LOS ANGELES, Sept. 6 (UPI) -- Aaron Sorkin, the creator of the Emmy-winning White House drama "The West Wing," says one of the most exciting things about the show's upcoming season is that "it's no longer last season" -- when the Sept. 11 attacks challenged TV networks to launch their new shows under very difficult circumstances.
Most TV programmers were forced to re-evaluate their agendas last fall, but Sorkin said the problem was particularly acute for "The West Wing," which uses the White House as a backdrop for what is essentially a TV drama in the tradition of "L.A. Law," "Dynasty" and other shows about powerful people with personal problems.
"Pretty shortly after Sept. 11, I think we were all ready for a diversion," said Sorkin. "We were all ready to laugh. We were all ready to feel the way we felt on Sept. 10. There were a number of things in television, in movies, in music that we were eager to get back to. Fictional heroes were not one of them."
Sorkin said he sensed America did not want to tune back in to a show about make-believe heroes because it was preoccupied with watching real-life heroes respond to the attacks.
"We were 100 percent behind the real president," he said. "We had no stomach for stories about Democrats fighting Republicans. Sept. 11 was one of those rare moments when things are black and white, when there's a moral absolute."
For the rest of the 2001-02 season, Sorkin said he wasn't sure the show worked as well as it should.
"One of the most exciting things about this season is that it's no longer last season," said Sorkin. "It's a year later and when I came back to begin writing the show ... I suddenly felt comfortable in my chair again. The show felt good and fun and it felt right."
One of the most frequently asked questions in Sorkin's life these days has to do with whether Rob Lowe will return as Deputy Communications Director Sam Seaborn. Lowe has demanded a raise, to give him salary parity with Martin Sheen, who plays President Josiah Bartlet. Both were nominated for outstanding lead actor in a drama series last year, and Sheen is up for the award this year for the third consecutive time.
Sorkin said he wants Lowe to return, but the decision is out of his hands.
"My fingers are crossed that he's going to stay," said Sorkin. "But crossing fingers is all I can do at the moment."
He said he talks to Lowe every day, and the conversation is always about what can be done to keep the actor on the show. However, in the end, Sorkin said, the problem is entirely about money.
"It's a negotiation and it's a tough one," he said.
Sorkin also said he has a plan to write Seaborn out of the show if necessary, but not to kill him off.
"There is a plan in place and I'm sticking to it," he said. "Sam isn't going to die, so the door's always going to be open."
Responding to critics who thought the hastily-assembled special edition of "The West Wing" that aired a matter of weeks after Sept. 11, Sorkin said he didn't think the show was very good either. But he said that's beside the point.
"Some sort of respect had to be paid to the event that just happened," he said. "We couldn't just do a regular 'West Wing.' I don't think that it was a good episode of 'The West Wing.' I don't think it was an episode of 'The West Wing.' I don't even know if it was good television. It was well intended it was never meant to teach anything, to be preachy."
Sorkin said he was not surprised that people didn't like the episode, but he was surprised at the "volume" of the negative response.
"It felt to me like people thought I had hit them over the head and taken their money," he said. "People always want to talk to me about the commercial or public relations ramifications of the show. Frankly, I still think it's in bad taste to discuss that episode in those terms."
"The West Wing" will begin its fourth season on NBC with a 2-hour special on Sept. 25.