On Thursday, Scandal will air its 100th episode. To commemorate this television feat, the cast and show creators sat down for an oral history of the show that had us all drinking red wine out of enormous glasses, eating popcorn for dinner and lusting after $10,00 white trench coats for the past five years.
The Hollywood Reporter’s Lesley Goldberg spoke to ABC executives, Kerry Washington, Tony Goldwyn, Linda Lowy, the show’s casting director, and of course, Shonda Rhimes, for a look at how Scandal grew from its modest debut on April 5, 2012 to become one of the cornerstones of the Shondaland empire. I’ve pulled some select treats from the excellent oral history Goldberg compiled, which you can read in full here.
Loosely based on real-life DC fixer Judy Smith, it was always Shonda Rhimes’s insistence that the show’s lead be a black woman.
Dungey Shonda said she felt strongly that Olivia be black. It was inspired by Judy, and she wanted to honor that.
Rhimes Nothing felt more important than the sense of outsiderness. I didn’t know that there hadn’t been a drama series with a leading black woman for 37 years. When the show got picked up [to pilot], I got a phone call from somebody who said, “This would be the perfect show for Connie Britton.” I said, “It would be, except Olivia Pope is black.”
Linda Lowy, casting director The network was reading us their top choices, and it was Connie and all white women. I panicked. Somebody finally piped up, “We’re going to have to redo this list.”
Personally, I do not see the whole Connie Britton thing, perhaps because it’s difficult to imagine anyone other than Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope. Every black actress in Hollywood was gunning for the chance to star in an ABC drama at the time of the casting. Gabrielle Union has talked about auditioning for the role and Jill Scott and Anika Noni Rose were also tested before it became clear the role belonged to Washington.
One quality of Scandal many people either love or hate is the rapid-pace dialogue. Katie Lowes, who plays Quinn Perkins, reveals that unlike most television drama scripts, which are generally about 60 pages, (the unofficial rule is about one page for every minute of the show) Scandal scripts regularly run 80 pages or longer, which is BONKERS.
McGuigan The first couple of days, Shonda kept saying, “Faster, faster,” and I was running around like crazy trying to get everything done quickly. A day or so later, she said she was talking about the dialogue speed.
As someone who watched the show since it’s inception, it’s difficult to remember a time when Rhimes didn’t own Thursday nights with a lineup of hit shows starring women. However, Scandal struggled initially with low ratings. They turned to influencers and friends like Samuel L. Jackson and John Legend to hype the show.
The entire cast would regularly live-tweet each episode, which helped turn Thursday evenings into a social media event with branded hashtags like #WhoShotFitz that helped turn the show into a phenomenon.
One of the lessons of Rhimes’s career is how not easy it is to put together diverse television casts when you and the people you hire actually give a shit. Tom Verica, who is an executive producer for Scandal, plays Sam Keating on How To Get Away With Murder, and is married to a black woman, was the one who sought out acclaimed director Ava DuVernay to direct an episode.
Tom Verica, exec producer: When I saw Ava DuVernay’s Middle of Nowhere, I wanted to know who she was — and from the moment I met her, I wanted to hire her.
Ava DuVernay, “Vermont” director: The script was insanely juicy. The fans dubbed me “Gladiava” on Twitter.
(“Vermont is For Lovers, Too” was the first time a black woman ever directed a television show that starred a black woman and was created by a black woman.)
Another hallmark of a Rhimes production is how Shonda rarely shies away from so-called “taboo” issues or representations but also tries not to beat you over the head with the lesson. Though Scandal obviously stars a black woman, the role of race in the show has always revealed itself in more subtle ways.
Morton Season three started with me telling Olivia, “You have to be twice as good to get half as much.” Every black publication I could get my hands on ran things about it.
Washington When black people talk about “the talk,” it means two things: your parents saying you have to be twice as good to get half as much, or here’s what you do if the cops pull you over.
Rhimes I thought it was something that everybody knew. When it aired, half of Twitter was like, “What does that mean?” Then black Twitter was like, “Absolutely.”
For anyone watching this season, it’s been downright uncomfortable how much art is imitating life and the cast unsurprisingly feels exactly the same way. The writers had reportedly planned a storyline about Russians hacking the American presidential election but scrapped it when Russians, uh, hacked the American presidential election.
Perry It’s fun to write nightmares when you know the lights are going to go back on. But when you’re not sure?
The cast publicly fundraised for Hillary Clinton and are now coming to terms with how to steer a show about politics in a Trump presidency:
Rhimes I used to know how it ended, and then Donald Trump was elected. We had a destination, and I don’t know if that’s our destination anymore.
You can read the entire story here.