The name Shonda Rhimes has become synonymous with medical dramas. The creator of “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Private Practice” also produced last season’s short lived doctor series, “Off The Map.” Now she is exchanging scrubs for power suits with “Scandal,” a drama about a crisis manager who will do whatever it takes to protect her clients’ reputation. Set in the cutthroat world of D.C. politics, the series stars Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope, a character inspired by real-life crisis manager Judy Smith, who serves as a producer on the show.
At the show’s TCA panel on Tuesday, Rhimes explained that she sees “Scandal” as the natural evolution of her writing. “I think my shows are not necessarily medical shows or political shows. They’re shows about strong, smart women and have a lot of flaws and are interesting people.”
Like most overachieving television characters, Olivia is better at handling other people’s personal problems than her own. In what will surely be the show’s most controversial element, Olivia’s love interest is the current (fictional) President of the United States. Rhimes points out that the storyline is certainly plausible, “Is it out there for a president to have a sexual relationship?” she queried, to the crowd’s laughter. She thinks that, at least in fiction, there is nothing wrong with a sexy president. “I don’t know if America wants a sexier president. I know that when I was working on the show, it was kind of delightful to have a sexier president, to depict the President as a man as well as the leader of the free world.”
Smith is not concerned that anyone will think that aspect of Olivia is based on her real life. “Anyone who knows me, and who knows my 25 years of work in crisis communications would know that I did not sleep with the president.”
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It’s political subject matter is not the only thing that differentiates “Scandal” from the other shows on broadcast television. Though many series have diverse ensembles, “Scandal” is the only one that has a definitive African-American lead. To Rhimes, it’s ground that was broken a long time ago, and should no longer be an issue. “The time came for minorities to be the lead on television series a long time ago, back when Diahann Carroll starred on ‘Julia.’ I just think that people have failed to cast the actors they should have been casting.”
Columbus Short, who plays Harrison, a member of Olivia’s staff, thinks he knows why network television has become less diverse than it was during the 1980s. “I think there’s a way people want to perceive people of color: this is who they are, this is how they work, this is how they’re accepted, which is a completely gross over assumption of people.”
“Scandal” premieres Thursday, April 5 at 10/9c on ABC.