‘The West Wing’: Why Mrs. Landingham Got Written off the Show

While she wasn’t among the main characters  on The West Wing, Mrs. Dolores Landingham, played by Kathryn Joosten (and Psych’s Kirsten Nelson in flashbacks), became a beloved part of Aaron Sorkin’s acclaimed political drama. 

As the executive secretary to President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet (Martin Sheen), Mrs. Landingham had been among the few characters on the show who could be completely blunt with her boss. She’d known him since his high school days and once described herself as a surrogate big sister to the president.

Audiences were devastated when Mrs. Landingham got written off the show but why did they have to say goodbye to such a beloved character in the first place? Find out ahead. 

Mrs. Landingham got killed off ‘The West Wing’ in a car accident

In a plot twist that shocked viewers, Mrs. Landingham’s time serving at the pleasure of  the president ended in The West Wing Season 2 Episode 21: “18th and Potomac.”

Kathryn Joosten on March 5, 2010
Kathryn Joosten on March 5, 2010 | Rebecca Sapp/WireImage

After word got around the office Mrs. Landingham purchased her first new car, the president asked her to come back to the White House after picking it up so he could see it. Tragically, as she made her way back to the White House, she got in a collision with a drunken driver, and died off-screen. 

Her exit wasn’t because of a contract dispute or illness

Oftentimes when actors and their characters are suddenly removed from a TV program, it can mean one of two things; 1) the actor has health concerns or 2) there’s a contract dispute that can’t be settled. In the case of Joosten and Mrs. Landingham it had been none of the above. 

Following her character’s exit, Joosten spoke witih the Los Angeles Times in 2001, telling the publication behind-the-scenes drama hadn’t been the reason for her exit. It had simply been a creative decision. 

In a separate interview in 2001 with the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Sorkin said the idea for Mrs. Landingham’s unexpected exit came after having a conversation with Joosten while at a charity dinner the cast attended. 

Kathryn Joosten as Dolores Landingham, Richard Schiff as Toby Ziegler, and Paul Austin as George Huffnagle in 'The West Wing' Season 1 Episode 10: "In Excelsis Deo."
Kathryn Joosten as Dolores Landingham, Richard Schiff as Toby Ziegler, and Paul Austin as George Huffnagle in ‘The West Wing’ Season 1 Episode 10: “In Excelsis Deo.” | Eric Liebowitz/NBCU Photo Bank

Joosten told Sorkin she’d been approached about becoming a series regular on a new show that had been in the process of filming its pilot episode. She made it clear she wasn’t sure if she’d take the role but at that point the wheels were turning in Sorkin’s head about what an abrupt departure from Mrs. Landingham would mean for Sheen’s character. 

“It was a spur-of-the-moment thing,” Sorkin said. But as time went on and he ruminated on the idea, the more he liked it. “I needed this guy’s world to come in on him so badly that he just snapped in the National Cathedral and turned on God,” he added. “I needed to take him right to the edge.”

Sorkin did just that. In The West Wing Season 2 Episode 22: “Two Cathedrals,” the president grappled with losing Mrs. Landingham in a performance that secured Sheen an Emmy nomination. Today, the Season 2 finale is widely regarded as one of the best episodes in the show’s seven-season run. 

Joosten went on to have roles in others TV programs such as Scrubs and Desperate Housewives before her death in 2012 at the age of 72. 

See Joosten as Mrs. Landingham by watching The West Wing on Netflix.