Twitter helps to propel ‘Scandal’ to ABC ratings gold
BY LORI RACKL TV Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org February 20, 2013 6:22PM
9 to 10 p.m. Thursdays on WLS-Channel 7
Updated: March 22, 2013 10:10AM
HOLLYWOOD — “Scandal,” ABC’s inside-the-Beltway, below-the-belt drama, is ridiculous. And ridiculously good.
TV shows often are one or the other, but rare is the gem that manages to be both. “Scandal” has mastered the balancing act this sophomore season, when Shonda Rhimes’ unapologetically outrageous-but-just-plausible-enough show not only found its legs, but hit its stride.
More than 8 million viewers tune in Thursday nights for this roller coaster of a series centered on Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), a high-powered crisis manager and reluctant mistress of the U.S. president. “Scandal” has topped its time period among advertiser-coveted young adults for the past eight broadcasts in a row.
Blossoming from crisis-of-the-week to a more sophisticated, serialized soap-opera-meets-political-thriller, “Scandal” should start each episode with a warning for viewers to fasten their seatbelts. Virtually nothing is too crazy for the latest creation from Rhimes (“Grey’s Anatomy,” “Private Practice”). A recent tweet astutely noted that “Scandal” makes “24” look like it was done by Ken Burns.
The most recent episode had President Fitzgerald “Fitz” Grant (Tony Goldwyn) snuff out a cancer-stricken, election-rigging Supreme Court justice — the same justice who tried to have the president whacked earlier in the season, launching a riveting “Who Shot Fitz?” storyline.
“Last season was seven episodes, so we did what we could in seven episodes,” Rhimes said during a recent interview on the Hollywood set that stands in for Washington, D.C. “This season we have 22 episodes. We really tried to make something that felt bigger.”
“Scandal” feels bigger — and better. All of that “gladiators in suits” talk and Olivia Pope worship that used to annoy me has become part of the fun, part of the heightened realism that has characters rattling off clever dialogue at warp speed and routinely worming their way out of improbable scenarios.
“We’d been chugging along, getting the same number of eyeballs, and somewhere around episode eight, it just went boom,” Jeff Perry said about the show’s surge in popularity. The Highland Park native and co-founder of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre, plays Cyrus, the president’s Machiavellian chief of staff. “Of course it didn’t hurt that Kerry [Washington] was in ‘Django’ and on 73 magazine covers.”
Washington stars as a slave named Broomhilda in “Django Unchained,” which hit theaters on Christmas. She filmed the Quentin Tarantino project during the nine-month break between “Scandal” seasons.
“I remember saying to a girlfriend of mine, ‘I feel like I have to jump two centuries in two days,’ ” Washington said.
“In a lot of ways, Olivia is the answer to Broomhilda’s prayers,” added the actress, the first black female to lead a network TV drama in nearly four decades. Take a moment to let that sink in.
“I don’t think Broomhilda could even imagine a world where there’s a woman who’s not waiting to be rescued but who actually makes a living rescuing other people.”
Olivia Pope’s character is inspired by real-life fixer Judy Smith, former deputy press secretary to George H.W. Bush and co-executive producer on “Scandal.”
“I did not have an affair with the president,” Smith said in the weary tone of someone tired of answering that question. Other major differences between Smith and her fictional incarnation: “I have a law license, so I don’t encourage people to clean evidence scenes or rig elections.”
Smith and just about everyone else involved with “Scandal” have helped turn the series into a social media darling by live-tweeting episodes and encouraging viewers to #AskScandal. (“Oprah heard about it from Twitter,” Rhimes said.)
The program regularly lights up the Twittersphere on Thursdays. It’s generated more than 1.8 million tweets so far this season, according to ABC.
“We tweet the H out of our show,” said Perry, a reformed Luddite, who admits he didn’t know what Twitter was pre-“Scandal.” He now tweets during some episodes.
“It feels grass-rootsy and nice,” Perry said. “I grew up in not-for-profit theater, where hundreds of people can make a difference to what you’re going. I like that connection to the audience.”