Pressure Felt In "West Wing".........

John A. Quayle blueoval at SGI.NET
Sun May 4 01:21:56 MDT 2003

Political intrigue suspected as man who created 'West Wing' resigns

By Andrew Gumbel in Los Angeles

03 May 2003

The West Wing, American television's fly-on-the-wall look at the drama of 
running the most powerful country in the world, looked unlikely to survive 
much beyond its first four-year term yesterday after the series' creator 
and writer, Aaron Sorkin, said he was quitting.

Mr Sorkin has written just about every word of every script since the show 
began back in the Clinton era, raising questions about who exactly might be 
able to replace him. His departure, and that of the programme's director 
and executive producer, Thomas Schlamme, follows a season of falling 
ratings, cost overruns and some unwelcome heat about the suitability of the 
fictional President Josiah Bartlet's liberal politics at a time when the 
real-life White House is one of the most right-wing ever.

Mr Sorkin's parting statement was upbeat, describing The West Wing as "the 
experience of any writer's dreams". He added: "I had the best job in show 
business for four years, and I'll never forget that."

It has been little secret, however, that tensions have been rising between 
Mr Sorkin and the network that produces the show, NBC. The two sides had an 
awkward meeting recently to discuss Mr Sorkin's habit of turning in his 
scripts perilously late – unnerving the actors and greatly increasing the 
cost of each episode.

Going up against popular reality programmes such as ABC's dating 
extravaganza The Bachelor and CBS's talent show American Idol, The West 
Wing has lost 22 per cent of its audience this season. The plotlines have 
become more extravagant – a technical fault aboard Air Force One, 
kidnappings, and so on – in a way that has lost the show some of its 
critical acclaim without luring more viewers.

The Hollywood rumour mill has worked overtime to figure out the problem. Mr 
Sorkin is exhausted, some say. His politics have become unwelcome, say 
others. NBC is nervous about the heat it has taken for the off-screen 
political campaigning by the show's star, Martin Sheen, say yet others.

There is probably some truth in all the rumours. One associate of Mr Sorkin 
told Variety: "He's said all he wanted to with this show." The 
entertainment daily also reported that NBC was threatening to curb Mr 
Sorkin's script independence to make the show be driven more by character 
than by politics.

Officially, at least, this is far from the end of the road. Earlier this 
year, NBC signed up for two more seasons of the show, with an option on a 
third. It agreed to pay three times the previous licensing fee – now up to 
around $6.5m (£4m) an episode – although industry insiders believe the 
figure could have been higher still if the ratings had stayed buoyant.

The show will now be taken over by John Wells, currently the number three 
at The West Wing. Mr Wells is one of the most accomplished producers in the 
business – ER is his most successful baby to date – with a record of 
delivering shows on time and under budget. NBC may decide, however, to 
downgrade the show from its Wednesday evening slot to 10pm on Sunday 
nights, the first sign that the show is on its way out.

Mr Wells acknowledged that Mr Sorkin and Mr Schlamme were "irreplaceable" 
and would be "sorely missed". "Sadly, we always knew this day would come," 
he said, "and have been assembling a talented group of writers, directors 
and producers to assist in this transition." Translation: enter the B-team.

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