Diane Haithman is a contributor to Deadline.
Scandal fans watched tonight’s jam-packed season finale and received a major revelation SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! because of a single line (“Dad???”). The ABC drama’s ‘gladiators’ as they are called heard it live at the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences at the end of the first-ever onstage table read of the show using the finale script. The session ended about 10 minutes into the 10 PM PT airing. The cast whooped and hollered too. “The satisfying part is, I knew all along,” Morton crowed as the cast finished reading Act 6 which revealed that Rowan (Joe Morton) is the father of Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington). At the top of the session, show creator/executive producer Shonda Rhimes said she hoped the experiment would give the audience a feeling of what it’s like to be in the room at a real table read. Washington said she didn’t know that would be a plot twist until the first table read of the script. “I grew up in a household where Joe Morton is a great American hero,” she said. “Every week I would say: ‘Joe, I really hope we have some scenes together. He’d say: ‘We do. We do.’ ”
Rhimes joked that reading in front of people meant the cast would use less profanity than usual (this did not seem to be the case). She also said that the audience would hear some lines that ended up being cut from the version they would watch later at home. The panel was hosted by Access Hollywood’s Shaun Robinson, who admonished the many Hollywood wannabes in the audience: “Please don’t ask Shonda for a job. No pitches for shows. No resumes.” Rhimes left the stage to sit in the audience during the reading. Executive producer Betsy Beers sat onstage with Scandal’s large ensemble cast. When read aloud — including plenty of mugging and horsing around by the crowd — this popular evening soap opera played more like high comedy. The audience frequently roared with laughter and offered loud applause. Some of the humor came from Rhimes’ stage directions, read aloud by Beers. Such as: “Jake and Olivia are having sex in his apartment. (Beat). Good sex. (Beat). Great sex.”
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During the Q&A afterward – which included one question from audience member Debbie Allen – Rhimes was asked to explain the “drug” that makes Scandal so addictive. “Oh God, I don’t know. I feel really lucky,” she replied. “This cast, we have a lot of fun, we enjoy our jobs. I don’t know what the alchemy is.” She said that when one actor is doing a telephone scene with another actor, the actor not in the shot often will make the effort to be on the line so the first actor will have someone to react to.
Rhimes also confirmed what some have called her “no-assholes policy.” “I do feel like you want to come to work and really enjoy coming to work,” she said. “Everybody who’s here, you love them.” She did reveal that one character, first lady Mellie Grant (Bellamy Young), was only supposed to appear in 3 episodes but grew into a regular.
Washington was asked about the challenge of being the star of the show. “It’s a funny question for me to answer,” she said. “The biggest challenge of that is not buying into that idea. I don’t have a show that is built around me.” She said that she feels like part of “the finest theater company I’ve ever been in.”
Finally, Rhimes was asked if she ever planned to direct an episode of Scandal. The answer was no. “What’s crazy about getting to have your own TV show is, you have your own TV show,” she said, drawing laughs. “It’s awesome … sort of like living in this amazing dream world. But then, I don’t have to sit on the set all day. The job has other facets to it. Most of that time is better spent in the writers room. Me sitting in the director’s chair on my show would maybe be a little bit arrogant.”