As of this month, The West Wing is 15 years old. We'll pause as you absorb how long you've been without Jed Bartlet and his merry band in your life. Doesn't it feel like just yesterday we all fell in love with Aaron Sorkin's bastion of liberal idealism wrapped up in fast-paced dialogue usually said while walking?
The years since haven't been as kind to Sorkin's TV projects, as Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip bombed and The Newsroom continues to be a hate-watch target. (He did, of course, win an Oscar for writing The Social Network, because an Oscar is way cooler than your approval.) But what those shows lack that The West Wing had in spades was a collection of well-written, heart-infused characters. These were the kind of people you wanted to know in your own life. They could make you feel inspired about politics in our nation's worst moments of cynicism. Simply put, it was one of the best TV ensembles ever.
As we rapidly approach major milestones for a lot of significant and spectacular shows, we've been preparing something special for you. We'll show you more next week, but as a little preview, we're honoring the characters of The West Wing with our signature definitive ranking. Which women and men do we still miss 15 years later? Which characters made us ask "who?" when writing this? Join us as we remember and rank 114 characters from the series.
NOTE: Only characters who appeared in two or more episodes were eligible for this list ... with some exceptions. We left ourselves a few one-shot wild cards, because what would this list be without the Lionel Tribbeys or Evelyn Baker Langs of the show?
1. C.J. Cregg
Played By: Allison Janney
Number of Episodes: 154
One of the great mysteries of Hollywood—nay, of life—is that Aaron Sorkin is a fairly condescending and certainly problematic writer of women. And yet so goes C.J. She’s not immune to Sorkin’s missteps. Her entire backstory as a Hollywood publicist who doesn’t seem to know much about Hollywood or publicity never made one lick of sense. And in the early seasons, she was the White House staffer most prone to making mistakes on the job. But her capability and combination of strength and simple compassion represented the fantasy of the Bartlet White House better than anyone. And have you seen her pull off “The Jackal”?—JR
Signature Episode: The “Manchester” two-parter that kicks off season three features C.J. at her lowest, after she completely blunders the press-briefing that follows Bartlet’s MS announcement/military action in Haiti. We see her really struggle, but she gathers her backbone and has a great come-to-Jesus moment with Jed.
2. Jed Bartlet
Played By: Martin Sheen
Number of Episodes: 154
The initial plan for President Bartlet was to pop in every few episodes for a quick scene here and there – The West Wing was meant to focus on the staff instead. He went on to appear in almost every episode in the series, entirely because of how incredible the character Sorkin and Sheen created together was. Bartlet wasn’t a phantom figurehead; he was inspiring, frustrating, flawed, genius, courageous, and paternal. He’s remembered as one of the greatest fictional presidents, and deservedly so. We dream of a real commander in chief who was half the president Bartlet was. – KO
Signature Episode: “Two Cathedrals,” the second season finale wherein Bartlet mourns his late secretary and friend, curses at God in Latin, and defiantly tells the world he has multiple sclerosis. It’s bravado work from Sheen, and he sells it at every turn.
3. Toby Ziegler
Played By: Richard Schiff
Number of Episodes: 144
In the early, best seasons of The West Wing, when the show was about how furiously the protagonists had to struggle to achieve any kind of change, Toby Ziegler represented a crucial component, a misanthropic idealist whose grumbling rage masks an irrepressible desire to do what's right. Toby was simultaneously the most and least optimistic senior advisor to Bartlet, functioning as his better angel but also his worst critic. The character suffered in later seasons, particularly once Sorkin left, and Schiff himself complained about the leak storyline he was handed in season seven, which never jibed with the character he helped conceive. But in those early seasons, I lived to watch Ziegler go nose-to-nose with the President and challenge his pragmatism. – DS
Signature Episode: First season episode "In Excelsis Deo," which won Schiff the Emmy, sees Toby using his political clout to arrange a military burial for a homeless man he didn't even know; an honorable blip in a larger world of injustice he can only vainly struggle to fix.
4. Leo McGarry
Played By: John Spencer
Number of Episodes: 154
To pretty much all the central characters of the show, Leo is the heart, and certainly the father figure. Twinkle-eyed, funny, ruthlessly smart and stabilizing in the advise he gives everyone, he's an important stabilizing force in those early episodes before Sorkin quickly starts deconstructing him and his substance abuse problems. Of course, that only makes him more lovable as the other characters rush fiercely to his defense. Leo's purpose becomes a little muddled in later seasons as the characters kinda outgrow him (especially once he's not Chief of Staff) but the impact of Spencer's death near the end of season seven, which was written into the show, could not feel more devastating. – DS
Signature Episode: The third season's "Bartlet for America" flashes back to Leo encouraging Bartlet to run for President and taps into everything inspirational and heartwarming and gritty about the character.
