'West Wing' tackles hot topics

Pardon theme unintentionally timely on NBC series

Actor Rob Lowe likes to think that the writers on NBC's "West Wing" got lucky when they crafted a story that involves espionage and presidential pardons.

In the episode at 8 p.m. today, Lowe's character, deputy communications director Sam Seaborn, is asked by staff member Donna Moss (Janel Moloney) to consider backing an executive pardon for her friend's grandfather, who was imprisoned for espionage in the 1940s.

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AP Photo

Martin Sheen, left, stars as President Josiah Bartlet in NBC's "The West Wing," seen here with co-stars Richard Schiff and Rob Lowe. The critically acclaimed show was planning episodes about espionage and presidential pardons when those two topics burst into the news.

The episode conveniently airs just as the controversy about pardons granted by ex-President Clinton and suspicion that former FBI Agent Robert Hanssen was a spy for the Russian KGB are dominating national news.

"It's really kismet that all of these things came together at the time we did this show," Lowe told reporters Monday.

Lowe said "West Wing" creator Aaron Sorkin wrote the script for Wednesday's show some three weeks ago, before the media scandals became worldwide news.

"At the time he wrote it, the presidential pardons were on our radar, but nobody thought the story had any legs," Lowe said. "And discovering the FBI spy last week was just a fluke."

Rather than base the episode on recent news, Lowe said that Sorkin fashioned the fiction around the sensational espionage cases that occurred during the early part of the Cold War.

Lowe plays a particularly meaty part in Wednesday's episode, something he has looked forward to during the past two seasons. "In the life of a TV series, you need an episode like this to recharge your batteries," Lowe said, "and this one is like a big softball pitch to me that I just had to take a crack at."

"West Wing" can be seen locally on channels 27 and 41.

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