As Gladiators all over the country prepare to uncorck a bottle of wine to enjoy the Scandal finale tonight, executive producer Betsy Beers, like show creator Shonda Rhimes, is in denial that the show is ending. But as much as the Shondaland producer wants Olivia Pope and company to continue their corrupt political adventures, the show must come to an end — and Beers is bracing herself. Deadline spoke with Beers about what is in store for these flawed characters, the drama’s impact on pop culture, how it has broken barriers when it comes to inclusion and diversity and how the show is a clap back at the problematic concept of “likable women” on television.
DEADLINE: Scandal has lasted seven seasons and has amassed a very loyal following and it has cemented itself as an iconic TV drama. How are you prepping yourself for the big finale?
BETSY BEERS: I like this thing called denial. It’s doing really well for me, and you’d be surprised how long I’m able to actually extend denial. I think that I’ve had bursts and moments of kind of realization hitting that this show that we developed so many years ago, and that I love so much [is ending]. See, now I’m starting to deal with it. This is very bad, Dino. I was doing very well before I spoke to you. (laughs)
DEADLINE: That’s what we’re here for.
BEERS: Thanks so much doctor. I’ll give you $250 after this. I think honestly for me, what happens is it sort of comes in waves. Most of the time I forget it’s not getting around. Then all of a sudden a burst will happen where I thought, “Oh my gosh, this is actually happening.”
Going to Washington was a big thing when we were filming. There were these moments where it sort of hit me in waves. I think looking at Thursday night now as it approaches — we are going to be spending so much of the evening doing all things Scandal, and celebrating all these Scandal —that’s when I’m really probably going to be dealing with it full force.
DEADLINE: It’s kind of like graduating high school or college.
BEERS: I was just going to say that. That’s so weird. You’re absolutely right. Let’s say you went to school with some friends in high school and then you went to the same college. You would have gone about seven years right? So, you’re right. I mean it’s a very sort of similar experience, and I feel weirdly like a parent who’s watched their kids grow up…and they start as little toddlers and by the time you’re done, they’re coming home and doing their laundry. And they’re all grown up, but they leave, and you miss them. So it is that kind of intimacy and closeness you have with friends over seven years.
DEADLINE: When the show first started, and it caught on very fast mind you, but when did you realize,”Oh my God, Scandal is this big deal.
BEERS: I think for me, weirdly, I have friends who would call and were actually rabid from the moment we debuted, but the penny didn’t fully drop for me until after season two the episode in which Fitz gets shot. And we worked very hard to make sure that was an episode we promoted. I talked to ABC, and we targeted this episode, saying that this episode we all felt was so incredibly bold because seven or eight episodes into season two we put the life of one of our main protagonists in danger.
I would go places and it was one of those moments and people would look at me at a party and say, “I cannot believe you shot Fitz — I cannot believe you shot him.” I would definitely say it didn’t really get me until season two.
DEADLINE: Olivia Pope has become a television icon. How do you think her journey has reflected politics and the social climate over the seven seasons through the finale?
BEERS: You know, I think there’s a lot of different answers to that question. It’s a really, really good question. I think what’s really interesting about Olivia is Olivia’s world over the course of seven seasons has become more and more layered and complex. To me, a lot of the journey for Olivia and a lot of the characters in Scandal is about when you are exposed to power, how does power change you, and then how can you use power for good instead of your own purposes — I’m not going to say evil. And I think what’s been amazing to me to watch is, first of all, Olivia has been through so many things that it’s kind of astonishing when you look at episodes and the personal journey she’s been on and the relationships that she’s transformed. But all the characters, as well as Olivia, have all been faced at moments when they were tempted by the downside of power.
I think what’s been wonderful to watch about Olivia is that I’ve related to her every single step of the way — as I have with the other characters. But focusing on Olivia… she started by always wanting to do what was right by her client, and then she grew and started to do what was right for the country. The country became her client.
So I sort of feel like she’s experienced all those different upsides and downsides to the whole concept of the Oval. What happens in the Oval, how the Oval changes people — it’s what people are constantly talking about. And I think if I look into the world right now, it’s been very comforting to have somebody going through what is an incredibly bewildering landscape sometimes, and to be able to follow them and follow their journey,, and still understand that there’s a way possibly you can find light, and tell the truth, and then some.
DEADLINE: The characters on Scandal are wildly flawed and far from perfect just like many of us in real life — some of us more than others. But do you think that there’s any redemption for each and every one of them? I don’t necessarily want to say that everything has to be tied up in a bow at the end, but is there redemption for everyone’s actions?
BEERS: You know what? I would love to talk to you about that after the finale — because I think the way the finale handles the journeys of each of these characters is really elegant, beautifully handled, and incredibly satisfying. And that’s what I’ll say about the finale.
[All the characters] have come to a crossroads at different points where they say, “What would you do in this situation?” And they’ve all had to make these incredibly crucial choices. I look at Abby — I think Abby, for a long time, held strong and firm to her moral compass, but in that job, when faced with decisions to be made that she thought would be the best, she did things later that she regretted or she felt bad about. I think I can relate to every single one of these characters, and that moment, when you’re faced with a virtually impossible decision, you say, “What would I do?” So I think over the course of the series each character has had a reckoning.
DEADLINE: Scandal has broken barriers when it comes to storytelling through a very inclusive lens. How do you think that Scandal has done for inclusivity, and the portrayal of people of color, women, members of the LGBT community, and other marginalized groups?
BEERS: I certainly hope, as with all the shows that we produce, that it shows a world in which you see different kinds of people. I hope that people take away from Scandal is that people are people and a strong woman is a strong woman. This is what life looks like. This is what friendship looks like. This is what falling in love with somebody looks like. This is what we all look like.
DEADLINE: The term “strong woman” to reference a character on a show seems to be dated and Scandal is a show that has made it unnecessary to say “strong” because women are strong without saying. You seldom hear people say “strong man” to describe the personality of a character on a show.
I don’t disagree with you. I also have this other pet peeve which I’ve spoken about a lot. The word “likable.” I hate the word “likable.” I don’t understand why you have to describe a character name to be “likable.” I don’t know what that means, and also you never hear people talk about likable men. There’s no need to make a woman more likable so people will forgive her for whatever potential flaws. She’s a person.
One of the great things about Shonda’s writing, the writing on the show, the actors, and the way they portray these characters is exactly what you were saying before. These characters are human. They’re human and flawed and funny and beautiful, and they do things that are sometimes not predictable, but comes from the heart, and comes from a place which makes sense because they’re like people. They’re like us, and nobody is always likable.