5. Amy Gardner
Played By: Mary-Louise Parker
Number of Episodes: 23
Started out as a lobbyist for feminist groups; eventually served as a sometimes advisor to the Bartlet administration and later as the First Lady’s chief of staff. I tend to be very accommodating to other points of view, and I am hardly ever a “shipper” for the shows that I watch, but if you preferred Josh and Donna to Josh and Amy, you are wrong. (Unless your rationale is that Josh and Donna are both kinda sucky and deserve each other, in which case: I’ll allow it.) The simple truth of the matter is that Amy Gardner is not only a superior character to Donna, but she is much better suited to Josh. Their chemistry was off the charts, their political maneuverings gave fire to season three, and she gave as good as she got and pushed Josh to do the same. I pine for the apocryphal eighth season of The West Wing for many reasons, but none more than because Amy signed on to the Santos administration. – JR
Signature Episode: Season four’s “Privateers,” a.k.a. Amy’s first day on the job as Abbey Bartley’s chief of staff, during which, among other political maneuverings, she had to put up with this foolishness:
6. Abbey Bartlet
Played By: Stockard Channing
Number of Episodes: 69
You can feel Abbey Bartlet’s passion about everything from the proud tremor in her voice to her knock-down, drag-out fights with her husband. She’s a fiery First Lady not content to sit on the sidelines, but her desire to help her husband with his illness almost seals both of their fates. She cares deeply about her family – to a fault in multiple cases – and never let people push her around. For a woman in a Sorkin show to be so fierce and unique is a rarity, and a massive credit to Channing’s portrayal. – KO
Signature Episode: The correct answer is “Dead Irish Writers,” from season 3. Abbey’s birthday party coincides with the potential loss of her medical license, and she gets a ton to do. But though the episode on the whole isn’t hers, her scene with Jed in “Bartlet’s Third State of the Union” is her most electric work from throughout the series.
7. Margaret Hooper
Played By: NiCole Robinson
Number of Episodes: 105
Margaret is the definition of a supporting player: always around, never too directly affecting the plot but always facilitating it. She has great moments (forging the president’s signature stands out), is supposedly a compendium of human knowledge pre-Wikipedia, and remains incredibly loyal to both of her bosses – Leo til his death, and C.J. until they leave the White House. Even when her stories took strange turns (remember when she got pregnant and then it was never mentioned again?), she remained a delight. – KO
Signature Episode: “Liftoff,” the season six episode where C.J. starts as chief of staff. Margaret proves to be an invaluable resource to her new boss, and C.J. thanks her in kind. (Plus, she’s tall, and C.J. likes that.)
8. Nancy McNally
Played By: Anna Deavere Smith
Number of Episodes: 20
If you don’t love every single second of Nancy McNally on The West Wing, just what exactly is your problem? She’s tough, she’s smart, she has a way of advancing her agenda as Bartlet’s National Security Advisor, while remaining unwavering in her support of the administration. Anna Deavere Smith imbues her with so much inner strength and outer gravitas, it’s easy to think she was a far bigger part of the series than she was. She should have been. – JR
Signature Episode: I was tempted to go with “The Women of Qumar,” when she talks C.J. down off a ledge, but that episode’s a little pitched for my taste. I don’t much care for season two’s “Somebody’s Going to Emergency, Somebody’s Going to Jail” either, but that one features Nancy giving Sam the high hand like you would not believe as she walks him through what he knows versus what he thinks he knows about a classified spy case.
9. Charlie Young
Played By: Dulé Hill
Number of Episodes: 136
Charlie starts out a bit of a cypher—added in the third episode partly to address concerns that the main cast was entirely white, Charlie is the President's personal aide and a lot of his early material is just friendly bantering with Bartlet as he follows him around. But Hill was so good in the role—so dryly funny, sharp when he needed to be, who had great chemistry with everyone he worked alongside (particularly Sheen). And he did such an effective job reminding of us Charlie's backstory (his mother was a cop shot in the line of duty) just by flashing a haunted look or reacting with understated but powerful emotion as he becomes a crucial part of the Bartlet family. He's backgrounded in later seasons and the show suffers for it. – DS
Signature Episode: Second season episode "Shibboleth," where Bartlet gives him the family carving knives. Oh man. I'm just gonna need a second here.
10. Joey Lucas
Played By: Marlee Matlin
Number of Episodes: 17
“You idiot! I’m Joey Lucas!” When Joey Lucas storms into Josh’s office in season one’s “Take This Sabbath Day,” Josh can’t figure out what the hell is going on. He’s seeing a man talking, a woman wildly signing, and he’s just hung over enough to not get any of it. Joey cuts right through his bullshit, just as her polls do. That’s a good encapsulation of who Joey is: hardcore, trustworthy, and exactly what the show needed to shake its own optimism up a bit with hard, cold numbers. All while being effortlessly charming, of course. – KO
Signature Episode: “Bartlet’s Third State of the Union,” the season two episode that sees Joey most in her element. She runs a room of pollsters with aplomb, providing a refreshing counterbalance to Josh’s manic energy.
