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Why This West Wing Lead Got Severely Underpaid

Why This West Wing Lead Got Severely Underpaid

It goes without saying that politics is a guaranteed way to cause division and arguments among our fellow human beings. However, most people can appreciate a quality political drama at the end of the day, regardless of which end of the spectrum they reside. “The West Wing” is one such drama.

Created by Aaron Sorkin (“The Trial of the Chicago 7”), “The West Wing” chronicles the fictional presidency of Josiah “Jed” Bartlet (Martin Sheen), a Democrat whose policies aren’t always the most popular among his colleagues, political opponents, or voters. On top of that, he must deal with scandals and the cutthroat reality of American politics, which presents a new set of challenges. It isn’t an easy job, but someone has to do it.

“The West Wing” features an array of strong character actors, many of whom were given high-profile roles. However, one particular star seemed destined to be the main player when it debuted on NBC back in 1999. Unfortunately, a reported financial dispute and other factors led to his exit in Season 4.

Rob Lowe was was originally a big deal on The West Wing

“The West Wing” was a comeback of sorts for Rob Lowe. The actor rose to prominence in the 1980s, only to experience some career setbacks following a well-documented scandal. While the 1990s saw Lowe host “Saturday Night Live” and appear in notable projects, such as the “Austin Powers” movies, he was no longer a bona fide leading man.

However, Aaron Sorkin’s political drama seemed primed to be a starring vehicle for Rob Lowe. His character, Sam Seaborn — a White House communications director who eventually launches his own Congress campaign — was often the story’s focal point, especially during the first season. Lowe even received some Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for his role, so it’s fair to say that he made a strong impression on viewers.

Over time, however, the series shifted focus to Jed and other characters. Lowe still had an important part to play, but his role was arguably diminished, much to Lowe’s dismay. In the statement released following his departure (per BBC), Lowe claimed that he was “grateful” for the opportunity but felt that “there was no longer a place for Sam Seaborn on The West Wing.”

Rob Lowe was reportedly underpaid on The West Wing

Rob Lowe’s aforementioned statement makes it sound like he wasn’t happy with his character’s creative direction, which may have informed his decision. As is often the case in the world of primetime television, however, there was supposedly more to the story. 

As CBR points out, Lowe was reportedly the only lead actor who didn’t earn more money as the show progressed. The other main stars doubled their salaries, while Lowe’s remained the same throughout his entire “West Wing” tenure.

According to CNN, the actor received $75,000 per episode, whereas Martin Sheen had his salary bumped to a whopping $300,000. Elsewhere, Allison Janney, Richard Schiff, John Spencer, and Bradley Whitford managed to increase their salaries to $70,000. While Lowe still reportedly earned more than most of the lead cast, he seemed to be the only person from the ensemble who wasn’t considered for a pay hike.

Rob Lowe has no regrets about leaving The West Wing

Financial disputes and creative differences can lead to bad blood between actors and their employers. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case for Rob Lowe and his colleagues on “The West Wing.” In fact, Sam made a couple of appearances in the show’s final season, giving fans some much-needed closure.

Furthermore, Lowe has no regrets about dropping out of the hit political drama when he did. In an interview with Empire, the veteran actor said that it was the right decision, especially considering the other creative changes that followed in the wake of his departure. “I had no regrets when I did it. I have even less regret now because I can’t imagine staying on the show and then, six weeks later, Aaron [Sorkin] leaving,” Lowe said.

There is some good news for fans who want to see Lowe re-enter the political realm, though. Should “The West Wing” ever be revived, Lowe would jump at the chance to reprise his old character. Per Deadline, he told BBC Radio 5 Live that he’d love to play Sam again, and he’s figured out how his character could be used in the hypothetical revival. One old episode teased Sam as a future president, and Lowe feels that him being appointed as the commander-in-chief would make for a great storyline at some point. 

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