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On the West Wing, all the president's support staff (Leo, Toby, CJ, Josh) have assistants. Josh Lyman's assistant Donna Moss has the most screen time and is the only one who is listed in the opening credits as a full cast member.

Why?

Was it something about the actress? Or the character's position in the West Wing?

  • Trivia: Janel Moloney was already known to Aaron Sorkin having had a brief appearance in his other show Sports Night (cancelled the year before). – Paulie_D Sep 1 '16 at 10:20
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Because the producers saw the potential for a "will they, won't they"-relationship. Quoting Wikipedia:

The chemistry between Janel Moloney and Bradley Whitford, who portrayed Josh Lyman, caught producers' attention early in the series. After seeing Moloney and Whitford perform together in the pilot, Aaron Sorkin added a scene in which Donna argues with Josh to change his shirt before attending a meeting, eventually convincing him by saying, "All the girls think you look really hot in this shirt". Although Mandy Hampton was originally intended to be Josh's romantic interest, by the end of the show's first season the character was written out and the role taken over by Donna.

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    Yep, it was that thing that sometimes happens on TV shows. The unexpected actors just having such good chemistry together that they end up being the better 'possible couple' than the one the writers originally intended. – Zessa Sep 1 '16 at 13:40
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To me, Donna served as a representative for the average, outside-the-Beltway person on the show. She was a mechanism by which complicated or obscure information that would be known to the other characters could be discussed (and therefore explained to the viewer in plain English). Closely related to that, she was also often the voice of "everyman", questioning the impact of high-minded policies.

The romantic tension between her and Josh was also a great and subtle addition to the overall story.

  • I get that, but any/all of that exposition could have included the rest of the assistants too. – miltonaut Sep 2 '16 at 2:05
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    @miltonaut Sure but it made sense to develop a particular character for this, give them some depth, rather than spread it over a bunch of less-established characters. Note that as Donna developed more direct agency and became (to Sorkin) less suitable for such a purpose, Dulé Hill started filling in for basically the same thing. – Sneftel May 31 '18 at 17:52

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