11. Sam Seaborn
Played By: Rob Lowe
Number of Episodes: 84
It’s easy to knock Sam for being the cheeriest of Bartlet’s original team. He’s relentlessly optimistic in the face of the cynicism of Washington. He has moments of brilliance as a speechwriter, even if he isn’t as good as his mentor Toby. But most of all, he just makes you want to love him. It’s a shame Lowe chose to leave in the show’s fourth season – the series lost a bit of heart without him around. – KO
Signature Episode: “Somebody’s Going to Emergency, Somebody’s Going to Jail,” in which Sam’s natural optimism clashes with a tough situation involving Donna’s friend – all the while facing the truth of his father’s infidelity.
12. Percy Fitzwallace
Played By: John Amos
Number of Episodes: 21
Fitz could have been a tough-as-nails officer who didn’t respect the president for his lack of military experience and held staid, traditional values about what belongs in the military. We certainly saw those types elsewhere in The West Wing. But the admiral was far better than all those tropes, coming across as both dogged and compassionate. It made his death in season five’s “Gaza” all the harder to deal with. He was, unquestionably, one of the good ones. – KO
Signature Episode: “We Killed Yamamoto,” from season three. Specifically, the scene in which he speaks the episode’s title, which was easily Amos’ best work of the series.
13. Mrs. Landingham
Played By: Kathryn Joosten
Number of Episodes: 30
For the bulk of her time on The West Wing, Mrs. Landingham was good for a walk-by scene, prodding the President to eat better, bickering playfully with Leo (“Ah, sarcasm. The grumpy man’s wit”), mentoring Charlie. It was at the end of season two, when Mrs. Landingham was tragically killed in a car accident, serving as inspiration for Bartlet’s operatic holler at God in “Two Cathedrals,” that the character truly attained her elevated status. – JR
Signature Episode: “In Excelsis Deo,” wherein she accompanies Toby to a military funeral for a homeless veteran, and she explains the fate of her sons to Charlie.
14. Ainsley Hayes
Played By: Emily Procter
Number of Episodes: 12
When Ainsley Hayes was introduced, it really seemed like we were getting in on the ground floor of a major new character. An underestimated Republican working in a hostile (at first … and still kinda after) Bartlet White House. Ainsley’s first episodes were the kind of episodes you give to a character who’s about to make a big impact. Then she ended up only appearing sporadically across the next couple seasons and ultimately fled to CSI: Miami (though not before blaming it on the bossa nova). Aaron Sorkin really shouldn’t have been smoking crack. – JR
Signature Episode: “And It’s Surely to Their Credit,” wherein Ainsley has her first day on the job at the White House, is subject to some gross harrassment, and corrects Lionel Tribbey on the subject of Gilbert and Sullivan.
15. Zoey Bartlet
Played By: Elisabeth Moss
Number of Episodes: 25
Lookit! It's little Elisabeth Moss as the President's kid daughter! This was the introduction for so many of us to a wonderful actress and Zoey was really the only Bartlet daughter that felt fully realized. In the early seasons she's a vital little spark of energy who shows up from time to time—her romance with Charlie was adorable, her embarrassed eye-rolling at her dad helped humanize Bartlet, and at the same time we were constantly reminded what a precarious, tough thing it would be to be a college-aged daughter of the president. Sorkin made her the centerpiece of the explosive fourth-season finale where he basically engineered the most insane cliffhanger possible. It required Zoey to be a bit of a pain with her fancy French boyfriend, but Moss always made her relatable, even when the plot required otherwise. – DS
Signature Episode: Season one's "Mr. Willis of Ohio," where she is part of a mild altercation at a bar and her father has to remind her, in horrifying terms, of what a national crisis it would be if she was ever kidnapped.
16. Arnold Vinick
Played By: Alan Alda
Number of Episodes: 28
For as much as The West Wing was pegged as a liberal fantasy during its first five seasons, the real fairy tale arrived in season six with Senator Arnold Vinick: Socially Liberal Republican. It’s a credit to Alda (and the improved season seven writing) that the character became so compelling, and even cruelly plausible. – JR
Signature Episode: “In God We Trust,” wherein Vinick deals with the touchy (especially within his own party) subject of his lack of religious devotion.
17. Josh Lyman
Played By: Bradley Whitford
Number of Episodes: 154
Josh ended up surprisingly low because one of our writers (*cough* Kevin) doesn't think much of him, but he is inarguably the show's most consistently dominant character. As Bartlet recedes in power during the final seasons, the main focus snaps almost entirely to Josh as he runs the Santos campaign. Arrogant, blustery and often tragically funny in the early seasons (where more often than not he is undone by hubris), Josh sharpens into a more serious, still manic flag-holder for sharp-elbowed Democratic ideals; his pragmatic evolution is basically the same one the show undergoes after Sorkin leaves. His will-they-won't-they with Donna became an irritatingly dominant storyline, but in those early seasons, it was hard not to drink up their mansplainy sessions together. – DS
Signature Episode: Season two's "Noel," which, through a painful therapy session, charts Josh's intensely suppressed PTSD following his brush with death in season one's assassination attempt. It's Whitford's finest work on the show and a beautifully-done look at his arrogance and bluster brushing up against his darkest insecurities.
