What Happened in the ‘West Wing’ Episode the Cast Is Reuniting to Stage?

Martin Sheen as Jed Bartlet in The West Wing Season 3 - Hartsfield's Landing

In 2002, millions of viewers tuned into NBC to watch The West Wing’s Season 3 episode “Hartsfield’s Landing.” In 2020, millions more will be able to fire up HBO Max and watch the cast and crew of the Emmy-winning series reunite to re-stage the episode to promote the non-partisan nonprofit When We All Vote.

Scheduled to air this fall, A West Wing Special to Benefit When We All Vote will feature original cast members Rob Lowe, Dulé Hill, Allison Janney, Janel Moloney, Richard Schiff, Bradley Whitford, and Martin Sheen reprising their roles and performing a new version of the episode at Los Angeles’ Orpheum Theatre. The West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin will adapt the episode and pen new material for the special, and longtime West Wing director Thomas Schlamme will helm the production.

In “Hartsfield’s Landing,” President Jed Bartlet (Sheen) has weighty conversations with both Communications Director Toby Ziegler (Schiff) and Sam Seaborn (Lowe), Toby’s deputy, over games of chess. After his earlier argument with Bartlet, Toby takes the opportunity to convince the president that intellect isn’t a liability in Bartlet’s re-election campaign against an “everyman” Republican candidate.

During his match against Sam, though, Bartlet discusses the escalating situation in the Taiwan Strait. The Chinese, upset that Taiwan is testing U.S.-made defense missiles, are threatening to go from war games in the strait to full-out war.

Press Secretary C.J. Cregg (Janney) and the president’s personal aide, Charlie Young (Hill), meanwhile, engage in a war of pranks—after C.J. mischievously hides his copy of the president’s top-secret daily schedule. Charlie gets the last laugh, though, rigging C.J.’s desk to fall apart the moment she sits down.

As for Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman (Whitford), he’s anxious about the votes coming in from the titular (and fictitious) New Hampshire town—where the 42 registered voters cast their ballots at midnight, and where voters have unfailingly predicted the winner of the New Hampshire primary since the days of William Howard Taft. Nervous about the results, Josh even asks his senior assistant, Donna Moss (Moloney), to talk friends of hers in Hartsfield’s Landing into voting for Bartlet.

With 2020 being a big election year, the election plot is probably the relevant storyline here: The idea that no one’s vote is too small, that one vote can sway an entire election.

“With A West Wing Special to Benefit When We All Vote, we are excited to revisit this legendary series and offer our passionate fans something that is substantial, meaningful and unforgettable, while also promoting an important message for our time,” Sarah Aubrey, head of original content for HBO Max, said when the special was announced. “Combined with WarnerMedia’s donation to When We All Vote, this special not only entertains, but also help ensure the organization can carry forth its mission to increase voter participation in every election.”

A West Wing Special to Benefit When We All Vote, Coming Fall 2020, HBO Max