The Surprising Origin Behind the Memorable ‘Jackal’ Scene on ‘The West Wing’

As the saying goes life imitates art. But in the case of The West Wing art imitates life. Ahead, find out which memorable scene from the award-winning political drama began with a silly moment between cast members on set. 

Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing began in Sept. 1999 and remained on the air for seven seasons before coming to an end in May 2006. The NBC program, a fast-talking drama about senior White House staff and the fictional President of United States followed characters Leo McGarry (John Spencer), Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford), C.J. Cregg (Allison Janney), Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff), Charlie Young (Dulé Hill), Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe), Donnatella “Donna” Moss (Janel Moloney), and President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet (Martin Sheen).

The West Wing garnered many accolades during its run. Every awards show season, it seemed The West Wing and its cast members were nominated for at least one award. By 2006, when the final season of the series came to a close, The West Wing had garnered 26 Emmy wins ( 95 Emmy nominations total) and three Golden Globe Awards (20 nominations total), among a slew of other honors. 

Cast of 'The West Wing'
Cast of ‘The West Wing’ | James Sorensen/NBC/Newsmakers

Aaron Sorkin saw Allison Janney do ‘The Jackal’ in her trailer

While there were many serious moments on the show, there were also plenty of light-hearted ones too. The West Wing Season 1, Episode 18: “Six Meetings Before Lunch” became known for one of the show’s most memorable moments affectionately known as “The Jackal.” 

In the scene, West Wing staffers were abuzz about C.J. doing “The Jackal” in the press room. Leo told one person they’re “not going to want to miss” it and sure enough, when the time came, employees showed up to witness C.J lip-syncing “The Jackal,” a 1993 song by Ronny Jordan.

The only reason it ended up on the show is that Janney, the actress who played C.J., had been singing the song in her trailer and eventually word got around set. Sorkin witnessed it and then put it in an episode.

Aaron Sorkin attends AFI Fest 2017 on Nov. 16, 2017
Aaron Sorkin attends AFI Fest 2017 on Nov. 16, 2017 | Allen Berezovsky/WireImage

“I wandered into [Janney’s trailer] around midnight to find Allison mid-Jackal with Richard [Schiff] sitting off to the side, smoking a cigar and playing an air drum,” Sorkin told Empire according to TV Insider.

It didn’t take the creator of The West Wing long to come up with the idea of featuring Janney’s rendition of “The Jackal” on the show. 

“I just stood there for a second and then said, ‘We’re doing this,’ went back to my office and wrote the opening,” Sorkin recalled. 

Sure enough, the scene includes Toby smoking a cigar — no air drums though — and when Josh tries discussing work with him during C.J.’s performance he says, “Never talk to me during “The Jackal.”’

The short (and sweet) scene has become of the show’s most memorable moments adored by fans. 

People told Sorkin to ‘listen to Allison Janney sing ‘The Jackal’’

During a panel for The West Wing at the ATX Television Festival in June 2016, fans learned a little bit more about “The Jackal,” according to The Hollywood Reporter. Thomas Schlamme, an executive producer of the show, said during the discussion people on set had encouraged Sorkin to see Janney’s “The Jackal” performance. 

“Allison in her trailer would sing “The Jackal.” We were wise enough to say, Aaron, listen to Allison Janney sing “The Jackal.” And the next read on the table read, “The Jackal” was in it,” Schlamme said.

“All you have to do it give him a little inking, a little spark and he comes up with brilliance,” Schiff, also present at the panel, told Sorkin. 

It seems after so many people telling him about “The Jackal,” Sorkin finally wandered over to Janney’s trailer to see what the fuss was about and that’s when he saw her singing and Schiff on the (pretend) drums.