18. Lord John Marbury
Played By: Roger Rees
Number of Episodes: 5
Five episodes is probably the right number for Lord John, British diplomat and advisor about matters of state. He’s a lot to take, but in the limited doses that we got of him, he was an invigorating and amusing presence. Yes, he was pretty sexual-harrassy. But so good-natured about it! One the real, though, Lord John calling Leo McGarry “Gerald” was the best running gag the show ever had. – JR
Signature Episode: You’d think it would be the episode that bears his name, “Lord John Marbury,” his debut. But it’s “Dead Irish Writers,” wherein he crashes Abbey Bartlet’s birthday party and debates British/Irish relations with Toby.
19. Lionel Tribbey
Played By: John Laroquette
Number of Episodes: 1
Lionel Tribbey was the first, and maybe the best, of many White House Counsels who would come down the pike, brandishing a cricket bat and unfurling furious monologue after furious monologue as he's forced to add a Republican (Ainsley Hayes) to his staff. John Laroquette is hilarious; it's kinda too bad he wasn't around for the MS storyline later on in the season. – DS
Signature Episode: "And It's Surely to Their Credit" is the only time he appeared, but isn't he great?
20. John Hoynes
Played By: Tim Matheson
Number of Episodes: 20
My gosh, was John Hoynes a bastard sometimes. But he was a bastard who made for some great storylines. The degree to which Vice President Hoynes was or was not antagonistic to the Bartlet White House was unpredictable and ever-changing; his arguments with Leo, C.J., Josh, and especially the President were electric. He was the best kind of complicating factor in the West Wing universe. His resignation (in disgrace over a sex scandal) was a necessary plot development to get us to the Walken presidency at the end of season four, but it was always too bad a good character like Hoynes had to go.
Signature Episode: “Five Votes Down,” which gives us Good Hoynes (he suggests Leo attend his secret AA meeting) and Devious Hoynes (he snakes the credit for a gun-control bill).
21. Ron Butterfield
Played By: Michael O’Neill
Number of Episodes: 16
Agent Ron Butterfield of the Secret Service was never the most expressive character. By his very nature as the head of the Presidential Detail, he had to play things fairly close to vest. But it was when he let that veneer drop that we really fell for him. – KO
Signature Episode: “In the Shadow of Two Gunmen Part II” is one of said examples, and it’s probably the greatest. The whole two-parter is great for Butterfield, especially while taking care of the president after he gets shot. But the second half features a scene with Toby where the communications director tries to take the fall for the president’s shooting. Butterfield manages to be both strong and comforting. “It was the act of madmen,” he says. Then, almost humorously, he repeats the party line: “Anyway, the Secret Service doesn't comment on procedure.”
22. Will Bailey
Played By: Joshua Malina
Number of Episodes: 80
Hired to replace Sam Seaborn, Malina was hobbled from the start by the high bar he had to clear, and he didn't get a ton of time to mix with the other White House staffers before he jumped ship to the Bob Russell office, and later campaign. There, he becoming a semi-antagonist for the fifth and sixth seasons, as he tried to position a man we knew was going to lose towards the Presidency. Bailey got cute again in the last season as one of the few staffers left to rattle around in the White House while the campaign rages, but he never really recovered from the whole side-switching debacle. – DS
Signature Episode: "Election Night," his second, in season four. He was so damn charming, dancing in the rain and running a Congressional campaign for a dead man!
23. Carol Fitzpatrick
Played By: Melissa Fitzgerald
Number of Episodes: 101
Carol’s the best. She was C.J.’s right hand throughout her entire term as press secretary, and presumably she stuck around for the Annabeth/Toby/Will clown show that came thereafter. God, she must’ve been so annoyed during those last few years. Anyway, of all the assistants, Carol probably had the highest-percentage competence-to-drama ratio. Nothing rattled her. She could banter with C.J. about the lyrical meaning of “I’m Too Sexy,” then shoot Josh Lyman a death glare for screwing up his lone attempt at a press briefing, all before breaking for lunch. – JR
Signature Episode: Honestly, look at the death glare she shoots at Josh at 3:14 of this clip from “Celestial Navigation.” She might not even have a line in that episode and she steals it.
24. Kate Harper
Played By: Mary McCormack
Number of Episodes: 48
Season five was an absolute wasteland for good new characters – with few exceptions, everyone introduced just didn’t quite fit with the rest of the established world. Not so with Commander Kate Harper of the NSA. She had tremendous shoes to fill, taking over the advisory role from Nancy McNally, but McCormack defied the odds and charmed us. By the end of the series, she was just as much a part of the main cast as those who had been there from the start. – KO
Signature Episode: “Ninety Miles Away,” where we learn the secrets of her past with Leo. It was built up to be more than it is, but her work in the episode is lovely.
