This article describes a work or element of fiction in a primarily in-universe style. (November 2020)
|The West Wing character|
|Created by||Aaron Sorkin|
|Portrayed by||Rob Lowe|
|Nickname||Princeton (Secret Service code name), Schmutzy Pants (by CJ)|
|Occupation||Deputy White House Communications Director (seasons 1-4)|
Deputy White House Chief of Staff (last episode of season 7)
|Spouse||an ex-fiancée - Lisa Sherborne|
Samuel Norman Seaborn is a fictional character portrayed by Rob Lowe on the television serial drama The West Wing. He is Deputy White House Communications Director in the Josiah Bartlet administration throughout the first four seasons of the series.
The show was designed with Sam as the main character, and as such he is the protagonist of the pilot episode and remains a focal point and lens for the show through at least the first season. However, by the time of his departure, his significance in the plot had decreased as the show started to focus more on the President's ability to govern despite obstacles such as his previously undisclosed multiple sclerosis, his campaign for re-election, and an increased focus on foreign policy and terrorism.
Creation and development
The role of Sam Seaborn was initially offered to actor Bradley Whitford, who had auditioned for the part of Josh Lyman. However, Whitford wanted and was eventually given the role of Josh, and the part of Sam went to Rob Lowe, whose audition, said show creator Aaron Sorkin, "left our jaws on the floor".
Sam's inept performance as a White House tour guide in the pilot episode may have been inspired by former Clinton press secretary Joe Lockhart, who told the Chicago Tribune that despite having to give tours on a regular basis, he did not know whether the Roosevelt Room was named after Franklin or Teddy Roosevelt, saying, "I haven't gotten caught yet, but I've made up a few things." (It is actually named after both Roosevelts.)
When the show premiered, Seaborn was considered the lead, and the pilot centered on the character. But the acclaimed cast of the show—including Allison Janney, Richard Schiff, Dulé Hill, John Spencer, Whitford, and Martin Sheen (whose role as President was initially scripted as a small role) and Stockard Channing (whose First Lady was initially scripted as a guest role)— were all strong actors and eventually Lowe's character was no longer the lead. Lowe and series creator Aaron Sorkin soon found themselves at odds over the network's meddling with the show, most notably the network demanding changes in the Sam Seaborn character. Eventually, Lowe left the series.
Lowe's performance as Seaborn received a Emmy nomination , two Golden Globes nominations, three Screen Actors Guild Awards nominations and a Satellite Award win.
Early life and education
Sam grew up in Laguna Beach, California. He makes a reference to going to Dungeons and Dragons camp when he was younger in the episode "The Two Bartlets". Sam graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University and Duke University School of Law. He makes repeated references to his alma mater, especially in the earlier seasons, indicating a certain pride in his attendance there. "Princeton" is his Secret Service code name, and he mentions being the recording secretary of the Princeton Gilbert and Sullivan Society. He can speak Spanish, as seen in Season 3 episode "Ways and Means".
It is hinted in several episode that Sam has a difficult relationship with his father and that they do not speak regularly.
Career prior to the White House
Sam was a staffer for several congressmen and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He was also a practicing lawyer, working at the law firm of Dewey Ballantine in New York City before joining the fictional Gage Whitney Pace (aka "Gage Whitney"), reputedly the second biggest law firm in New York City. Sam worked there for seven years and was concentrating on helping an oil company with a deal that would protect them from litigation in the event of an oil spill when his old friend Josh Lyman comes to visit him. Josh is running John Hoynes' presidential campaign and comes to try to recruit Sam as a speechwriter. Sam declines, explaining that he is about to be made partner and is getting married soon (the engagement later fell through). Sam returns to work but, feeling guilty about the deal he is making, begins trying to convince the oil company to buy newer, better tankers than the ones they want, unleashing the wrath of his boss and jeopardizing his promotion to partner. In the midst of this, Josh returns from a trip to New Hampshire during which he has seen Hoynes' dark-horse challenger, Jed Bartlet, speak to a small audience of voters. Josh has been sufficiently inspired to abandon Hoynes' campaign and go work for Bartlet, which in turn convinces Sam to do the same. Sam becomes part of the talented team of staffers who help Bartlet to a very unlikely victory in 1998.
Sam's tragically flawed romantic relationships are something of a theme of the series with Josh once describing Sam's love life as "a moveable feast". After joining the campaign, Sam broke up with his fiancée, Lisa Sherborne, whom he was planning to marry in September of that year (the joke was that they broke up so that her name wouldn't become Lisa Sherborne Seaborn). Sam's other romantic relationships include a high-priced call girl named Laurie, played by Lisa Edelstein (with whom he slept without knowledge of her profession), and Leo McGarry's daughter, Mallory O'Brien, a fourth-grade teacher — a relationship Leo jokingly tries to sabotage, telling Sam, "I don't mind you dating my 'only' daughter, but you can't expect me not to have some fun along the way."
Sam's trademark — both his greatest strength and greatest flaw — is his unflinching idealism. His unwavering faith in and love for the American political process and the positive impact that government can have in its citizens' lives define his character. Sam believes in doing the right thing simply because it is right, even when the consequences might be politically disastrous. This often causes him to clash with the other members of the senior staff, who tend to be more practical when approaching political problems. Occasionally Sam's idealism and faith in people are disappointed, to which he reacts very strongly. In the second-season episode "Somebody's Going to Emergency, Somebody's Going to Jail", Sam finds out that his father has been having a 28-year affair while married to his mother, a revelation that deeply shakes his sense of what he can and cannot count on. This feeling is reinforced by his discovery that a White House staffer convicted of treason during the Cold War, who Sam has always believed was innocent, actually had been a spy.
