Social-media 'Scandal' rocks ABC (in a good way)

11:04 PM, Feb 19, 2013   |    comments
ABC's "Scandal" stars Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope, the head of a crisis management firm.
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By Bill Keveney
USA TODAY

A presidential assassination attempt. A suspect's torture by the U.S. government. A rigged election. And now, the president as a killer.

Any of those plot points could consume a TV series, but ABC's torrid Scandal (Thursday, 10 ET/PT) has hit them all in less than three months.

"I'm shocked all the time," says Kerry Washington, who plays Olivia Pope, the brilliant, flawed heroine at the center of the political drama from Grey's Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes. During one recent twist-filled cast script reading, which revealed the president's killing of a Supreme Court justice, "we felt like our world was falling apart as we were reading it. It's really exciting."

Olivia oversees a team of operatives skilled in every kind of fixing, from political to criminal, but there are elements of her own life, such as her love affair with the married president, Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn), and her involvement with the rigging of a presidential election, that don't offer an easy fix.

"She's human. The great thing about her is that she's not perfect. She's not this magical character who walks into a room and fixes everything all the time, including her own life," Washington says.

Amid the whirlwind of action, the complicated Olivia-Fitz relationship is "so much the backbone, the emotional core of what the show is based on," executive producer Betsy Beers says. "From the first episode, there was this incredibly intense relationship at the center ... an impossible relationship. ... Every single person, it affects and has involved either directly or indirectly. It's touched everything."

Viewers appear to be responding to Scandal's personal and political intrigue. In its first full season, it is up 6% in viewers (averaging 8.4 million) and 19% in advertiser-prized young adults over an abbreviated, seven-episode premiere last spring that featured no lower-rated reruns. Its six most-watched episodes have come in the past seven first-run airings.

Scandal also is drawing a substantial social-media following, encouraged by ABC's marketing efforts and the dedication of the cast, Rhimes and others involved with the show, who live-tweet each episode. Momentum picked up after the presidential assassination attempt in late November, facilitated by the network's creation of customized hashtags, such as #whoshotfitz.

The Feb. 7 episode, in which the president kills a Supreme Court justice to prevent her from confessing to the bid-rigging and assassination attempt, generated more than 350,000 tweets and was Thursday's most-talked-about show on Twitter, according to the network. Throughout the evening, a number of trending topics wereScandal-related.

Networks are starting to tout their series' social standings. And the industry considers social-media activity to carry a number of benefits. They include drawing the interest of those who may be new to the show and, with live-tweeting, encouraging live viewing in an era when so much is watched at a later time, says Marla Provencio, ABC's executive vice president of marketing.

"To be able to have a conversation live and in real time, that's what appointment television is all about," she says. "It makes you feel you need to be there to engage in that dialogue."

USA Today

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