25. Lou Thornton
Played By: Janeane Garofalo
Number of Episodes: 15
One of the best late-season additions to the show, Lou was the Santos campaign's communications director in the seventh season and had an even sharper tongue than the sharpest Bartlet advisors. When imagining an eighth season for the show, Garofalo's cold-as-ice badass probably would have been the new Toby of the cast, and it's too bad we never got to see it. Still, she's a vital foil to Josh in that seventh season as the team carries Santos over the finish line. – DS
Signature Episode: "The Mommy Problem," in which she comes aboard the Santos campaign to address his lack of definition in the mind of the American populace. Immediately, you realize she was what was missing from the team in the sixth season.
26. Oliver Babish
Played By: Oliver Platt
Number of Episodes: 8
Maybe he's not quite as electrifying as Tribbey, but Babish is real important in the second season as the MS scandal starts to blow up in Bartlet's face. Even more so than Toby, he could challenge the President, and practically talk down to him, in a way most staffers would be too cowed to do; his abrasive no-bull approach was one size fits all, which was just what the President needed to weather his cover-up. Like so many Sorkin characters, he's introduced like he's going to be around forever, but quickly vanishes. But he made a real impact in those first episodes. – DS
Signature Episode: Season two's "Bad Moon Rising," where he smashes the tape recorder with the judge's gavel. Sorkin knew how to write an introduction.
27. Debbie Fiderer
Played By: Lily Tomlin
Number of Episodes: 34
Debbie was always going to be an odd fit into the West Wing universe. How could she not be, replacing sweet old Mrs. Landingham? Credit to Lily Tomlin and the writers for giving Debbie her own unique, but no less special relationship with the President. – JR
Signature Episode: “20 Hours in America,” where Debbie returns from her disastrous first interview to finally impress the President with her second.
28. Evelyn Baker Lang
Played By: Glenn Close
Number of Episodes: 1
Chief Justice Evelyn Baker Lang only appeared once, but what an appearance it was. She stole our hearts with a complex, smartly delivered monologue about her approach to a case. She was brilliant, and Close made her so much more. Every moment Close is on screen – including and especially her awe before being named as the nominee to become Chief Justice – is pure magic. – KO
Signature Episode: Well, that’d be “The Supremes,” since it’s her only episode, but major points for appearing in the best episode of season five – some would say the only episode of season five worth talking about at all.
29. Jordon Kendall
Played By: Joanna Gleason
Number of Episodes: 5
Leo’s attorney seems shoehorned into The West Wing at first, with the audience sold on a romance between the two from basically the word go. But give it up for Jordon Kendall; she makes you wish she’d never leave within moments on the screen. She’s the perfect foil for Leo: determined while he’s easygoing, cutting through his molasses-slow storytelling to get to the point. She’s funny and tough as nails – we just wish she didn’t have to go so soon. – KO
Signature Episode: “Bartlet for America,” her introductory installment. Her flirty banter with Leo is great, but never makes her seem slight or unformidable.
30. Bruno Gianelli
Played By: Ron Silver
Number of Episodes: 18
Here's that rare Sorkin recurring character who actually comes back, and for good reason. Silver's deadpan tough-guy opportunism served the show well in the third season as Bartlet ran for re-election and needed an outsider to keep his message in line. Then, after Silver made a very public political switch and became a prominent George W. Bush supporter, the show brought him back to serve as Arnold Vinick's campaign director, one of the smartest moves it made in season seven. Throughout, Gianelli was a model pragmatist, who knew that the big-minded idealism of anyone he worked for could trip them up in an effort to get votes. – DS
Signature Episode: Season three's "Gone Quiet," where tries to shake Sam out of an idealistic stupor. "I really don't care who's right, who's wrong. We're both right, we're both wrong," he barks.
31. Gina Toscano
Played By: Jorja Fox
Number of Episodes: 5
There have been a lot of great Secret Service characters on The West Wing, but no one embodied Gina’s mix of robotic professionalism and sublimated heart that goes into being a bodyguard quite as well. She's always Zoey's chum, a bit of a big sister figure and a fearless soldier who would dive in front of gunfire for her. Toscano's arc ends at the assassination of the season one finale, but every subsequent Secret Service character felt like it was building off of her. – DS
Signature Episodes: "What Kind of Day Has It Been?" is told, a little bit, through Gina's keen eyes as she spots the shooters, not quickly enough, who give us our first-season cliffhanger.
32. Sheila Brooks
Played By: Patricia Richardson
Number of Episodes: 9
You’d be forgiven for allowing the campaign staff members in the last two seasons to blend together a bit. There were so many of them! They all kind of did the same thing! But that’s why Sheila, played subtly and expertly by Patricia Richardson, stands out. She’s a close friend and confidante to Arnie Vinick, matching his fairly moderate politics and reminding him of his humanity on the trail. Her story during the election ends rather heartbreakingly ... – KO
Signature Episode: ... during “The Cold,” when she takes the fall for the campaign’s problems. She sacrifices herself for the right reasons – namely, that she believes Vinick needs to pull right to win – which makes his eventual loss without her all the harder.
