Saturday, March 31, 2012

Goodbye, Sam Seaborn! :(

I was just looking through the cast list of The West Wing on IMDB when I saw that Rob Lowe was only in 82 episodes, instead of 154 like the rest of the main cast.

Seasons 1-4 main cast

I was determined to avoid reading any stories on the issue, so I don't spoil the storyline to myself. But curiosity got the better of me, and I started reading articles that enlightened me to what happened.

Sam Seaborn

I love, and miss, their friendship
I found out that Sam Seaborn was to leave the White House in the middle of season 4. Now, I'm not a big fan of Rob Lowe – from the few interviews of him that I've seen, he seems a little douchey – but I do love Sam Seaborn. He's my second favorite character on the show (after Josh Lyman, of course). Sam is funny, really good at what he does, and pretty hot. Let's face it, as amazing as the cast is, Rob Lowe was the one bringing sex appeal to the show.

I also enjoyed Sam's friendship with Josh. Out of the senior staff gang – Sam, Josh, Toby, and CJ – only those two seemed to have a genuine friendship. Or at least they have one that I enjoyed watching. They have a similar sense of humor but very different personalities, which made them believable and interesting. The show established that, like Sam and Josh, Toby and CJ had known each other prior to joining the "Bartlet for America" campaign. However, Sam and Josh appeared to be closer friends, and throughout the show we see glimpses of their relationship akin to one of brothers.

Also, when these two are left alone with each other, things like this might happen:

Side note: in the episode "Hartfield's Landing" (3x15), President Bartlet tapped Sam to be a future president. To be more accurate, Bartlet said that Sam would "run for President one day" and that he "could do it" – which I take it to mean that Bartlet believes Sam would be elected. I find this interesting, that out of his senior staff, he picked Sam to be the one future-President. I never thought about it before, because I didn't think that Sam was the President type; but I could see it from then on. Sam Seaborn for President, with Josh Lyman as his Chief of Staff; Josh seems to be the guy who'd be pulling the strings behind the scenes. Headcanon: this happens in the future.

So what happened?

When the show started, Rob Lowe was tapped to be the lead actor, and that Sam Seaborn would be the main character of the show. It makes sense, since, as I mentioned, he has the sex appeal to attract an audience, and that the was probably the most famous out of the main ensemble (with Bradley Whitford, Allison Janney, Richard Schiff, and John Spencer – Martin Sheen's President Jed Bartlet was meant to be a much more minor role). But the rest of the cast quickly gained popularity, and that granted them more screen time than originally intended.

I can understand Lowe's frustration. Sam was supposed to have a much more central role on the show. He was cast as a lead actor, while the rest of the ensemble were supporting actors. "Lowe receives first billing, with others following alphabetically before the 'and Martin Sheen' tag" (source). The pilot showed that the show meant to center around Sam's character. But the increase in role and screen time of the rest of the ensemble means that Sam had to be demoted from his lead character position. Throughout the season, Sam was featured less and less, and his stories initiated at the beginning of the show that, in my opinion, would have been interesting, were dropped.

Lowe's popularity also meant that he received a much higher pay than the rest of the ensemble. But after the success of the first two seasons, and fueled by the fact that they're playing a relatively big roles in the show, Whitford, Janney, Schiff, and Spencer banded together in renegotiating their contracts that earned them a big raise. Lowe became increasingly frustrated and asked for a sizable raise himself; but his co-stars' popularity "ultimately marginalized Lowe, making him expendable enough for the producers to take a hard line. So Lowe opted to leave, with Sorkin agreeing over the summer to write him out by March."

His choice to leave is understandable, but it's really a shame when these things happen. Especially on such a great show and to such a great character.

More shakedown

Executive producers Aaron Sorkin, who wrote almost every episode of seasons 1-4, and Thomas Schlamme also left the show at the end of season 4, due to "internal conflicts with Warner Bros." This means that fellow executive producer John Wells is thrusted into the role of sole executive producer and showrunner.

Knowing this, watching season 4 of The West Wing felt almost like watching the end of David Tennant's run on Doctor Who. Not that my affection for Rob Lowe/Sam Seaborn is anywhere close to how I felt for David Tennant/the Tenth Doctor; but added with Sorkin and Schlamme leaving, I do have the feeling that the whole show would change, as Steven Moffat/Matt Smith's arrival on Doctor Who had done.