People in D.C. love to watch shows about people in D.C. We love to sit and scrutinize what the shows get right (love the opening credits in House of Cards) and what they get wrong (oh Homeland, it’s so obvious you shoot in Charlotte or something). But there is one D.C. show that takes the cake for me and many of my friends and colleagues: Scandal. I, like many of you, am still a little in shock at last week’s ending and I am counting the hours until Thursday’s season finale. For sure, there is something special about Scandal that goes beyond my usual obsession with TV shows based in or about D.C. And I think it’s the reason why so many people, especially African Americans, are obsessed with the show. Spoiler alert – if you’re not caught up on episodes, you may want to read this later on.
For one, Olivia Pope is a grade-A badass (with impeccable style). She’s a fixer, and people at their lowest points come to her for help. And she happens to be Black. One of the things that I love about this show is that while it doesn’t ignore race, it’s not any given character’s sole reason for being. So many times in primetime TV, people of color are represented in stereotypical ways (still, in 2013). But you know that progress is being made when the lead characters can work no matter the race, and one of them is a person of color (of course, Olivia Pope is very loosely based on an African American woman—Judy Smith—but you get my point).
Another reason I love Scandal? It’s written by an African American woman. It’s no surprise that behind the camera and the pen, diversity is still seriously lacking. A recent WGA study showed that TV writers are still disproportionately White, male and young. Those trends permeate almost every section of media. Media Matters just did a survey looking at diversity on cable news, both race and gender, and pretty much across the board, it’s bad. That’s not to say that it’s not getting better, but there is a long way to go as the bar is so low. Hollywood is still very much a boys network, but it’s folks like Shonda Rhimes who are slowly breaking down the walls. It helped that she had two hit shows already on ABC, but the fact that she got Grey’s Anatomy off the ground in the first place was groundbreaking.
While Scandal is a huge hit with African Americans for sure, it’s a huge hit PERIOD. The demographics of who watches this show is among the most diverse in TV, and that’s an important distinction. TV executives at the main networks are often afraid of shows that appear to appeal largely to African Americans or Hispanics, the argument being that those shows will be too specialized to be accepted and watched by Whites. Scandal breaks with the conventional wisdom and proves that shows that have huge appeal to people of color can also appeal across racial lines (like the Cosby Show did back in the day). What these shows must have is great writing and great casting.
And that, at the end of the day, is what keeps me incredibly hooked to Scandal. As I was discussing with someone last week, I love a show where a sitting president murders a Supreme Court Justice and it’s pretty much met with a “whatevs.” It’s outrageous, but no more outrageous than fixing an election or having the president’s mistress killed. And it’s this ability to push the envelope each week while keeping the relationship between Olivia and Fitz front and center that keeps millions tuning in and tweeting about it.
So what’s going to happen Thursday? How do you top the revelation of the mole (what the WHAT!)? Will this be the moment that Olivia and Fitz’s relationship gets exposed? Will Harrison confess his love of Olivia? (That’s just a theory of mine) I have no idea, but I do know that I’ll be there at 10 p.m., watching and tweeting with millions of other fans.