33. Roberto Mendoza (Edward James Olmos): the hardheaded but brilliant judge the team fights to get confirmed to the Supreme Court in season one. Spoiler: They succeed.
34. Danny Concannon (Timothy Busfield): C.J.’s Pulitzer-winning press paramour who proved to be the most delightful thorn in her side.
35. Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits): the Democratic candidate to succeed Bartlet (spoiler: he wins). Nice enough guy, if perhaps a little bland.
36. Ginger (Kim Webster): the communications aide who was quite affected after Bartlet was shot. A consistent presence on The West Wing, and an enjoyable one.
37. Ellie Bartlet Faison (Nina Siemaszko): Bartlet’s doctor daughter who gets married in the show’s final season. She’s interesting in her first appearance, but suffers from the non-Sorkin team not quite getting her character.
38. Kenny Thurman (Bill O’Brien): Joey Lucas’ sign language interpreter who appeared by her side every season. Hugely likable, and quite cute to boot.
39. Donna Moss (Janel Moloney): Josh Lyman’s assistant and the eventual Chief of Staff to First Lady Helen Santos. Easily the most controversial of the core cast members not named “Mandy.”
40. Mallory O’Brien (Allison Smith): the school teacher who, to Sam’s immense surprise, was Leo’s daughter. She was perhaps the perfect match for Sam, making it all the sadder they didn’t work out.
41. Bonnie (Devika Parikh): a communications aide who left the show early into its fifth season. We’ll give her actress credit for knowing when to jump ship.
42. Andi Wyatt (Kathleen York): a congresswoman from Maryland and Toby’s ex-wife. Eventually has children with Toby, is generally wonderful (if one-note) throughout the series.
43. Millicent Griffith (Mary Kay Place): the surgeon general and close friend to the Bartlet family. Notable for supporting the decriminalization of marijuana long before it was cool. Rock on, Millie.
44. Mike Casper (Clark Gregg): an FBI agent friendly with both Josh and the administration. Though all the Avengers fans might think he was secretly Phil Coulson all along.
45. Albie Duncan (Hal Holbrook): the insufferable and yet oh-so-hilarious state department official. One of the only characters to consistently irritate Bartlet.
46. Tabitha Fortis (Laura Dern): the Poet Laureate who protested U.S. use of landmines. May or may not be so high on this list because she was played by Laura Dern.
47. Bob Russell (Gary Cole): the dim – or is he? – second Vice President, chosen as a middle-ground option after Congress forced Bartlet away from his first choice. Eventually ran for president and lost, becoming increasingly less likable along the way.
48. Annabeth Schott (Kristin Chenoweth): the adorable pixie of a Deputy Press Secretary. Was terrified of briefing the press, which seems an exceedingly stupid thing for a Deputy Press Secretary to be afraid of.
49. Cathy (Suzy Nakamura): Sam Seaborn’s assistant for season one. Was sent to Mandyville along with Mandy herself between seasons.
50. Glen Allen Walken (John Goodman): the Speaker-turned-president who took over while Zoey was missing. The show wanted him to be more of a villain than he was.
51. Bram Howard (Matthew Del Negro): a member of the Santos campaign. We can’t remember much that he did, but he was very cute.
52. Laurie (Lisa Edelstein): the escort who Sam slept with accidentally. Wanted to become a lawyer, forged a friendship with Sam, then disappeared to Mandyville when her storyline ended.
53. Cliff Calley (Mark Feuerstein): the Deputy Chief of Staff who took over for Josh despite being a Republican. He also took part in the House Oversight Committee hearings about Bartlet’s MS, and stopped another member from leaking information about Leo. He also dated Donna, so you’ve got to take the bitter with the better.
54. Simon Donovan (Mark Harmon): C.J.’s Secret Service agent who became romantically entangled with her. Unfortunately for her, he was shot and killed just after they kissed for the first time.
55. Connie Tate (Connie Britton): one of Bruno’s campaign staffers, and the much easier to get along with of the two. Sadly, she was fairly unremarkable otherwise, which feels like a waste of Britton.
56. Howard Stackhouse (George Coe): the Democratic senator who stood up – literally, it was a filibuster – for autism awareness. He later ran as a third-party candidate against Bartlet for re-election and maybe overstayed his welcome a tiiiiny bit.
57. Liz Bartlet Westin (Annabeth Gish): the oldest daughter of the Bartlet family. Had terrible taste in men if her husband was any indication.
58. Deborah O’Leary (CCH Pounder): the gung-ho Secretary for Housing and Urban Development who Leo had to reprimand for getting too mouthy. Free CCH Pounder!
59. Chris (Mindy Seeger): one of the longest-lasting members of the White House Press Corps. Known for her frizzy hair, her glasses, and being inimitable.
