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While on the surface it may seem that Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes is breaking free of the medical drama with her latest effort, the D.C.-set political fixer drama Scandal, the does have a lot in common with the showrunner’s ABC staple.
Scandal is based on the life of crisis management consultant Judy Smith and stars Kerry Washington in the lead role of Olivia Pope, who runs her own firm with the assistance of a dysfunctional staff while juggling a personal scandal of her own that’s connected to the president (Tony Goldwyn).
“It’s not a relationship show, it’s not a procedural, it’s not romancy, there’s no Mer-Der,” Rhimes told reporters Tuesday at the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour in Pasadena.
While romance isn’t at the core of Scandal, here are five things the upcoming series has in common with Rhimes’ long-running medical drama Grey’s Anatomy.
1. It’s about strong, flawed characters. As much as Grey’s revolves around Ellen Pompeo’s dark and twisty Meredith as she confronts her flaws about who she is, Scandal features many of the same type of characters. “I don’t think my shows are not necessarily medical shows or political shows or fixer shows,” Rhimes says. “The show is about strong, smart women and a lot of flawed, interesting people.” Among them: Goldwyn’s Fitzgerald Grant, who plays the seemingly perfect president of the United States but has a Clinton-like secret.
2. High-stakes situations are key. Like many of the life-or-death medical situations at the core of Grey’s, Scandal also features high-stakes stories. “It has that in common with medicine, but it also is about these incredibly high-stakes personal situations,” says Betsy Beers, who serves as an EP on both series. “This is somebody you meet on the worst day of your life. I think almost anybody can identify with being in a crisis.”
3. It has a quick pace. Compared with the faced-paced surgical action on Grey’s, Scandal moves quickly. With a script that’s 70-plus pages, Rhimes says the actors were encouraged to speak quickly to fit in every ounce of the action within the episode’s running time. The rushed feel of the series — which Rhimes calls “scandal pace” — makes sense, the cast says. “The speed and aggression of this world makes sense; this has to go at breakneck speed,” says Jeff Perry, who plays presidential adviser Cyrus.
4. Realistic advice. Just as Grey’s features a medical adviser lending a hand with the terms and procedures, Rhimes would often call Smith for advice in how Olivia would respond to her clients’ problems — like when a madam with a list of celebrity clients is arrested. “Judy would tell us how to solve the problem,” she says. “That’s been a good resource for us.”
5. Familiar faces. Rhimes has enlisted a pair of former Grey’s actors in Perry and his former on-screen wife Kate Burton — who plays the vice president — for Scandal and notes she has a pool of actors that she’ll “always want to work with.” Another example: Rhimes loved Jason George so much when she did failed pilot Inside the Box with him that she continues to cast him in her projects (he’s as a love interest for Grey’s Bailey with a detour to the since-canceled Off the Map and back). “It’s like a repertory company, what could be better?” she said.
Scandal premieres Thursday, April 5 at 10 p.m., following Grey’s Anatomy.
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