a scandal of mammoth proportions, sending shockwaves through the administration. As he researches the possibility of a classified Mars report, he discovers the Vice President's affair with a Washington socialite, and the President must make a decision.
8722"Commencement"Alex GravesAaron SorkinMay 7, 2003 (2003-05-07)17532213.37[25]
Josh begins the selection process for a new Vice President, with some surprising candidates. Charlie makes peace with his feelings for Zoey, but Zoey turns the tables. The President procrastinates on the commencement speech he must give at Zoey's graduation from Georgetown. Toby tries to win his pregnant ex-wife's affections with a new house, only to have her go into labor before a decision is made. A late night party turns tragic when a Secret Service agent is found dead and Zoey Bartlet missing.
8823"Twenty Five"Christopher MisianoAaron SorkinMay 14, 2003 (2003-05-14)17532313.79[26]
The First Family is reeling in the wake of Zoey's abduction, leading the First Lady to be sedated and the President to doubt his ability to make decisions clearly. Toby's ex-wife gives birth to twins. The staff begins to weigh the implications the tragedy will have on all their jobs and the country in general. In the episode's final moments, Bartlet realizes that he cannot act as President because he cannot make impartial judgments about what to do next, and temporarily steps down from the Presidency using the 25th Amendment. Due to the lack of a Vice President, the iron willed conservative Republican Speaker of the House Glen Allen Walken (John Goodman) becomes acting president.


Critical response

On Rotten Tomatoes, the season has an approval rating of 92% with an average score of 8 out of 10 based on 12 reviews.[27]


The fourth season received 15 Emmy Award nominations for the 55th Primetime Emmy Awards, winning a total of 2 awards. The series won its fourth consecutive and final award for Outstanding Drama Series. Christopher Misiano won the season's other award, for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series for "Twenty Five". Notable nominations included Martin Sheen for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, Allison Janney for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, John Spencer and Bradley Whitford for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series, Stockard Channing for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series, and Tim Matheson and Matthew Perry for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series. Aaron Sorkin was nominated for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series for "Twenty Five".[28]

Thomas Del Ruth received a nomination from the American Society of Cinematographers for the episode "Holy Night".[29]


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  2. ^ Adalian, Josef (May 1, 2003). "Sorkin sulking away from 'Wing': Regime change for NBC White House series". Variety. Retrieved January 7, 2012.
  3. ^ "Rob Lowe leaving 'West Wing'". CNN. July 24, 2002. Retrieved August 11, 2013.
  4. ^ "John Wells discusses Aaron Sorkin leaving "The West Wing"". Archive of American Television. April 14, 2017. Retrieved December 19, 2017.
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  13. ^ "National Nielsen Viewership (Nov. 25–Dec. 1)". The Los Angeles Times. December 4, 2002. Retrieved April 17, 2021 – via access icon
  14. ^ "National Nielsen Viewership (Dec. 9–15)". The Los Angeles Times. December 18, 2002. Retrieved April 17, 2021 – via access icon
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  16. ^ "National Nielsen Viewership (Jan. 13–19)". The Los Angeles Times. January 23, 2003. Retrieved April 17, 2021 – via access icon
  17. ^ "National Nielsen Viewership (Feb. 3–9)". The Los Angeles Times. February 12, 2003. Retrieved April 17, 2021 – via access icon
  18. ^ "National Nielsen Viewership (Feb. 10–16)". The Los Angeles Times. February 21, 2003. Retrieved April 17, 2021 – via access icon
  19. ^ "National Nielsen Viewership (Feb. 17–23)". The Los Angeles Times. February 26, 2003. Retrieved April 17, 2021 – via access icon
  20. ^ "National Nielsen Viewership (Feb. 24–Mar. 2)". The Los Angeles Times. March 5, 2003. Retrieved April 17, 2021 – via access icon
  21. ^ "National Nielsen Viewership (Mar. 24–30)". The Los Angeles Times. April 2, 2003. Retrieved April 17, 2021 – via access icon
  22. ^ "National Nielsen Viewership (Mar. 31–Apr. 5)". The Los Angeles Times. April 9, 2003. Retrieved April 17, 2021 – via access icon
  23. ^ "National Nielsen Viewership (Apr. 21–27)". The Los Angeles Times. April 30, 2003. Retrieved April 17, 2021 – via access icon
  24. ^ "National Nielsen Viewership (Apr. 28–May. 4)". The Los Angeles Times. May 7, 2003. Retrieved April 17, 2021 – via access icon
  25. ^ "National Nielsen Viewership (May. 5–11)". The Los Angeles Times. May 14, 2003. Retrieved April 17, 2021 – via access icon
  26. ^ "National Nielsen Viewership (May. 12–18)". The Los Angeles Times. May 21, 2003. Retrieved April 17, 2021 – via access icon
  27. ^ "The West Wing: Season 4". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved November 11, 2021.
  28. ^ "The West Wing". Retrieved September 4, 2013.
  29. ^ "The ASC Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography". American Society of Cinematographers. Archived from the original on November 12, 2010. Retrieved October 26, 2013.
General references