Even so, though Lowe, who plays deputy communications director
Sam Seaborn on the White House drama "The West Wing," is
leaving the show, he'll still be around for 16 episodes, most of the
coming season, NBC executives confirmed yesterday.
Lowe asked to leave the show after a salary dispute with show
producer Warner Bros. As a result, Warner Bros. has agreed to
release him from the fifth and final year of his contract, which
committed him through the 2003-04 season.
According to sources familiar with the discussions, Lowe
approached the show's producers several months ago to discuss a
raise over his $75,000-per-episode salary. But Warner Bros.
executives told the actor there would be no talks about pay
increases until a new license fee is negotiated with NBC to keep
the series beyond the 2002-03 season.
NBC pays Warner Bros. about $1.6 million per episode for "The West Wing,"
which doesn't come close to covering the full cost of producing the show.
In the meantime, "The West Wing" is running at a deficit, and Warner Bros.
executives had no intention of making it larger by giving Lowe a new contract.
"Don't even think about it," the actor was told, according to one studio insider.
Since the rebuff, Lowe has been negotiating his exit from the series. Even
of heart on his part would not bring him back, according to the studio insider,
who said "the bridges have been burned."
The feeling inside NBC is that "The West Wing" will not be hurt by Lowe's
"It's the most ensemble show there is," said one executive.
Lowe was not available for comment. In a statement, he said, "As much as
it hurts to admit
it, it has been increasingly clear, for quite a while, that there was no longer a place for Sam
Seaborn on 'The West Wing.' However, Warner Bros. has allowed me an opportunity to
leave the show as I arrived - grateful for it, happy to have been on it and proud of it."
When the series about the behind-the-scenes workings of a Democratic administration
started, Lowe was expecting to be the star of the series. Martin Sheen, who plays President
Bartlet, was expected to appear occasionally as a guest star.
But as the series evolved, Sheen's character moved to front and center,
with the cast
members that play his staff becoming more of an ensemble.
Sheen, who had a shorter "guest star" contract with the show, recently
signed a new deal
that made him the highest-paid member of the cast, at close to $300,000 per episode.
Lowe was making more than the rest of the cast, but not by much. Before
Allison Janney, Richard Schiff, John Spencer and Bradley Whitford threatened to walk off
the show and had their salaries doubled to $70,000 per episode.
Giving Up Series is a bad political move
So Rob Lowe is leaving NBC's "The West Wing" because he feels he hasn't
attention and compensation, and is too big a star to continue wasting his talents as part of a
TV series ensemble.
By making this move, he's following in some big footsteps.
The footsteps, for example, of McLean Stevenson, Shelley Long and David Caruso.
In other words, it's not only a bold move — it's a very stupid one.
Caruso, who's returning this fall to what is all but certain to be a successful
in "CSI: Miami," took a decade to bounce back after leaving "NYPD Blue" petulantly and
prematurely. Long has yet to recover, and Stevenson never will — he died in 1996.
What they all failed to recognize, is what Lowe is failing to recognize
right now: They are
not indispensable. And that being on so well-received a TV series is a rare occurrence to be
cherished, not dismissed.
Lowe made the mistake, from the start, of envisioning "The West Wing" as
his show, the
story of White House aide Sam Seaborn. Even if it was sold to him that way and he was
paid accordingly, that's not what came out in the script or on the screen.
Lowe's Seaborn was one among many — and every one of the many was worthy of interest.
The Emmy nominations, announced last week, bear this out. Not only is Lowe
standout — he's one of the only cast members without a shot at a trophy and just about
the only male "West Wing" cast member not noted by his voting peers.
Actually, about the only cast member, period: All totaled, a dozen people
from "The West
Wing" are up for acting awards this year. How can Lowe envision himself as the star of that
show when, by the Emmy standards, he doesn't even make the Top 10?
But it's more than just that. Before "The West Wing," Lowe was more a punch
line than a
respected actor. Martin Sheen may have gotten arrested in lots of liberal-activist protests,
but he never sang to Snow White on the Oscars, or had an even more embarrassing
home-video image get caught on tape.
"West Wing," with the role of Sam Seaborn and the words of series creator
gave Lowe respectability. Lowe responded impressively and it's only the vagaries of the
story lines this season that kept his character from pulling equal weight. He landed in a
great show, and got the chance to do career-highlight work as a result.
So why leave? In Hollywood, it's short-sighted and foolish to think the
grass is always
greener. In most cases, the adjacent plots contain nothing but weeds. If you're a member of
one of the best TV shows of the decade — whether it's "M*A*S*H," "Cheers," "NYPD
Blue" or "The West Wing," you don't leave it and keep getting equally worthwhile roles
unless you're both exceptionally talented and just as exceptionally lucky.
George Clooney is the exception, not the rule.
"The West Wing" will be fine without Lowe, but the reverse is by no means
as sure a thing.