As we all know, ABC’s Scandal is one of the hottest shows on television right now. It’s got that perfect mix of politics, sauciness, and fantastic writing that audiences love to revel in. Certainly, having TV legend Shonda Rhimes spearheading the show is a huge help. With her eye for great storytelling and impeccable skill, she’s brought us some of TV’s most beloved shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice.
But Scandal is something special. It regularly pushes the envelope, keeping all of us delightfully enthralled and wanting for more. Plus, it’s got Kerry Washington headlining the cast. Could we really ask for a better show?
With every successful television series comes lots of drama behind the scenes. Scandal, as great a show as it is, hasn’t gone unscathed. Over the show’s seven-season run, there’s been plenty of drama, disputes with the network, plus other unexpected secrets and, well, scandals.
We’ve put together a nice, long list of Scandal‘s darkest and most interesting secrets… straight from the people who give you the best network television has to offer. Without further ado, here are 15 Secrets Behind Scandal You Had No Idea About.
15. ABC wanted Olivia Pope to be white
Can you imagine Olivia Pope being played by anyone other than Kerry Washington? Well, ABC certainly had other actresses in mind. In fact, the network was really gunning for a white actress to take on the role, so much so that Connie Britton was a top contender.
Luckily, Shonda Rhimes had a few tricks and brilliant ideas up her sleeve. The showrunner was really passionate about stepping outside the network’s comfort zone and finding a revolutionary face and talent for the role. So, the network tested Kerry Washington, Anika Noni Rose, and others to find the perfect Olivia Pope.
14. Kerry Washington was the first black woman to Lead a network drama in 37 years
Believe it or not, Scandal made history before it even aired. When Kerry Washington was pegged to take the lead on Scandal, there hadn’t been a network drama led by a black woman in nearly 40 years.
Shonda Rhimes herself had no idea about this when she set up the show.
Right off the bat, Rhimes, Washington, and Scandal were on track to make history. According to Rhimes, she wanted to create a sense of “outsiderness” on the show, ensuring that Olivia Pope would be in Washington but not necessarily part of it. Once again, Rhimes’ vision proves that she’s a master storyteller willing to take risks for a big payoff. The result? Making history and a killer series that shows D.C. for what it’s really all about: scandals.
13. The network also didn’t want Olivia to be with President Fitz
Olivia Pope’s affair with President Fitzgerald Grant (played by Tony Goldwyn) was apparently met with some wayward looks, exasperated scoffs, and loads of back talk by the network. ABC reportedly wasn’t keen on showing a fictional president in such salacious light, neither was it interested in having the protagonist of the show be the subject of intrigue.
Rhimes said of her vision: “In episode six or seven, this woman is going to [be] with the president in the Oval Office on the desk. So if everyone can’t get behind that, then we shouldn’t make this show.”
If that’s not gutsy, then we don’t know what is. Rhimes is quite obviously a trailblazer and one who knows her worth as a creator. All of us should be so lucky and so confident to follow our visions all the way through.
12. Shonda Rhimes actually didn’t want to make the show
As fate would have it, Scandal fell into Shonda Rhimes’ lap when she was already knee-deep in Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice. The last thing she needed was yet another show to run, especially with her busy schedule.
Naturally, Rhimes resisted the idea of going ahead with another show. “I already had two shows, and the idea of doing something else sounded way too exhausting,” Rhimes explained to THR.
Luckily for us, Rhimes was so intrigued by Judy Smith’s background and history that she simply had to take her burgeoning ideas to the next level. And thank goodness she did.
11. The show isn’t actually shot in D.C.
If you thought Scandal was actually shot in Washington, D.C., we’re sad to have to inform that it isn’t. As a matter of fact, the cast has not shot a single scene in D.C. Crazy, right?
The show typically shoots in Los Angeles where they have access to studios and everything else they need to make the show mirror reality. Most of the D.C. landmarks you see on the show are actually the work of green screens and a fantastic CGI team.
Here’s one interesting tidbit, though: all the exterior shots on the show are of the real Washington, D.C. In order to make the show more realistic and true to its setting, the Scandal crew shoots actual footage in D.C. to use on the green screens. So, it’s not a complete farce.
10. Trouble casting Fitz
As we’ve all come to learn over the years, there’s no one more important in America than the president. And the same goes for fictional America, too. Well, sort of.
Rhimes and the rest of the Scandal team struggled to find a suitable actor to play Fitz.
As it turns out, anyone looking to play a fictional president is also looking to play a lead, at least according to Rhimes:
“Then when we were searching for somebody to be the president, nobody wanted to play the president because they weren’t the lead.”
9. Everyone underestimated Kerry Washington
As we mentioned earlier in the list, ABC initially wanted a white actress to take on the role of Olivia Pope. When Kerry Washington was finally cast, the Scandal team started to feel the pressure of what it means to have a black female lead.
According to ABC Entertainment President Channing Dungey, the network was having discussions about whether having a black lead would translate internationally. And on top of that, Washington was hyper-aware of how her race, appearance and age might impact people’s perceptions of her.
“She’s tiny, cute, pretty and younger — and because she was all those things, she was aware that people would underestimate her,” Rhimes told THR.