60. Jane Braun (Melinda McGraw): She’s the ruthless campaign manager brought in by the RNC to salvage Arnold Vinick’s campaign after the nuclear-plant fiasco.Jane was an envigorating presence, but replacing Sheila made her hard to love.
61. Christopher Mulready (William Fichtner): The halo of “The Supremes” stretches wide, and Mulready makes it to the middle of this list on the strength of one and a half scenes, going toe-to-toe with Jed, Toby, and future Chief Justice Evelyn Lang.
62. Katie Witt (Kris Murphy): Another long-time member of the White House Press Corps, Katie once let the President bum a cigarette off of her on Air Force One.
63. Joe Willis (Al Fann): We wouldn’t have the episode “Mr. Willis of Ohio” without him. Or we would, but it would have been called something else.
64. Joe Quincy (Matthew Perry): Ugh, this one. We always got the sense that we were supposed to be far more enthralled with Joe Quincy than we were. Another token Republican in the White House counsel’s office. Could he hold a candle to Ainsley Hayes? HE COULD NOT. (Ugh, Matthew Perry got two Emmy nominations out of this role, too.)
65. Bob Mayer (Stephen Root): A loyal Vinick campaign staffer. Kind of a waste of Stephen “Jimmy James” Root, if we’re being honest.
66. Molly O’Connor (Kimberly Bigsby): Molly’s greatest contribution to the West Wing universe was getting killed by Zoe’s kidnappers, then becoming the namesake for one of Toby’s babies. So you can see why her upward mobility on this list would be limited.
67. Edie Ortega (Diana Maria Riva): That Edie was only in eight episodes seems totally unfair. She was the workhorse of that Santos campaign.
68. Ed (Peter James Smith): So much better than Larry.
69. Otto (Ramon De Ocampo): Remember when Josh chewed out Otto when he was over-stressed during the post-election transition? That was a bad day for Otto. Remember when Otto went to go have drunken sex with Lou the night before the election? That was a better day for Otto.
70. Wesley Davis (Taye Diggs): You knew something really bad was going to happen when all of a sudden Taye Diggs got cast as a supposedly unimportant Secret Service agent.
71. Larry (William Duffy): So much worse than Ed.
72. Nicholas Alexander (Terry O’Quinn): General Alexander was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs after Fitzwallace, and while he succeeded before Fitz was killed, it still feels like we lost Fitz and got this guy, so it was hard to warm up. It was before Lost happened and made Terry O’Quinn beloved, too.
73. Ronna Beckman (Karis Campbell): The Santos campaign staffer who went on to be the President’s main secretary, i.e. the new Mrs. Landingham (okay, the new Debbie Fidderer).
74. Nancy (Renée Estevez): Our least favorite of the White House assistants. Mostly because nepotism is bogus.
75. Ann Stark (Felicity Huffman): Only one episode for devious, hardball-playing Republican operative Ann. Which is too bad, because anyone who can get one over on Toby would have been a formidable foe.
76. Steve (Charles Noland): Another White House press corps member of long standing. He got a bittersweet little moment in the press room with C.J. in the series finale.
77. Jenny McGarry (Sara Botsford): Far be it from us to be uncharitable to a woman cuckolded by her husband’s job, but she couldn’t have anticipated how busy Leo would be as White House chief of staff?
78. Roy Ashland (Milo O’Shea): Another Supreme Court justice with absolutely no time for wishy-washy Jed Bartlet. It seemed like the West Wing universe was waiting for this guy to croak forever. Instead, he retired to pave the way for Evelyn Baker Lang.
79. Greg Brock (Sam Robards): If you really despise the NASA leak storyline that ended up costing Toby his job, you probably don’t have much time for Greg Brock, the reporter who Toby leaked the story to. Don’t blame Greg. It’s not his fault the writers wanted to crib from the Judy Miller/Valerie Plame story.
80. Doug Wegland (Evan Handler): It seems the room was none too high on Doug, easily the most confrontational of the team Bruno Gianelli brought in to help the Bartlet re-election campaign. But he was good as a thorn in Toby’s side.
81. Theodore Barrow (Ron Canada): The Undersecretary of State for (we think) matters in Asia, Barrow never made much of an impression beyond the fact that Ron Canada cuts an authoritative figure.
82. Helen Santos (Teri Polo): The success of The Fosters has turned us around on Teri Polo, but that doesn’t change the fact that Helen Santos was kind of a pill. Enough with wife characters who only exist to fret and nag and try to keep their husbands from doing the things the audience wants them to do, please.
83. Jack Reese (Christian Slater): Another dumb would-be paramour for Donna. His big moment was talking about a space-aged ashtray that breaks into three equal-sized, non-sharp pieces. Riveting.
84. Jeff Haffley (Steven Culp): It was an early sign of post-Sorkin troubles that The West Wing suddenly got a sneering villain in Speaker of the House Haffley, but Culp played the role well, and it was reeeeeally satisfying when he got beat on the budget crisis.
