05/02/2003 at 12:00 AM EDT
"The West Wing" is losing its staunchest defender: multiple Emmy-winning creator and writer Aaron Sorkin, who has announced he is leaving the once-powerful NBC White House drama that stars Martin Sheen as the President of the United States.
According to The New York Times, Sorkin, 41, did not cite his reasons for the decision -- though he has been unhappy with the show's increasingly restricted budgets (series regular Rob Lowe reportedly left the series because his salary would not be hiked) and slips in the ratings.
Also going out the door with Sorkin will be the drama's Emmy-winning director, Thomas Schlamme, who was credited with giving the drama its distinctive look and sense of movement.
John Wells, one of TV's most successful producers and, currently, the executive producer of "ER" and "Third Watch," will replace Sorkin.
According to reports, Sorkin personally broke the news late Thursday to shocked "West Wing" staffers, then dispatched a statement to the press confirming his decision.
"This has been the experience of any writer's dreams," Sorkin said in the statement. "I had the best job in show business for four years and I'll never forget that."
Sorkin still had another year to go on his contract, and the show was beginning to show its strength in the ratings again, although it is down nearly 4 million viewers from last season, when it attracted an average of 17.1 million fans a week. Its chief competition these days is FOX's "American Idol."