8. Columbus Short’s personal problems got him fired
Sometimes life gets in the way of a great opportunity, as Columbus Short will tell you. The actor, who played Harrison Wright, was struggling during his time on the show. His marriage was in shambles, he was accused of domestic violence and charged with assault, and it was clearly affecting the way he inhabited his character.
“I was going through a tumultuous time in my personal life with my marriage, and it was starting to affect my onscreen play,” the actor said during an interview with THR.
Short’s personal struggles caused him to be late to set and affected overall production for the rest of the Scandal team. Ultimately, Rhimes and the network chose not to renew his option. Rhimes is famous for not suffering any problematic or misbehaving actors.
7. The 2016 election changed the show
The 2016 presidential election was a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs and political rigor. It changed the course of many of our lives, and it changed the direction of Scandal forever.
In the years leading up to the election, the Scandal team got used to a rhythm of writing and creating where they could always be a few steps ahead of American politics. But thanks to the neverending drama and scandal that shrouded the presidential battle between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, Shonda Rhimes and company found themselves at a loss.
According to Rhimes, the team would write about a crazy political exploit for the show only to have the actual state of American politics outdo their ideas. And, in some cases, Scandal writers actually predicted how the 2016 election would go down.
6. Before the election, Scandal wrote a story arc about Russians hacking an election
The idea of Russians hacking an American election was pure fiction before 2016. In fact, the Scandal writing team even developed a story arc for season six where the Russians did hack an election.
On a show that’s deliciously smart and incredibly ambitious, a story arc like this seems like a natural progression from its earlier seasons. But what happens when a simple story becomes reality? Furthermore, what happens when multiple stories became everyday news fodder? Well, it throws people like Shonda Rhimes for a huge and unexpected loop.
When Trump was elected, Rhimes had to change her ideas about fictional politics: “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.”
5. Rhimes ended Henry on Grey’s Anatomy so Scott Foley could be on Scandal
If you were an actor and Shonda Rhimes wanted you for a brand new show, you’d jump at the opportunity, right? Well, that’s exactly what Scott Foley did and it didn’t quite work out in his favor.
According to Rhimes, she really wanted Foley for the role of Stephen, Olivia’s friend and litigator. So, naturally, she fired him from Grey’s Anatomy (by killing him off the show) so he could audition for the role on Scandal.
But Foley’s name and face weren’t exactly what the network was looking for and they rejected the actor, leaving him jobless. He bounced back pretty quickly with a new series that was, unfortunately, canceled soon after. No sooner than the cancellation news broke did Rhimes call Foley and gear him up to play a new love interest for Olivia.
4. Olivia’s termination was almost cut
Way before Olivia Pope’s pregnancy termination scene was even filmed, ABC was ready to cut it. The network was uncomfortable with presenting a terminated pregnancy to its viewers, especially considering Olivia’s background, education and profession.
Bellamy Young, who plays Mellie, reflected on the scene in a 2017 interview: “I don’t think [it] had ever been presented as an emancipated woman’s option before.”
Of the incident, Rhimes told THR: “We were doing nothing different than we did [with a different character in a prior] scene — they just didn’t like that it was happening to Olivia.”
3. Shonda Rhimes had to clear the episode’s music with Aretha Franklin
For the backdrop of Olivia’s termination, the Scandal crew chose Aretha Franklin’s rendition of “Silent Night” which also caused a stir for the network… and for Rhimes.
Due to the nature of the scene, Rhimes felt it was incredibly important for Aretha Franklin herself to approve the song’s usage. So, the Scandal team reached out to Franklin to ensure she understood the exact context of the scene, how the song would be used and why they had chosen it.
Luckily for Rhimes and everyone else on the team, Franklin gave the greenlight.
“I wanted to make sure Aretha knew what the scene was about. Her people said I was fine and to stop asking. It made me love her forever because then I could be like, “Aretha Franklin, who sings a lot of gospel music, is very supportive of this,” Rhimes explained during an interview.
2. Real-life crisis manager Judy Smith is the inspiration behind the show
Did you know that Scandal was inspired by famed D.C. crisis manager Judy Smith? Smith gained notoriety for counseling big name clients like Monica Lewinsky and Michael Vick.
When Rhimes’ producing partner Betsy Beers encouraged her to sit down with Smith, the ideas started flowing quite freely. The two only had a brief conversation before Rhimes was raring to go. Smith detailed her years as a Beltway fixer for Rhimes and almost immediately, the politics-obsessed Rhimes knew what a potential story arc could be.
“Judy Smith talked for 10 minutes, and I could see what 100 episodes would be,” said Rhimes.
1. The cast doesn’t see scripts before they sit down for a table read
A hot show like Scandal requires the TV industry’s top wordsmiths and storytelling masterminds. Oftentimes, those guys are revising scripts like crazy. The writing process is so unpredictable that the cast doesn’t see a script until a table read… which usually happens the day before they begin shooting.
Rhimes once said in an interview that scripts are literally hot off the presses for a table read. She and the rest of the team work until the last second ironing out the dialogue, action, and other details.
That’s not even the last of it: more often than not, table reads offer a final glimpse into the script before production which helps everyone get their acts together before the cameras start rolling.
What an insane way to work!
Do you have any other trivia behind Scandal to share? Leave it in the comments!
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