Kevin O'Keeffe: I guess I'm puzzled as to why "consistently featured" is a good thing, and "core part of its personality" is a whole thing I'll get into later. But on the first: I can think of plenty of characters who are a big part of shows I like who I don't personally enjoy or think are well-written. That's not inherently good. The Josh Lyman I remember watching is loud and immature, and his attitude towards women – including and especially his treatment of his assistant Donna – is pretty terrible. He treats women about as well as Will McAvoy on The Newsroom does, but the defense seems to be "but it's Josh! Josh is great!" My question to you, then, is this: why is he great?
DS: I think the show is always pretty up-front about Josh being a flawed person, as it is about all of the central characters. Sam is idealistic and a perfectionist, Toby is unwilling to compromise on all of his bedrock principles, Josh is arrogant beyond belief. They're all unable to concede when they aren't right, especially in those great early seasons, when we watch their idealistic crusades run into brick walls of red tape and politiciking. Basically, I get that you think Josh is annoying, but I don't think he's terribly written, he's just the kind of blustery smart-alec who gets high pretending to rule the world in Washington (and gets kicked in the pants more than anyone else as a result). I know what you mean re: Donna – especially in the early seasons, Sorkin uses their mansplainy walk-and-talks to hold the audiences' hand and have Josh explain this week's plot to us, and it makes their dynamic occasionally infuriating, though rooted in the screwball tradition Sorkin respects more than anything.
KO: Perhaps saying that he's not well-written is a bridge too far – I'll walk that back and just say I don't personally like him. Which is fine; there are characters ranked higher than him on our list that I don't like, either. I don't really enjoy Toby, for instance, but I totally get why people do. I can't say the same about Josh, to the point where all the tweets and comments we got just baffled me.
One person asked if I had stolen Bradley Whitford's girlfriend, a ridiculous tweet both because I am incredibly, pridefully gay and because it's as if there was no other reason why I wouldn't like several members of the thriving, diverse ensemble of The West Wing more than him. What do you think? Do you think Josh is so central to The West Wing that he must have been higher?
DS: I do think that the intensity of Josh fandom is kind of amusing, particularly as the show always poked fun at that concept internally. Josh is modeled on George Stephanopoulos, the Clinton administration staffer who became a cute-guy celebrity (remember that early Friends episode lionizing him?), and the other characters are always mocking his fat-headedness over the screaming young fans. In a cast that's slightly on the stodgier side, Josh is a bit of a cad and figures into two central romances (with Donna, later Amy, then Donna again) that provide a bit of relief from the political storylines. That has to be part of his appeal. For me, his appeal lies more in his long arc on the show, which feels the most complete to me (alongside CJ's). Yes, he starts out an annoyingly self-posessed master of the universe type, but by the end of the show, he's forged into a more mature (if occasionally high-strung) leader by the Santos campaign. Along with CJ, he's really the only character who is consistently a lead on the show, but more importantly they actually find a way to mature him believably, which is especially impressive given the show's creative muddle after Sorkin departs.