In the latest behind-the-scenes drama involving the Warner Bros. and NBC series “The West Wing,” Rob Lowe is ankling his role as White House deputy communications director Sam Seaborn.
Barring some unforseen twist, his character will be phased out in an episode to air next March, the result of an exit stategy that has already been agreed upon by both parties.
Sources on both sides paint the pending exit as amicable but clearly, money is at the heart of it. The prime reason, said sources, is that Lowe was stung by the unwillingness of the John Wells/Aaron Sorkin show and WB to even discuss raising his per-show price of $75,000. This comes right after they tripled Martin Sheen’s salary to $300,000 per episode and last season doubled the salaries of Allison Janney, Richard Schiff, John Spencer and Bradley Whitford after a protracted salary stalemate that ended when the quartet committed to a seventh season, each getting $70,000 an episode.
That left Lowe the only cast member to not get his first season salary bumped up. The studio feels the show has evolved into Sheen’s show, surrounded by an ensemble on equal footing. Sources on the show point out that all of the stars are Emmy-nominated except Lowe, who petitioned in the lead actor category, which is TV’s toughest ticket.
They were unwilling to even open pay hike talks with Lowe’s reps, CAA and Bernie Brillstein. That left Lowe feeling hurt, after believing that his turn would come. Lowe is expected to wing his way back to features or topline another series. If he does the latter, Lowe, who got one Emmy nom and two Golden Globe nominations during his “Wing” run, will probably command a higher salary.
The show’s makeup has changed since Lowe signed on for the pilot as the regular cast’s most recognizable name. Back then, he cut a higher price quote that had been established in a previous Paramount TV deal. Sheen at the time was only supposed to serve as a diversion to the drama’s core players on the White House staff. Sheen’s participation grew while Lowe’s scenes have progressively diminished.
Sources on both sides doubted this was another salary posturing exercise, and that the show would survive his exit, even if it does come as WB is working out a new license deal with NBC.