Political drama shows are fairly common these days. This wasn’t the case in the 90s.
In that era, only two genres were thriving in broadcast television: comedy and crime. But then, in 1999, Aaron Sorkin created something new called “The West Wing,” and it became one of the biggest shows in television history.
Aaron Sorkin once said he takes pride in the fact that West Wing served as an inspiration for so many successful political dramas. Still, he also believes that if he had made it for one of today’s streaming platforms, the show would have been an even bigger hit.
Rob Lowe, arguably the most famous cast member of the show, disagreed with Sorkin. He said it was unique at the time. However, today, it would have been just one of many political thriller shows.
The West Wing
When the award-winning series West Wing first aired in 1999, the makers were prepared for it to get axed after the first season, as it was just a series about staffers at the White House.
But as it turned out, the audience loved to know about American politics and what goes on in The West Wing.
Although it was all fictional, professional journalists and White House ex-staffers said the show captured its real essence.
It was an extremely engaging plotline from the first episode when Josiah Bartlet was already chosen as the US president and created a team of his confidants.
Each worker has a significant job to do, and it’s their mission to get the job done while there is chaos around them. That, in essence, makes the series worth watching.
One of the big reasons behind the show’s success was its critically acclaimed cast.
When the actors got the roles, they weren’t huge names except for Rob Lowe, who had been a teen heartthrob since the 80s.
Throughout the series, its entire cast became household names in Hollywood, and many even got Emmy for their spectacular performance on the show. John Spencer (Leo McGarry) played the chief of staff, Bradley Whitford (Josh Lyman) was his deputy, Allison Janney (C.J. Cregg) was The White House press secretary, Richard Schiff (Toby Ziegler) was the communications director, and Rob Lowe (Sam Seaborn) was his deputy.
Rob’s Character “Sam Seaborn”
Rob Lowe was the only name people were familiar with when the show first aired. Although he wasn’t playing the President, he was the key staff member in the first couple of episodes.
He was even nominated for Emmy in the leading actor category for playing a central character in the first season.
Initially, Sam Seaborn’s character was the heart of the show. He was that idealist, bright and young worker who believed in serving the country.
Sam had morals, and he liked to stick to them. He wrote exceptionally good speeches for the President and was often more than a key campaign advisor. He provided input on many political matters.
He was the ultimate perfectionist who couldn’t even send a birthday wish without rewriting it multiple times. Rob played Sam as a charming, headstrong, and loveable guy. Political dramas like The West Wing tend to be bleak, and it was actor Lowe’s beloved character Sam Seaborn that kept it light-hearted at times.
When Rob Lowe was asked how he would have played the character if the show was released today, he said he would make it wittier. Rob liked the idea of making the show more comedic as he thought Sam had some great one-liners.
He felt this would have worked great with the American audience. At the beginning of the first season, Sam truly was the main guy, but his character became a part of the ensemble cast as the series progressed.
After the first season ended, Martin Sheen got the most praise and accolades for his portrayal of the President.
Reason For Rob’s Departure
Fans of the show were heartbroken to learn that he won’t be a part of it after the fourth season. The show was highly successful, and his character was popular. Nobody understood why he would want to leave that. Many media outlets eventually reported that it happened due to disagreement over pay issues.
When the cast was first finalized for the show, they all decided to take the pay cut except for Rob, who stuck to his regular fees. Then after the series became huge, they all demanded to be paid higher, or they walk out. Because of this, the network had no choice but to agree to their demands.
Around the last season, Rob was being paid $70,000 per episode, but his fellow cast member Martin Sheen was earning four times higher than this.
In four years, a lot of things changed. Everyone else became a bigger star with the West Wing except for Rob. While the rest of the cast members were winning Golden Globe and Emmy for their excellent portrayal, Lowe’s character was getting less and less screen time.
He felt that he was getting overshadowed by everyone else and decided to quit while his character still had some significance.
When he left, he showed extreme gratitude to everyone who let him create his magic as Sam Seaborn:
“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. Television 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.”
NBC and Warner Brothers Television also released a statement that thanked Lowe for his numerous contributions to make the series a success and wished him luck for his future endeavors.
Rob Lowe’s Illustrious Career After The West Wing
Recently on a panel, Rob was asked if he ever regretted leaving the show, and he replied, “Never.” He believed everything worked out well for him. Soon after his departure, Aaron Sorkin also left the show, and for Rob, that proved that he made the right choice.
For him, West Wing was all about Aaron Sorkin and his brilliant idea. Rob has always shared nothing but positive anecdotes about his time on the series despite his decision to quit. He even proved that there was no malice when he appeared in the show’s finale.
The good thing about Sam’s exit was, it got its own proper storyline. He didn’t leave the show abruptly as many TV characters had in the past. In the fourth season of The West Wing, Seaborn made his mind to run for Congress for a special election.
He intended to replace a deceased democratic candidate who had won the election in his hometown Orange County, California.
With that, Sam got busy preparing for his own campaign and smoothly left the West Wing behind.
Since saying goodbye to The West Wing, Rob became a part of many memorable shows like Brothers and Sisters. He eventually returned to NBC to work on another iconic hit show, “Park And Recreation.”
Today he says that he would totally be on board with the idea of a “West Wing” reboot.