Shonda Rhimes Weighs In on Scandal Season 1, the Finale's Killer Reveal and Fitz's Future
ABC’s Scandal wrapped up its frothy freshman run on Thursday night by having Vice President Langston’s chief of staff, Billy Chambers, aggressively accelerate his twisted plan to torpedo President Grant’s first term by commandeering a press briefing to posit that Fitz had a fling with ill-fated former White House intern Amanda Tanner. Meanwhile, Olivia Pope & Associates swung into action to clean up the scene of journalist Gideon Wallace’s murder, lest Quinn — I’m sorry, “Quinn” — enter the system and have her actual super-secret identity be discovered.
By hour’s end, Cyrus and Liv teamed up to exact a fine piece of damage control — with more than a little help from First Lady Mellie — though it may have come at the price of Olivia ever getting quality one-on-one time with POTUS ever again.
TVLine spoke with series creator Shonda Rhimes earlier this week to reflect on the season gone by, her plan for Season 2, and answer a few burning questions.
TVLINE | I was actually looking back at my notes from the January press tour, and you did describe Scandal as being “very adult,” a show that would snowball to a point that we’d be “catching our breath.” Still, were you surprised to see people surprised by what it evolved into over the course of the season?
It’s always the same way – everybody always thinks you are whatever you just wrote. It’s interesting to me that no matter what I write people are like, “It’s going to be just like Grey’s Anatomy!” Which I completely understand, because that’s what you’re identified with. So I wasn’t surprised that people were surprised, because it doesn’t matter what you tell them [ahead of time]. People have an expectation and I totally accept that. I felt like we were doing something outside the box, compared to what the audience thinks that I do.
TVLINE | Have you heard recently from Judy Smith (the White House alum/crisis management pro on whom Olivia is partially based)? Is she getting grilled by her friends, “You were holding out on us! Did these things happen?!”
Judy holds everything so close to the vest, even with us, that part of what we ended up doing was make up scenarios and then going, “How would you solve that problem?” Because she was never going to tell us any of her actual client scenarios, so we sort of went by what we read in the papers, what we could find. She provided us with some interesting twists and turns and suggestions. She’s very good at what she does.
TVLINE | [ABC president] Paul Lee told me he gave you 13 episodes for Season 2 — and that you might be entirely content with that, because of the pacing you had in this first season.
I enjoyed having seven episodes. We took it as sort of a gift because it meant that we could tell story in a way that you can’t really tell story on network television.
TVLINE | Right? I mean this thing burned hot these last five weeks.
Yeah, and that was exciting for us. I wrote the pilot thinking, “Oh, we’re going to have to stretch this thing over 22 episodes, and that’s going to be hard,” and it was great to not have to stretch it over anything. It was like we were doing a little cable show. I constantly am saying, “Don’t we just want to do 13 episodes of everything?” But nobody listens to me. [Laughs]
TVLINE | Do you have any idea how much time will elapse on screen between seasons?
I don’t. I try not to let myself think about what we’re going to do next season, because I don’t want to get too excited about it and then not get the show picked up. We just started talking about it this week, and I haven’t made any decisions yet.
TVLINE | But will there still be a bigger story, a through line along the lines of Amanda Tanner?
There is absolutely always going to be a through line, and we’re going to keep the pace as fast as we kept it this time. I feel like that’s important, the way that the story lays down, the way that the end of every episode turned what you were watching into something else.
TVLINE | Is that Season 2 through line necessarily the mystery of Quinn’s true identity?
That will be a part of it, absolutely.
TVLINE | Because outside of her being, like, the Lindbergh baby, I have no idea where you’re going with that.
[Chuckles] We joke about that. We call her “the Lindbergh baby” every once in a while. But she is definitely not the Lindbergh baby.
TVLINE | I’ve told Kerry Washington and Tony Goldwyn that I am a little worried that, given what happens at the end of the finale, we will see less of POTUS next season — if Olivia in fact keeps Fitz at arm’s length, per the deal with Mellie…
The President of the United States is our leading man, so we are not going to see less of him.
TVLINE | Is Cyrus’ role in Amanda’s death a loose thread that is ever going to be tugged on, maybe later rather than sooner? Or is that just a piece of information for us to file away about him as the series progresses?
It’s going to be tugged on. When that tugging happens is not yet set.
TVLINE | I wanted to talk about character development. Because of the pace you had here, you couldn’t really delve into anybody outside of Olivia and Huck. Are you going to explore the other associates in drips and drabs here and there, or will it be, “This is the episode where you learn a bunch about Stephen,” “This is where you learn a bunch about Abby”…?
That was kind of the plan. We had our episode where you learned Abby’s backstory, and we had the episode that sort of focused on Huck. That works nicely. I don’t know how we’re going to lay out people’s pasts. We do it when it feels right for the story, when it feels like the right time. I think it was much for fun for us to not tell you exactly who everyone was in the beginning, to let you discover stuff as you went on.
TVLINE | I’ve had many of your actors – Tony Goldwyn and KaDee Strickland (Private Practice) included — sing your praises when it comes to casting. Still, does a part of you feel you lucked into something extremely special with Kerry and Tony and their off-the-charts chemistry?
Even though we just called Tony and offered him the part, I had worked with Tony. He directed some episodes of Grey’s and some episodes of Private prior to any of this, so I already had a feel for him. And in looking at Kerry, I remember saying, “God, wouldn’t it be great if we could get Tony Goldwyn?” It was just about matching them up together.
TVLINE | It’s important that the chemistry is there, because there are a lot of reasons to not root for this couple.
There are a million reasons not to root for this couple. I kind of love that we’ve created a world in which you’re rooting for an adulterous relationship. But you are, you’re rooting for them to be together despite every reason in the world for them not to be together. And yeah, their chemistry was a really important part of that. If I had gotten that wrong, we would have been screwed.
What did you think of Scandal‘s first season?