'Scandal': Where TV and Reality Cross Paths

Those plotting the current season of ‘Scandal’ have promised the show will sail close to the wind of actual events

Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope in a scene from the premiere of the sixth season of 'Scandal.'
Tony Rivetti, ABC

The question not asked anymore – since Donald J. Trump has been sworn in – is: “Why did he run for POTUS” to begin with? The answer, my friends, is blowing in the ill wind, and it seems to be rather simple: He wanted to be POTUS.

In his inauguration speech, President Trump announced: “The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action.” This raises another question, his own empty talk notwithstanding: What will he do as POTUS, and how? The answer to that seems to be even simpler, and based on the answer to the first question, is best phrased as yet another question: Why should he do anything?

Possibly without being aware of it, President Trump (or should we follow his own misspelling and call him Precedent Trump?) adheres to the Buddhist dictum that one should strive “to be” rather than “to do.” That would provide an ontological explanation of the Trump phenomenon.

Although the jury of history is still out on the Obama administration’s achievements and blunders, it looks as though everyone takes the former president’s own word for it on this issue: “I’m proud of the fact that, with two weeks to go, we’re probably the first administration in modern history that hasn’t had a major scandal in the White House.” (Barack Obama, interviewed on “60 Minutes,” aired January 15.)

But strictly speaking, and taking into account that we live in a TV reality age, there was a major scandal in the White House. It broke out in the last year of Obama’s first term of office, on April 5, 2012, when the first episode of the first season of the political thriller series “Scandal” aired on ABC.

Created, produced and run by Shonda Rhimes (of “Grey’s Anatomy” and “How to Get Away with Murder”), the show takes place in Washington, D.C. It focuses on a fictional crisis management firm, Olivia Pope & Associates, which is striving to weather the political and personal storms threatening the (white) Republican President Fitzgerald Grant III. Nicknamed Fitz and played by Tony Goldwyn, he has a libido to match the one possessed by Bill Clinton. Olivia Pope (played by the young, gifted and black Kerry Washington), formerly served as Fitz’s communications director and is having a passionate, on-and-off love affair with him.

In the sixth season of “Scandal,” Fitz supposedly reaches the end of his second term, and his ex-wife, Mellie (played by Bellamy Young), is a contender for the Republican nomination to succeed him. The show was initially due to air on January 19, the eve of Trump’s inauguration, but someone at ABC realized this was folly. Instead, it was broadcast in the U.S. on Thursday and will be aired on HOT 3 on Sunday, January 29, at 20:45. After that it can be seen weekly, three days after the U.S. airing.

The character of Olivia Pope is loosely and partially based on Judy Smith, press aide in the George H.W. Bush administration, who serves as co-producer of the series and lends it a whiff of veracity. The whole notion of crisis management dates back to the 1960s. The OED credits Herman Kahn, one of the preeminent futurists of the 20th century, with coining the expression in his 1965 book “On Escalation: Metaphors and Scenarios.” In it, Kahn deals with the once unthinkable and now too-frightening-to-ponder possibility of an unhinged character in the seat of power, with a hand hovering ominously above the red button.

Within the story arc of “Scandal,” crises run in packs and relate more to the personal (who sleeps with whom, who is accused of killing whom) than the national – although the two are closely intertwined. For at least part of the sixth season, Fitz will already be out of office, very much like President Obama, and Rhimes has hinted that her fictional show will sail close to the wind of events. Judging by the unpredictable personality of the new inhabitant of the White House, who sees reality in severe black-and-white and whose administration looks very white, one is tempted to predict that the scandal-free hiatus at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is over. That will make Rhimes’ plotting efforts much more complicated.

All in the family

It looks like the Trump presidency is going to be very much a family affair, with his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, cleared by the Justice Department to serve as his senior advisor. The plot of “Scandal” is also a family affair, not only because much of it hinges on the dissolution of the First Family (Fitz divorces Mellie mid-term), but also because the arch-villain of the plot, the one who will stop at nothing, even if it means doing away with his own kith and kin is Olivia’s father, Rowan Pope, (played by Joe Morton).

Here is where TV and reality cross paths, and not into the gray area of reality TV that spawned Precedent Trump. In “Scandal,” Rowan Pope, the malevolent figure who pulls all the strings, says to Olivia of the president: “You and I both know he is not in charge; he is never in charge. Power is in charge.”

And this is what actor Joe Morton said in a video message to President Trump: “Three hundred million. That is the number of people you are responsible for, Mr. Trump,” he declared. “Not the number of voters – the number of people. There is a difference. One hopes it was the people who compelled you to run for office in the first place. You decided to run. Yes, you won, but it can never be about you – it must always be about the people. All the people. America is not just white men. If the deck is stacked against anyone, you can never be the white-man-in-chief, because everyone in the entire country is worth saving. Everyone. Mexicans, Muslims, gays, the handicapped, people of color, poor people, women. Everyone in this country is worth saving. In the face of darkness, Mr. Trump, it is your responsibility to drag everyone into the light. That, Mr. Trump, is the point of being president of these United States. At least that is the hope of American democracy.”

The sixth season of “Scandal” will have 16 episodes, not 22 like the first five, and it starts mid-season, as the producers had to work around the time of Washington’s second pregnancy (the first happened in season three; her character in the series has – spoiler alert! – had an abortion). But those who wanted more of Washington could have watched her as Anita Hill in the HBO movie “Confirmation,” which aired last Saturday on HOT HBO, and can be seen on HOT VOD. The 2016 film follows the 1995 confirmation of Justice Clarence Thomas, which went through despite allegations about recurring instances of sexual harassment. It is just the thing to watch these days, when one can brag about pussy grabbing and still get elected POTUS.