My Life on TV: ‘Mental Samurai’ Host Rob Lowe Reflects on His Biggest TV Roles (PHOTOS)

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A NEW KIND OF FAMILY - Rob Lowe
ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images

A New Kind Of Family (1979–80)

The series — about a widowed mom and a divorcée raising their kids together under one roof — lasted just 11 episodes. Still, Lowe is grateful he had the chance to learn from his TV mother, comic legend Eileen Brennan (Private Benjamin). “I thought I was a fully functioning, top-level actor,” says Lowe, who played eldest son Tony. “Of course, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing!”

THE WEST WING - Rob Lowe
NBCU Photo Bank

The West Wing (1999–2003, 2006)

Signing on to play earnest deputy communications director Sam Seaborn on Aaron Sorkin’s White House drama was a no-brainer. “I can’t think of any other script I’ve read where I felt that I’m the only person who can do this part right,” he says. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime project.” More than a decade later, Sorkin’s sharp dialogue (which helped earn him an Emmy nomination for lead actor in a drama in 2001) still stands out to Lowe. “What I miss more than anything,” he says, “is having that level of writing consistently.”

BROTHERS & SISTERS- Rob Lowe, Calista Flockhart
MICHAEL DESMOND/ABC

Brothers & Sisters (2006–10)

Nine episodes into the ABC drama, Lowe joined the cast as U.S. Senator Robert McCallister, a love interest for Calista Flockhart’s Kitty Walker, a headstrong daughter in a wealthy California clan. “I was an Ally McBeal fan, so it was a wish-fulfillment moment in my career,” he says. Oddly enough, so was his Season 4 scene where he slipped into a coma. “That’s the stuff you live for as an actor — to die in front of your wife!” he says. “Drama at its best.”

Parks and Recreation - Season 6

Parks And Recreation (2010–14)

Cranking his energy up to “110 percent” as endlessly positive state auditor Chris Traeger on the NBC comedy “was more exhausting than you could imagine, but so fun!” says Lowe. He’s quick to note that he rarely broke character while filming with funny costars such as Amy Poehler: “I’m not in the show’s gag reels much because I do not crack up when a camera is on me!”

Killing Kennedy - Rob Lowe, Ginnifer Goodwin
Joey L/National Geographic Channels

Killing Kennedy (2013)

Filling President John F. Kennedy’s shoes for the National Geographic biopic wasn’t the scariest part of the project. “The most fearsome moment was asking one of my best friends, Maria Shriver [Kennedy’s niece], to get her approval to play him,” he says. “I put it off and put it off and finally my wife said, ‘You need to have a conversation with her.’” Shriver said yes, which was a relief for Lowe: “I always thought I had a Kennedy performance in me.”

THE GRINDER - Rob Lowe, Fred Savage
Justin Stephens/FOX

The Grinder (2015–16)

“I am unbelievably proud of that show,” Lowe says of the acclaimed (but low-rated) Fox sitcom that earned him a Golden Globe nod. He played egocentric actor Dean, the former star of fictional TV legal drama The Grinder, who returns to his hometown and uses his TV-law knowledge to “help” his straitlaced lawyer brother (Fred Savage). “They canceled it too soon,” Lowe laments.

Code Black - Rob Lowe
Sonja Flemming/CBS via Getty Images

Code Black (2016–18)

Lowe joined the CBS medical drama in Season 2 as the compassionate Dr. Ethan Willis, an Army Medical Corps colonel. The actor relishes his time with the “dream group of actors” including Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden, and he considers the series one of TV’s finest dramas. “I don’t think you can make a better medical show,” he says.

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A&E

The Lowe Files (2017)

“I love any excuse to be with my kids,” says Lowe, who filmed this A&E reality show about creepy unsolved mysteries with sons Matthew and John Owen. Only nine episodes aired, and Lowe says fans constantly ask for more. “Maybe someday,” he says.

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Lifetime

The Bad Seed (2018)

Starring in, executive producing and, for the first time, directing the Lifetime remake of the 1956 horror film about a not-so-angelic child (McKenna Grace) took Lowe back. “I wish I had older mentors at their age so to the extent that I can do that for them is always great,” he says.

MENTAL SAMURAI - Rob Lowe
Brian Bowen Smith/FOX

Mental Samurai (2019 – )

“It’s important for me to find new things to do that are out of the box and maybe raise an eyebrow,” Lowe says of deciding to host this zany series. Speaking of crazy, did Lowe ever take a ride in the quiz show’s swinging capsule? “The first minute I saw it, I was like, ‘Let me get in this right now!’” he admits. Just another joyride to add to his thrilling career.

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You may think of Rob Lowe as a movie star — and you wouldn’t be wrong. He’s got leading man looks, perfectly coiffed hair and plenty of hit films, everything from St. Elmo’s Fire to Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.

But the 54-year-old has also been entertaining millions (including us!) with his TV work since 1979, when, at 15, he booked his first gig on the ABC sitcom A New Kind of Family. Over the past two decades, he’s starred on a network TV series nearly every single year, including fan favorites (The West Wing) and critical darlings (Parks and Recreation) while racking up Emmy and Golden Globe nominations along the way.

His latest gig: hosting and producing the Fox game show Mental Samurai, on which contestants aim to win $250,000 by answering challenging questions… if they can concentrate while being flung around the set in a rotating capsule called Ava. (Fun fact: It’s not Lowe’s first foray into game shows — he snagged the top prize during an appearance on The $10,000 Pyramid 40 years ago.)

Mental Samurai executive producer Arthur Smith said Lowe is a perfect fit as host of the show. “He’s a naturally curious person and he loves competition,” Smith said. “He’s got a very good broad-based knowledge across a lot of subjects and that makes him the perfect host. And, of course, he’s very charming!”

“If you could tell me in 1979 that I would be going on 55 and still doing this, I would have never believed it, ever,” Lowe says. In the gallery above, the versatile star looks back on some of his memorable turns.

Mental Samurai, Series Premiere, Tuesday, March 19, 9/8c, Fox