Who is Aaron Sorkin?

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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
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  • Last Modified Date: 07 September 2019
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Aaron Sorkin is a playwright and scriptwriter known for his use of dense, literate dialogue and lightning-fast banter between characters. His television credits include The West Wing, Sports Night and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. He also wrote the screenplays for The American President, Malice, and the screen version of his own play, A Few Good Men. There is also some evidence that he worked with Steven Spielberg on final drafts of Schindler's List.

Born in New York City in 1961, Sorkin grew up in the affluent New York City suburb of Scarsdale. His early interest was in the acting profession, and to that end he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Syracuse University. However, finding work as an actor proved to be a challenge, leading him to pursue a different career path as a writer. Several of his earliest plays were produced in smaller theaters to some critical acclaim, but a chance discussion with his sister inspired his first major success.

Sorkin's sister worked for a military legal office assigned to defend soldiers accused of murder at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Details of the case formed the basic storyline for his play A Few Good Men. The play would eventually be produced on Broadway, providing a much-needed break. He would also be involved with the screen adaptation starring Tom Cruise, Demi Moore and Jack Nicholson.


Following the success of A Few Good Men, he wrote the screenplay for a politically-tinged romantic comedy called The American President, featuring Michael Douglas as a widowed President attempting to date a lobbyist played by Annette Bening. The movie received solid reviews for the literate dialogue and realistic treatment of the Washington political scene.

Meanwhile, several television networks began vying for his writing services. ABC greenlighted his realistic comedy Sports Night in 1998, which became a critical favorite for its clever interplay and dialogue, but a ratings failure due to variable time slots and cerebral humor.

In 1999, NBC debuted The West Wing, a dramedy about the inner workings of the White House executive branch. Sorkin, Thomas Schlamme, and John Wells, wrote many of the show's most popular episodes. His patented machine-gun dialogue and mixture of pop culture references gave the idiosyncratic characters real life. Originally written as a vehicle for actor Rob Lowe as a presidential speechwriter, The West Wing evolved into a strong ensemble cast leading parallel lives with the participants of the real White House.

His career was threatened in 2001, however, after he was detained at an airport for possession of marijuana, rock cocaine and hallucinogenic mushrooms. He stepped away from the day-to-day writing responsibilities of The West Wing in order to pursue rehabilitation. After several years out of the Hollywood spotlight, Sorkin returned to begin work on a new project featuring many of the actors from his previous shows. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is loosely based on the backstage stories of NBC's long-running live comedy/music show Saturday Night Live. Sorkin has also written two other screenplays, Charlie Wilson's War and The Farnsworth Invention, chronicling the race to invent the television.


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