In a surprise development for The West Wing, actor Rob Lowe is quitting his role on the Emmy-winning NBC series following an apparent salary dispute with the show's producers.
NBC and Warner Bros. Television, which produces the show, announced Wednesday that the 38-year-old costar will make his exit during the upcoming fourth season--in an episode next March that both sides have agreed upon.
"We regretfully confirm that Rob Lowe will amicably depart The West Wing in March after completing 16 episodes," Warners and producer John Wells say in a joint statement. "We appreciate his numerous contributions to the success of the series and wish him all the best in his future endeavors."
Lowe, meanwhile, released his own statement saying that "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. 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," he adds. "We were a part of television history and I will never forget it."
While no official reason was cited for Lowe's exit, the issue clearly came down to money.
Earlier this month, Lowe reportedly became upset when he heard that the show's star (and President), Martin Sheen, received a hefty salary boost to $300,000 per episode, about triple what he was making previously. Lowe, meanwhile, was rebuffed by producers when he approached them about raising his current salary of $75,000 per episode.
Lowe remained the only West Wing cast member to not get a raise from his first-season salary. Last July, costars Allison Janney, John Spencer, Bradley Whitford and Richard Schiff had their salaries doubled to about $70,000 per episode after they teamed up and walked off the set for several days. The foursome eventually agreed to contracts keeping them on the series through its seventh season.
But in Lowe's case, the feeling at Warner Bros. Television, according to Variety, is that the series has changed to where it's centered primarily on Sheen--and that Lowe has joined the rest of his costars in receiving equal status in the ensemble.
When the show first debuted, Sheen and Lowe were the highest paid stars because they were the biggest names. But after three seasons and a pile of Emmys, things have changed.
Still, the news marks the second tough blow to Lowe's ego in the past week. Last Thursday, he was snubbed for a lead-acting Emmy nomination--while the rest of his costars (nine of them, to be exact) each scored nods in their respective categories. (Sheen and Janney both scored lead-acting nominations, and Stockard Channing, Janel Moloney, Mary-Louise Parker, Dulé Hill, Schiff, Spencer and Whitford each grabbed supporting nods.)
All told, The West Wing once again cleaned up at last week's Emmy nominations, scoring 22 nods, including Outstanding Drama Series.
Or was that 21? In a separate numbers dispute, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences opted not to count The West Wing's Emmy nomination for Outstanding Special Class Program for its documentary episode on the real White House as part of its overall series total. NBC and Warner Bros. Television, meanwhile, insist it was part of the show--and therefore, The West Wing received 22 nominations. So there.