'Scandal' Election Results Filmed Before Trump Win as Shonda Rhimes Stresses "There Aren't Any Similarities"

The prolific producer and the cast discuss the shorter, "more powerful" sixth season that kicks off with the results of its presidential election.
ABC/Tony Rivetti

The cast and creators of ABC's political thriller Scandal want viewers (and perhaps Donald Trump) to know that its season-six premiere — which takes place on election night — was filmed months before the real world elected a Republican president.

"I don't know that there are any similarities," showrunner Shonda Rhimes told reporters Tuesday morning at the Television Critics Association's winter press tour. "There aren't any similarities. The candidates don't have any similarities to the real-world candidates. Francisco Vargas (Ricardo Chavira) is a hopeful and different Democrat. These candidates don't equate. You can't correlate the two."

Stars Kerry Washington (Olivia), Tony Goldwyn (President Fitzgerald Grant) and Bellamy Young, the latter of whom plays the former Republican first lady-turned-presidential candidate Mellie Grant, stressed that the first few episodes of season six were written and filmed over the summer between July and September — well before the election in which former Celebrity Apprentice host and Republican Donald Trump was elected to office. The season-six premiere — pushed back a week from the night before Trump's inauguration to Jan. 26 — will pick up six months after last season's finale and take place on election night, with the results of the show's presidential election revealed.

"Our world is a complete fiction," Young stressed. "When we came together in July and read the first five scripts, they were so beautiful and our writers have found a bit of a new way into the story and we keep going back in time. We find out results of elections immediately. We go back in time with different characters to find out how they got to that point. But you can't help but be a human and be alive and have things resonate as the world has changed since we filmed it."

In its fifth season, Scandal featured a very Trump-like candidate in recurring character Hollis Doyle (Gregg Henry) before narrowing its field to Vargas vs. Grant. Goldwyn, who directed a campaign video for Hillary Clinton that featured Rhimes, Washington and the stars of TGIT, stressed that Scandal is entering new territory with season six.

"To have a political show in the counterpoint to a very dramatic real political world…Shonda is taking the show in a whole fresh direction, which is very interesting and emotional and entertaining for Scandal, for these characters, for our world," he said, later adding that he hopes that Fitz will be a good ex-president. "The fact that it's in counterpoint to this crazy political world America is living through is interesting but they're not the same. We are not in reaction to that. Five of the first six [episodes] were written and shot before we knew anything [about who would win and how the results would play out]."

As for the decision to move the return of ABC's Rhimes-branded TGIT lineup — including midseason premieres for Grey's Anatomy and How to Get Away With Murder — the executive producer who was vocal about her support for Democrat Clinton told reporters that scheduling is not her job and she supports what the network opts to do. (Grey's and Scandal will air repeats at 8 and 9 p.m., respectively, ahead of a pre-inauguration 20/20 special focusing on Trump. "It has nothing to do with my job; I like to stay in my lane," she said of the move.)

Added Washington of the real-world election results: "It was interesting that we weren't all together working. That was a bit challenging because over these years these have become people I'm closest to…it was strange to have to find each other over hiatus to check in with each other and process it."

As for what's to come in season six, Rhimes revealed that she asked for a reduced episode count. The series, which launched its freshman run in a midseason slot, was delayed to accommodate star Washington's second pregnancy. Its 16-episode order — down six from last year — will help Scandal tell "stronger" and "more powerful stories," Rhimes said.

"Interestingly enough, because of the way we laid out this season, we do have this beautiful and different way of telling the season this year where we're stepping back in time and coming forward in time and telling things from different perspectives," Rhimes said, noting the upcoming landmark 100th episode is currently being written. "It's not about crazy things happening — I happen to believe our show has never been about crazy things happening. It's really about where they come to after all this time. They've descended from any moral high ground to their lowest depths, and now is their chance to either climb out or not. It's very different from any other season we've had. I can't even think about it in terms of what's happening now."

Summed up Young: "It will be interesting to see, from this point on, how this season develops and how the world develops."

Click here to watch Scandal's season-six trailer.

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