Glancing inside stage 12 at Sunset Gower Studios in Hollywood on a recent mid-March day, a person could be forgiven for thinking a phone service ad was being shot: The smartphones are out and in serious use.
But this is what’s it’s like during a lunch break on the set of Scandal, which, as the show that helped fuse TV watching and Twitter thumb-tapping, has as deep a relationship with the personal device as any tech company.
And this isn’t an ordinary early spring afternoon – just five days from now, this freight train of a political drama will screech to a halt when filming wraps, forever. As of tonight’s finale, crisis manager Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) and her band of cohorts will hang up their white hats.
So it’s little wonder that the cast is intent on keeping its digital scrapbook stocked. Selfies are being taken, and quick videos are being shot.
Created by prolific producer Shonda Rhimes, Scandal is a thoroughly modern nighttime soap. Centred on Pope, the first black female character to lead a network drama in nearly 40 years (and her heart-thumping love affair with President Fitzgerald “Fitz” Grant played by Tony Goldwyn), Scandal premiered to little fanfare and middling reviews in spring 2012.
But the decision to wed whiplash storytelling with the cast’s early adoption of social media, particularly Twitter, made the show a bona-fide hit and a symbol of hope for appointment television by the end of the second season.
Often dismissed as a guilty pleasure, the show took twist-and-turns storytelling to new heights and prepped viewers for them with breathless (as in “Can not breathe”) tweets. But it also dealt with topical matters, such as election rigging and police brutality.
Is it ending the way you thought it would?
Rhimes: It’s ending exactly the way I thought it would, which is good because for a while there – it’s not an easy thing to do. So I think we thought, sitting in the writer’s room, are we going to make it in time? There’s only so many exits to get there.
Are we going to do it correctly and do it right? And I feel like we got there. I think I should say it’s not as if I knew where we would end seven seasons ago. We ended the way I knew we were going to end when I figured it out a couple of months ago.
How did you know it was time to end it – when did it all come together for you?
Rhimes: I don’t know if there’s a general answer to that because I have a show (Grey’s Anatomy) that’s still going 14 seasons later. I always knew the story had an endpoint. I also knew that I didn’t want this to be a show that stayed too long at a party, and I wanted to end while we were all still in it, while the story was still being told and told very well and we were all really excited about it.
There was an evolution of these characters that you get to see happen and Olivia Pope had a place she was going. And when it was clear that we were getting there, it just felt organic.
Is it hard not to feel nostalgic at this point?
(Actress) Katie Lowes: I am the person who’s constantly making people remember memories from the pilot and first season. I don’t know why I am doing that! Maybe that’s my personal way of processing. I keep sitting here, having long scenes and saying like, “Kerry, I remember the first time you rang and the phone said ‘Kerry Washington’ ... but I keep doing this just as a way to make people cry. (Laughs)
This is a show that will be remembered for the way it utilised Twitter and engaged with its audience. What prompted your early adoption of social media?
Washington: I was on social media because I have a friend, Allison Peters, who is a social media consultant but also one of my best friends since high school and she convinced me to go on Twitter and I came across an article before we aired that was like, “These were the most buzzed-about shows on social media.”
And because we had a small order our first season – it was seven episodes – I thought, “Well, maybe that would help us. I want to be one of those shows.” And she said, “Everyone on the show should live tweet.” But I didn’t want to be like the bossy lead actor, so I said, “Shonda, what if everybody on the show live-tweeted?” And she said, “Yes.”
Rhimes: I had the experience on Grey’s where we had sort of blogged every episode – back in the days when people blogged – and people were really intense and insane about it.
So we knew that there was an engagement there anyway, and so we told everybody to go on Twitter, and they got on Twitter, and then the press got on Twitter with us, which was the most interesting part. And then Oprah got on Twitter with us and it just got really intense.
What are you most proud of that the show accomplished?
Washington: I think in this town, there’s a lot of talk about how poorly behaved people in this business are, in particular actors ... just how toxic work environments can be. One of the things that’s most important to me walking away from this is when we say we’re family, we’re not pretending.
I can’t imagine having done these past seven seasons, doing it in a toxic work environment. It would have destroyed us all, (rather) than elevated us all. — Los Angeles Times/Tribune News Service