September 05, 2002 11:00 AM

The rumbling is growing louder about Rob Lowe possibly remaining in his job as White House deputy communications director Sam Seaborn on NBC’s drama “The West Wing” — despite the actor’s insistence that he’ll leave the show once his contract expires in March.

But, just in case Lowe has a change of heart, “Sam Seaborn is not going to die,” series creator Aaron Sorkin tells the Associated Press. “So the door is always open.”

Sorkin, who launched the show in 1999, says an exit strategy for Lowe’s character does exist, but he’s not going to divulge what happens.

Only a week ago, Lowe, 38, told a Los Angeles TV station he wouldn’t rule out the possibility of returning to the series, despite announcing his departure from the Emmy-winning series following a reported clash over his salary. Producers refused to budge on Lowe’s $75,000-per-episode paycheck, according to published reports.

“Nothing would make me happier, but at the moment, no one has told me that anything has changed,” Lowe said during an interview with Fox station KTTV. “We’ll see.” (Lowe and producers have never publicly discussed his reasons for leaving the show.)

“It’s a difficult situation,” said Sorkin. “There’s no villain in this case, and it will be regrettable if it is portrayed that way. It’s a negotiation, and it’s a tough one.”

Just a day before Lowe’s interview, “West Wing” star Martin Sheen, 62, who plays President Bartlet on the series (and negotiated his own hefty raise), spoke to “Access Hollywood,” urging Lowe to reconsider his decision.

“He’s terrific in the show, ” Sheen said. “I don’t think he has ever been better in anything else, frankly. Are you listening, Rob?”

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