Big deal for ace scribe runs 4 years

HOLLYWOOD — Hot off his multiple Emmy noms for “The West Wing,” Aaron Sorkin has sealed a new $16 million deal with Warner Bros. Television.

The four-year development and production pact, which kicks in immediately, calls for Sorkin to continue as executive producer on “West Wing” while eventually developing new projects for the studio.

“In my 26 years of working in television, Aaron is amongst the most talented writers I have ever worked with,” Warner Bros. topper Peter Roth told Daily Variety.

“He makes television better,” Roth said. “That’s a gift. He understands the drama within people better than anyone I’ve ever seen.”

Sorkin’s pact is a coup for Warner Bros. Television and Roth, who convinced the scribe to reconsider his opposition to long-term deals.

“I’ve never had a deal anywhere before,” Sorkin said. “I had resisted it. Making an overall deal seemed unwriterly, somehow. It seemed to me that writers should be freelance writers.”

But Roth eventually won Sorkin over.

“My experience with Warner Bros. on ‘The West Wing’ has been as good as anyone has a right to hope for,” Sorkin said.

Roth conceded that Sorkin was ini-tially not anxious to commit to an overall deal. “He took a lot of convincing,” he said.

WBTV did not pressure Sorkin, however, and instead let Sorkin know that anytime he wanted it, he had a deal at the studio.

“We ultimately made the deal because he knew that we honor him so much as a writer,” Roth said.

WB’s scribe tribe

Sorkin joins the roster of big-name scribes who’ve inked with WBTV since Roth took over. Among the heavyweights: “Dharma & Greg” creator Chuck Lorre, “Will & Grace” impressarios Max Mutchnick and David Kohan and former “Frasier” producer Rob Greenberg .

The scribe will continue to focus on “The West Wing” this season rather than immediately diving into the development soup. The NBC drama recently picked up 18 primetime Emmy nominations — including best drama — while Sorkin took two noms for best drama writing.

“‘West Wing’ really occupies all of my time,” he said. “I like it that way. Obviously, there’s an expectation that somewhere down the road I’ll develop a new TV series.”

Sorkin said he doesn’t think that Warner Bros. expects another project from him as soon as fall 2001.

“My guess is Warner Bros. and NBC are breathing a sigh of relief that ‘Sports Night’ was canceled so I could focus 100% on ‘West Wing,'” he said. “Right now it’s really about writing the next ‘West Wing’ script.”

When he eventually does start working on that next project, Sorkin said chances are it will emulate his successful formula of either blending drama into a half-hour laffer or comedy into an hourlong drama. He also expects to continue collaborating with director Thomas Schlamme.

Other arenas open

Despite the rich new pact, Sorkin said he hasn’t turned his back on screenwriting or playwriting, where he found his first successes. The deal allows the “A Few Good Men”/”The American President” scribe to continue his extracurricular writing outside of television.

Sorkin said he was approached with feature rewrite jobs this summer, but turned them down.

“I love movies and plays, and I’m looking forward to writing more of them,” he said. “But right now I only have eyes on ‘The West Wing.'”

Sorkin’s association with Warner Bros. follows in the footsteps of his father Bernard, a New York-based copyright expert who started with the studio 40 years ago when it was Warner Bros.-7 Arts.

“The company sent me to college,” he said.

Sorkin is repped by Endeavor.

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