85. Arthur Leeds (Randy Brooks): The second-least interesting of the White House press corps regulars.
86. Mark O’Donnell (Timothy Davis-Reed): The least interesting of the White House press corps regulars.
87. Miles Hutchinson (Steve Ryan): Before he was lesson-giving J. Walter Weatherman, Steve Ryan played the particularly uncooperative Secretary of Defense. In particular, he challenged C.J.’s authority as chief of staff.
88. Mark Richardson (Thom Barry): the Congressman who chewed Leo out about his crappy anti-crime law, and rightly castigated him for playing the race card, in season one's "Five Votes Down."
89. Al Keifer (John de Lancie): the venal, kinda-stupid pollster who is sleeping with Joey Lucas and thinks Americans care about flag-burning. Chump!
90. Elsie Snuffin (Danica McKellar): Will Bailey's step-sister and speechwriting helper. Why didn't we get more of her? She had gumption!
91. Angela Blake (Michael Hyatt): The damage-control lady brought in for season 5 after Josh melts down. A reminder of one of the show's worst arcs.
92. Rev. Al Caldwell (F. William Parker): A more-moderate Christian leader who isn't quite as hard-line as Mary Marsh. His best work comes in "Shibboleth."
93. Talmidge Cregg (Donald Moffat): C.J.'s dad, striken with Alzheimer's. Ugh, "The Long Goodbye" is such a cloying episode.
94. Vic Faison (Ben Weber): Ellie's husband, a scientific researcher who Bartlet calls "the fruit fly guy." Very nice and harmless, not very into his crowded White House wedding though.
95. Rina (Melissa Marsala): Toby's assistant communications director in season five. Not very memorable.
96. Josephine McGarry (Deborah Hedwall): Leo's sister, a school superintendent who helped arrest two students for praying. She's only in the one episode, where Leo has to ask her to withdraw her name from a recess appointment list.
97. Colin Ayres (Jason Isaacs): a war photographer and one of Donna's many dull love interests.
98. Ryan Pierce (Jesse Bradford): Josh's intern, the nephew of a Senator, who is very annoying very quickly and banished to Mandyville. Really helps clog up season 5 though.
99. Ray Sullivan (Brett Cullen): Vinick's ticket-balancing choice for Vice President, a socially conservative West Virginia Governor brought in to quell concerns about Vinick's belief in God. A bit of a hammy stereotype.
100. Mark Gottfried (Ted McGinley): the host of "Capitol Beat." Remember "Capitol Beat"?
101. Peyton Cabot Harrison III (Ken Howard): the team's original choice to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court, maybe a little racist, definitely has questionable views on the right to privacy.
102. Mary Marsh (Annie Corley): a hard-line member of the Religious Right, used as a straw man for Bartlet to knock down in the pilot episode. Representative of some of Sorkin's weaknesses re: stereotyping.
103. Joseph Crouch (Mason Adams): a bad-ass, super-old Supreme Court Justice who retires and calls Bartlet a pansy. He's the one who gets Mendoza's foot in the door.
104. Ned Carlson (Evan Arnold): a nice aide to Santos who gets reassigned in season seven and never comes back.
105. Eric Baker (Ed O'Neill): the little-seen, much-discussed Governor of Pennsylvania who everyone is afraid will seize the Democratic nomination in later seasons but always is besieged by plot twists. The show ends with him looking like Santos' likely VP after Leo's death.
106. Lisa Sherborne (Traylor Howard): Sam's ex-fiancee, a reporter, who he dumped to join the Bartlet campaign. Sorry!
107. Robert Ritchie (James Brolin): Governor of Florida and the Republican nominee in Bartlet's second election. Comes off as a dumb idiot filled with empty campaign slogans. Sorkin's worst straw-man.
108. Curtis Carruthers (Ben Murray): Charlie's replacement as the President's body-man, so, we hate him.
109. Jean-Paul (Trent Ford): Zoey's stupid French boyfriend who doses her with GHB and gets her kidnapped. WE HATE YOU JEAN-PAUL.
110. Diane Mathers (Kathrin Middleton): A nasty talk-show host who interrogates Zoey about her kidnapping. She's mean and she sucks.
111. Doug Westin (Steven Eckholdt): Liz Bartlet's husband, a fat-headed jerk who has an affair and runs for Congress on the Bartlet coattails. Not a very well-written character.
112. Peter Lillienfield (Holmes Osborne): a venal Republican who publicly throws Leo under the bus for his substance abuse problems.
113. Mandy Hampton (Moira Kelly): Congrats, Mandy! You are not at the bottom of this list, although you are certainly the least popular credited cast member in the history of the show! She's only in the first season and she's basically an annoying problem throughout, never fitting into the cast dynamic or having a very well-defined role. Sorkin wrote her to be the opponent to pretty much every good thing the team wanted to do, so that didn't help.
114. Taylor Reid (Jay Mohr): A Bill O'Reilly-style jabbering cable news talking head who exists only to stir up controversy and be awful. He gets in a public fight with C.J. once and is generally the worst.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
We want to hear what you think. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.