Aaron Sorkin, gay-friendly creator of the Emmy-winning White House drama The West Wing, is leaving the series after this season, he announced 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, also is leaving.
Under Sorkin, The West Wing dealt passionately and often with gay and lesbian rights. Advocate columnist Paris Barclay frequently directed episodes, and the entire West Wing cast appeared on the cover of The Advocate. Will the series now move away from gay interests? At least the new creative team gives gay audiences reason to be optimistic: The show will continue with executive producer John Wells in charge. Wells's other series include NBC's ER, featuring Laura Innes in one of television's longest-running lesbian roles.
There had been reports of tension between Sorkin and the studio that produces the show, Warner Bros. Television. He had reportedly been cautioned about budgets and production delays. Sorkin, 41, had also gone through difficult personal times during his work on The West Wing, which stars Martin Sheen as fictional president Josiah Bartlet. In 2001, Sorkin had been arrested for possession of cocaine and hallucinogenic mushrooms and ordered to enter a drug treatment program. The charges were dismissed after he completed the program.
"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 will 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 Outstanding 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.
Wells, whose production company, John Wells Productions, coproduces The West Wing with Warner Bros. Television, has been asked by Warner to take a "more active role" next season, the studio said.
"Aaron Sorkin and Tommy Schlamme are irreplaceable," Wells said in a statement. "They will be sorely missed." A team of writers, directors, and producers has been assembled to help in the transition, he said.