Producers leaving 'West Wing'

Thursday, May 1, 2003

— Aaron Sorkin, creator of the Emmy-winning White House drama "The West Wing," is leaving the series after this season, he said Thursday.

Sorkin, who was involved in writing most of the scripts for the NBC series, also served as executive producer. Thomas Schlamme, another executive producer and the principal director, also is leaving.

The show will continue with John Wells, the series' other executive producer, in charge. Wells also produces NBC's "ER" and "Third Watch."

There had been reports of tension between Sorkin and the studio that produces the show, Warner Bros. Television. He reportedly had been cautioned about budgets and production delays.

"This has been the experience of any writer's dreams," Sorkin said in a statement. "I had the best job in show business for four years and I'll never forget that."

Schlamme and Sorkin said they would pursue other film, television and theater projects. They will remain "the two biggest fans of 'The West Wing,'" according to their statement.

Their work was lauded by the studio and NBC.

"Aaron Sorkin and Tommy Schlamme have done an extraordinary job in their four years at the helm of 'The West Wing,'" said NBC entertainment chief Jeff Zucker and Warner Bros. Television President Peter Roth.

"The West Wing" won its third consecutive best drama trophy at last year's Emmy Awards. Sorkin has won an Emmy for writing for the series, while Schlamme has won two Emmys for directing.

The drama, which last season was the 10th-ranked prime time program, has fallen in the ratings and is No. 23 as the current season nears its end. Competition from ABC's reality series "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette" helped siphon off viewers, especially younger ones favored by advertisers.

In an odd bit of timing, the departures of Sorkin and Schlamme were not the only ones announced this week for "The West Wing." On the episode that aired Wednesday, the vice president (Tim Matheson) decided to resign after it was revealed he had leaked classified information to a lover.

Sorkin, 41, went through difficult personal times during his work on "The West Wing," which stars Martin Sheen as fictional President Josiah Bartlet. In 2001, Sorkin was arrested for possession of cocaine and hallucinogenic mushrooms and ordered to enter a treatment program. The charges were dismissed after he completed the program.

Wells, whose production company, John Wells Productions, co-produces "The West Wing" with Warner Bros. Television, has been asked by Warner to take a "more active role" next season, the studio said.