Zucker: Lowe decision mutual

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NBC Entertainment president Jeff Zucker said Rob Lowe's decision to leave The West Wing late next season was a "mutual" one.

In an interview with Broadcasting & Cable, Zucker emphasized that
Lowe would continue on the show "until February, for 16 of the 22 episodes"
being produced.

"We are thrilled for him to be with us for the rest of the year, but after
that, there is mutual agreement [from Warner Bros. and Lowe] that he is moving
on," Zucker said.

A statement from John Wells Productions and Warner Bros. Television Wednesday
confirmed an original report in Variety of Lowe's impending departure,
which the magazine (co-owned with B&C) ascribed to a salary dispute.

"We regretfully confirm that Rob Lowe will amicably depart The West
in March after completing 16 episodes," the statement said. "We
appreciate his numerous contributions to the success of the series and wish him
all the best in his future endeavors."

"The West Wing is a true ensemble drama, and we are fortunate to have fine
actors that will still be at the White House," Zucker pointed out. Most of those
actors were nominated for Emmy Awards, while Lowe was not.

If past is prologue, Zucker is right in assuming that the strong ensemble cast can
carry the show. The closest parallel is another NBC/Warner Bros. show,
ER, which has seen the defection of numerous marquee characters (George
Cloooney, Sherry Stringfield, William H. Macy, Julianna Margulies) while
continuing as one of the network's top shows.