Rob Lowe feels differently about The West Wing than the show’s fans.
The actor originated the character of Sam Seaborn, the Bartlet administration’s deputy communications director, on the very first episode of the show, but he ended up leaving the acclaimed political drama by the fourth season. The final three seasons that aired before the show signed off in 2006 just weren’t the same, after his character transitioned into becoming a politician himself.
On Wednesday’s episode of Stitcher Studios’ podcast Podcrushed, Lowe was asked about his departure, and he summarized it this way: “I walked away from the most popular girl at school, but I also knew that it was a super unhealthy relationship, and it was the best thing I ever did.”
The unofficial story when Lowe left, as reported by Daily Varietyh, was that he was doing so because he couldn’t get the salary that he wanted. The publication said Lowe, who was initially the biggest name in the cast, began the show earning $75,000 per episode. The others in the ensemble were given raises to about that same level as the show progressed. Except, of course, for Martin Sheen, who played the president, who hadn’t been expected to be a character in the first place; e was reportedly earning $300,000 per episode by then. Already an alum of movies such as Apocalypse Now and Wall Street, Sheen was the father of Lowe’s childhood friends Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen, and he went as far as publicly pleading for Lowe to stay.
“He’s terrific in the show,” Sheen told Access Hollywood via Entertainment Weekly. “I don’t think he has ever been better in anything else, frankly. Are you listening Rob?”
His plea didn’t work.
When Lowe did leave, he issued a statement on why Seaborn would be written out.
“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,” he said, per CNN. “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. We were a part of television history and I will never forget it.”
Meanwhile, the companies behind the show, Warner Brothers Television and John Wells Productions, said of Lowe, “We appreciate his numerous contributions to the success of the series and wish him all the best in his future endeavors.”
As Lowe explained to Podcrushed hosts Pen Badgley, Nava Kavelin and Sophie Ansari, his decision had boiled down to one thing.
“I felt very undervalued,” said Lowe, the author of 2012’s Stories I Only Tell My Friends. “Whenever I talk to actors who complain about, you know, their relationships on their shows, it happens. It happens in any workplace. You could be in an environment where people sandbag you, want to see you fail, don’t appreciate you, whatever it is and whenever I share my stories, people are like, ‘I will never share my own stories again.’ They would make your hair stand up and there’s some of them I wrote. I shared some of them in my book, but I purposely didn’t share half of the other ones because it would make the people involved look so bad that I didn’t want to do it to them.
“So, I did not have a good experience. Tried to make it work and tried to make it work and tried to make it work and then what happened was my kids were getting to a certain age where I could see them having first girlfriends or friends and being in a relationship that was abusive and taking it,” said Lowe, the father of sons John Owen, a 27-year-old actor, and venture capitalist Matthew, 29. “She’s the popular girl, everybody likes her, she’s beautiful, it must be great. All the things that people would say about making The West Wing to me. It’s so popular, it’s so amazing, it must be amazing, but I know what it’s like and if I couldn’t walk away from it, then how could I empower my kids to walk away from it?”
Still, the TV star memorably returned to the White House drama in the final season, as his character accepted the role of deputy chief of staff for the incoming administration.
Lowe himself went on to costar in TV shows such as Brothers and Sisters, Parks and Recreation, The Grinder, Code Black, 9-1-1: Lone Star and this year’s Netflix series Unstable, in which he appears with his son.
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