Another One Bites the Dust? Not ABC's "Scandal"
1 year ago
How a show with a Black female lead avoided the fate of other primetime debuts
The network television dust has settled and “Scandal” – a new political thriller series from writer and executive producer Shonda Rhimes – is still standing. Making its debut on April 5, the series was a mid-season smash for ABC and the network has confirmed the show’s renewal, this time for a full season (about 13 episodes).
“Scandal” is glossy and sophisticated: from Olivia Pope’s sharply-tailored suits, slick pumps, and swanky DC bachelorette pad, to convincingly true-to-life set design, as seen during intimate conversations from inside the Oval Office and a ballroom dancing sequence at a glamorous State Dinner. Central to the cast is Pope, a tenacious thirty-something attorney who has built an impressive career and become a White House insider by virtue of her instinct (“My gut is never wrong,” she quips in the pilot episode); and her intellect (both her legal training and an extraordinary emotional IQ).
A former White House Communications Director, Pope now runs her own crisis management firm, applying her public relations acumen and keen understanding of human nature in the midst of various scandals affecting the world’s political elite. That this woman, played by the über-talented Kerry Washington, is African American is icing on the cake for those who have long-awaited a black female lead in a quality, network television drama.
[ALSO READ: Kerry Washington's 'Scandal' is Way Overdue]
The conclusion of the first season and news of its renewal provide a timely opportunity for reflection and debate. How did this show avoid the fate of other primetime debuts like “Pan Am” and “GCB”, which despite heavy marketing and well-known actors, have officially been canceled? After all, a show starring an African American woman already presented Rhimes and her team with a unique challenge.
Though they are rarely even attempted, black female-driven dramas are typically among the first to be cast into the TV series graveyard. Attracting non-black viewership to such shows has historically been a struggle. Nevertheless, a thrilling season of great acting and soap opera-esque plot twists earned “Scandal” a tremendous following, and a place in ABC’s coveted primetime line-up.
In her New York Times review, Alessandra Stanley offered various explanations for the show’s cross-cultural appeal, drawing favorable comparisons between “Scandal” and other, already established network television series:
Like so many ABC series, from “Desperate Housewives” to “Revenge,” this is escapist fare with a feminine bent. And while there are moments that are downright laughable, “Scandal” has flair and even sophistication. Like “The Good Wife” on CBS, it’s a suspenseful, juicy romp that holds attention better than many a more high-minded show.