How 'Scandal' Is Breaking Through Barriers on ABC

4798 "Scandal," now in its second season, has been a success for ABC. Last week the show had 3.52 million viewers aged 18 to 49 and 8.4 million total viewers. Among the group aged 18 to 34 it typically ranks first in its 10 p.m. Thursday time slot. A political thriller set in Washington, "Scandal" has attracted some inside-the-beltway fans like the political strategists Donna Brazile and Roland S. Martin, who have both tweeted about the show.

Tony Goldwyn, left, and Kerry Washington in "Scandal," in which he plays the president and she a Washington fixer.
The show's other sweet spot -- one that network executives seem less eager to discuss -- is its success among African-American audiences. According to Nielsen "Scandal" is the highest rated scripted drama among African-Americans, with 10.1 percent of black households, or an average of 1.8 million viewers, tuning in during the first half of the season.

One reason for that success is the casting of Kerry Washington, who became the first African-American female lead in a network drama in almost 40 years. (The first was Diahann Carroll starring as a widowed single mother working as a nurse in the 1968 series "Julia." A second show, "Get Christie Love," starring Theresa Graves as an undercover cop, had its debut in 1974.)

Her casting has prompted discussion among academics and fans of the show about whether "Scandal" represents a new era of postracial television, in which cast members are ethnically diverse but are not defined by their race or ethnicity.

"There's an audience of African-Americans who just want to see themselves in a good story, not necessarily a race-specific show," said Joan Morgan, a fan of the series and the author of "When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost," a book about black women and feminism today. "It's not about this being a black show," Ms. Morgan said. "It's about seeing the show where black women and other women are represented less about race and more about who they are."

"Scandal" follows the twists and turns of Olivia Pope, a political fixer played by Ms. Washington, and her team of lawyers, hackers and political insiders. The character is loosely based on the real Washington operative Judy Smith, a former member of the George H. W. Bush White House and well-known crisis manager who has represented, among others, Monica Lewinsky and Michael Vick. (Ms. Smith is a co-executive producer on the show). Olivia is also having an affair with the president of the United States, Fitzgerald Thomas Grant III, played by Tony Goldwyn.

Asked whether she felt any pressure being in this unusual position, Ms. Washington said the pressure was on the audience more than on the cast and crew. She said in an e-mail: "The question was: Are audiences ready to have the stories that we tell on television to be more inclusive? Are we ready for our protagonists to represent people of all different genders and ethnicities?"


Source: The New York Times | TANZINA VEGA
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