Another trademark of Sam is his ability as a speechwriter. He is an extremely talented writer, one of the very few people Toby recognizes as an equal in his field. Sam is seen in many episodes to rewrite speeches over and over, unwilling to put words in the President's mouth that he isn't completely satisfied with. After a pipe bomb explodes at a university in "20 Hours in America, Part II", killing 44 people, including three swimmers, Bartlet gives a speech, written by Sam, that includes the following:
More than any time in recent history, America's destiny is not of our own choosing. We did not seek nor did we provoke an assault on our freedoms and our way of life. We did not expect nor did we invite a confrontation with evil. Yet the true measure of a people's strength is how they rise to master that moment when it does arrive. Forty-four people were killed a couple of hours ago at Kennison State University; three swimmers from the men's team were killed and two others are in critical condition; when after having heard the explosion from their practice facility they ran into the fire to help get people out ... ran into the fire. The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels tonight. They're our students and our teachers and our parents and our friends. The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels, but every time we think we have measured our capacity to meet a challenge, we look up and we're reminded that that capacity may well be limitless. This is a time for American heroes. We will do what is hard. We will achieve what is great. This is a time for American heroes and we reach for the stars. God bless their memory, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America."
Bartlet campaign advisor Bruno Gianelli asks Sam when he wrote the last part. He replies, "in the car", which prompts the response, "Freak".
After the election, Sam becomes Deputy White House Communications Director in the Bartlet Administration, often collaborating with White House Communications Director Toby Ziegler to write the President's most important public addresses, most notably States of the Union and his first inaugural address.
In an episode in the third season, Sam is awed by President Bartlet's foresight and wisdom when resolving an apparent impasse among the Chinese, the Taiwanese and the United States. President Bartlet predicts that Sam will run for President someday and should not be scared; Bartlet believes that he can do it.
Run for Congress
During the fourth season, Sam decides to run for Congress in his home district — the California 47th in Orange County, California — in a special election held after deceased Democratic candidate Horton Wilde posthumously makes history by defeating arch-conservative Republican incumbent Chuck Webb. Sam first becomes familiar with the congressional race when he is sent to talk to Wilde's campaign manager, Will Bailey, on behalf of the Democratic Party, to convince him to drop the campaign. Will continues running the campaign with earnestness and energy after Wilde died, an act that is seen as bizarre and pointless — or, as Sam puts it to him, "a national joke". After seeing firsthand how dedicated Will is and realizing that he is a public servant in the mold of Bartlet's own senior staff, Sam becomes impressed with how he ran Wilde's campaign and offers his own name as a replacement candidate for election night in case Wilde wins, not thinking he will have to honor the promise. When Wilde does win, Sam decides not to back out but to use this opportunity to promote a truly liberal agenda in the traditionally conservative district. He goes to California with the blessing of Bartlet and his fellow White House staffers. Once he learns that Will Bailey is not going to stay on to manage his campaign, he recommends him as a temporary replacement for himself in the White House, to help Toby write Bartlet's second inaugural address.
Sam is expected to lose in a landslide. President Bartlet goes to California to lend his support, taking with him Sam's friends on the senior staff, who believe campaign manager Scott Holcomb is wasting Sam's time by having him run a safe, timid campaign. In the midst of the visit, Sam learns that Bartlet is putting off announcing the Democratic tax plan Sam himself had helped design, so that Sam won't feel pressured to support it and further stigmatize himself during the election. Sam is appalled and decides to put things right. While introducing the President at a campaign event, he adds that the audience shouldn't "let him off this stage" until he has announced the tax plan. Backstage, Bartlet watches Scott Holcomb react with distress and asks why he is running Sam's campaign the way he is. Holcomb admits that he is anticipating Sam's loss and trying to smooth the way for a less divisive candidate the next time around, prompting Bartlet to (unofficially) fire him and get Toby to take over the campaign for the final weeks. Toby runs a thoroughly honest and liberal campaign, not until the very end of which does Sam realize, "I'm going to lose". Toby confirms it, explaining, "They're going to throw rocks at you next week, and I wanted to be standing next to you when they did." They hug, and this is the last scene in which Sam appears until the end of the final season of the series.
When Sam does reappear, it is implied that Sam lost the election to Congressman Webb, and then declined the promotion to Senior Counselor to the President that had been suggested by Toby. Instead, he quit politics, remained in his home state of California, and joined an unnamed law firm in Los Angeles which pays him a salary that would "make [Josh] puke".
Return to the White House
Although Sam is mentioned occasionally following his departure — most notably calling Josh to tell him to "roll with the punches" after the latter unwittingly caused the defection of a Democratic Senator — he is not seen in the series until the last episodes of the seventh and final season, following the election of Congressman Matt Santos as President.
In a development reminiscent of his recruitment of Sam into Josiah Bartlet's campaign for the presidency eight years earlier(Ep 23), Josh Lyman (now Chief of Staff-designate in the incoming Santos Administration) flies to Los Angeles on a same day round trip to offer Sam the post of Deputy White House Chief of Staff. Although initially hesitant because he is again engaged, Sam ultimately agrees as he later sees that Santos is part of a bright future for the country. Sam accepts on the condition that Josh take a vacation after witnessing the toll of post-election stress, insisting that Josh will need to be at his best when helping govern the country.
- Sassone, Bob (May 7, 2006). A look back at The West Wing: Entertainment Weekly in 60 seconds. TV Squad. Retrieved on December 15, 2007.
- Sorkin, Aaron (2002). The West Wing Script Book. New York: Newmarket Press. ISBN 1-55704-499-6
- Topping, Keith (2002). An Unofficial and Unauthorized Guide to The West Wing: Inside the Bartlet White House. London: Virgin Books Ltd.