Aaron Sorkin‘s departure last week from “The West Wing” has all the hallmarks of a juicy Washington scandal.
There’s the cover-up: The party line on Sorkin’s exit is that he and helmer/exec producer Thomas Schlamme were simply ready to move on after a roller-coaster four years that saw the show rise from low-rated critical darling to mass-appeal hit — only to fall back in the ratings this season.
But other insiders see the departures as the culmination of a months-long power struggle between Sorkin and the brass at NBC and Warner Bros. TV.
There’s money: Despite his acknowledged creative genius, Sorkin has never been known for his management skills. Attempts to curb reported cost overruns, for example, fell on deaf airs.
And finally, there are questions of who’s-in-charge here: For the first three seasons of “West Wing,” Sorkin had free reign to do pretty much whatever he wanted storywise. (Hence the episode with a debate over using loans to prop up the Mexican economy.)
But with ratings falling nearly 30% this season, the powers-that-be may have tried to set some creative parameters for Sorkin. Rather than fight, Sorkin may have simply decided to move on.
While TV’s most successful shows held on to their producers throughout most of their run — think “Friends,” “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “Law & Order”– some observers think a change of administration isn’t such a bad thing.
“Watch the episodes from this season,” says one industry vet. “The show just wasn’t as good this year.”