June 1, 2011


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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Disclaimer:  Network pilots now in circulation are not necessarily in the form that will air in the Fall.  Pilots are often reedited and rescored, and in some cases even recast or reshot.  So these critiques shouldn’t be taken as full reviews, but rather as a guide to the general style and content of the new shows coming your way.
SCANDAL – Midseason on ABC:  Potential DVR Alert.
ABC’s midseason drama SCANDAL is produced by Shonda Rhimes, which makes it a very slick piece of work indeed.  Better still, Rhimes wrote the script herself, so it has her distinctive monologue-in-the-midst-of-dialogue rhythms.  The show still needs work, but it has possibiilities.
For one thing, Scandal has an original premise.  Yes, a Shonda Rhimes series that’s not about doctors (although the pilot does include one hospital scene; apparently she can’t abide any show that doesn’t include at least one person on an IV).   It concerns a group of lawyers in Washington DC under the direction of former Presidential aide Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), who–they are at great pains to tell us–aren’t a law firm but a crisis management outfit.  They handle high-profile clients–ambassadors, politicians, etc–who need their sensitive problems disposed of as quietly as possible.

Perhaps unwisely, the main plot of the pilot episode concerns a decorated soldier accused of murder–unwise, because even though the show desperately wants us to know it’s not going to be a law series, the storyline feels like it could have come from any of TV’s legal franchises.  The B-story, about a woman who claims to have slept with the President, is much more effective.  Also, the pilot (directed by Paul McGuigan) spends too much time in Olivia’s offices–the action starts to feel hermetically sealed.  It’s unlikely ABC would foot the bill to shoot the series in DC, but this is a show that would benefit from some healthy location shooting.
We don’t learn all that much about the supporting cast in the pilot.  Henry Ian Cusick–Desmond from Lost–is the firm’s womanizer who’s trying to settle down, heedless that investigator Darby Stanchfield has a crush on him; Katie Lowes is the new girl at the firm (the weakest character so far–she’s made to weep and be told that Olivia doesn’t approve of crying); Columbus Short is the slick litigator, and Guillermo Diaz the requisite hacker.  It appears that the President (Tony Goldwyn) will also appear regularly, and he’s a real asset.  More than in Rhimes’ medical ensembles, though, the center of Scandal is clearly Olivia, and her story–which I won’t spoil here–is a good one that provides plenty of potential grist for future episodes.  The script overplays the certainty of her “gut,” though, and needs to avoid too many scenes where she plays therapist for her colleagues.
Since Scandal is slated for midseason (presumably to run with Grey’s or Desperate Housewives at some point), there’s plenty of time to do some overhaul on the project.   The show already has a smart producer, a fairly original setting, some sharp writing and a strong lead, so there’s reason to be hopeful that they’ll figure out how to make the pieces work together smoothly.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."