West Wing creator, writer and executive producer Aaron Sorkin is leaving the show, and executive producer Thomas Schlamme is going with him, the two said last week, taking the network by surprise.
Executive producer John Wells, whose production company has run the show from its beginning in 1999, is taking over, adding to an already heavy workload that includes ER
and Third Watch.
"This has been the experience of any writer's dreams," Sorkin said in a statement. "I had the best job in show business, and I'll never forget that."
Said Schlamme, "There has not been a day in the past four years when I've pulled up to stage 23 that I didn't feel blessed by my good fortune to have been part of this great journey. I have been constantly inspired by the enormous talent pool of men and women with whom I have shared this experience, and I am looking forward with confidence to their next chapter of this extraordinary show."
In January, NBC cut a deal with Warner Bros. for two more years of The West Wing
at a license fee of approximately $7 million an episode, with an option for a third year. But the show, entering its fifth season, has been declining in the ratings this year, particularly in its key adult 18-49 demographic, against strong competition from ABC's The Bachelor
franchise and the renewed strength of Fox's comedies gaining on American Idol's lead-in. Apparently, Sorkin's exit won't affect the pricey deal.
Sorkin has written virtually every episode of The West Wing, and show insiders have been saying for months that the effort was exhausting him, particularly because he is protective over the show and takes criticism extremely personally. Although NBC has not said publicly that it is unhappy with the show's performance, the network has been reluctant to air repeats recently, running repeats of consistent performer Law & Order
in its place.
Sources say the show has a writing staff in place that Warner Bros. and NBC hopes will be able to handle the show's complex writing duties without Sorkin. He still has one year on his deal with Warner Bros. Television, and the studio expects him to continue to develop other shows, sources said.