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Sorkin ingrains himself in film, TV writing

Cassie Belek | Monday, January 22, 2007

Aaron Sorkin is a man of many words and one of the few to have an outlet for them. As an award-winning playwright and screenwriter, Sorkin has ingrained his lexicon in popular culture and created an avenue to express his beliefs and philosophies through characters that audiences crave. The man who coined “You can’t handle the truth!” in “A Few Good Men” also wrote the movie “The American President” and television shows “Sports Night,” “The West Wing” and current “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.”

Sorkin began his career as a playwright after graduating from Syracuse University with a bachelor of fine arts in musical theatre. After discovering his creative passion, he began writing plays and sold the film rights to “A Few Good Men” even before it appeared on stage. His next feature film was “The American President,” which served as both a memorable romance and a behind-the-scenes look at the White House. It was this project – featuring future fictional president Martin Sheen – that paved the way for his most famous work, “The West Wing.”

Sorkin maintains a consistent writing style throughout his projects. Common traits include rapid dialogue and obscure popular culture references. All three of the writer’s television series have explored behind-the-scenes situations, whether it is a sports news show, the West Wing of the White House, or a long-running sketch comedy series. Sorkin has also become famous for his characters’ “walk and talks,” in which they talk while walking to the next place they need to be. It may not sound impressive, but it breaks the style of stationary blocking and allows the cameramen to become more creative with the filming.

Sorkin’s career has not come without controversy, however, and much of this controversy stems from his willingness to speak his mind through his writing with little concern for whom he offends. But while he holds liberal views, Sorkin usually explores both sides to arguments about politics and society, such as in “The West Wing” and “Studio 60.” Half the fun of watching these programs is to observe how one man can fight himself and who it is that actually wins.

Sorkin draws much of his material from his own life experiences, particularly in “Studio 60.” He modeled the character Matt Albie (Matthew Perry) after himself, yet his history of drug abuse is exposed through the character of Danny Tripp (“West Wing” alum Bradley Whitford). Conservative sketch comedy player Harriet Hayes takes after conservative Sorkin love interest Kristin Chenoweth, and many of the struggles Matt and Danny confront each week mirror those that Sorkin has faced. Even more interesting is the amount of jabs that Sorkin is allowed to take at home network NBC through the fictional network NBS.

Throughout his sometimes turbulent life, Sorkin’s work has remained consistently good. Both “A Few Good Men” and “The American President” have received Golden Globe and Oscar nominations. Despite its cancellation, “Sports Night” is still a critical favorite. “The West Wing” won four Emmys for Outstanding Drama Series during each of his four years as the series’ writer. “Studio 60” has received lukewarm reviews and is particularly harsh with its attacks on the Red States, but Sorkin’s words still flow like poetry. He may be accused of elitism, but his writing genius cannot be denied. If audiences can’t handle that, he will certainly have something to write about.