I just read a GREAT piece in The New York Times called Network TV Is Broken. So How Does Shonda Rhimes Keep Making Hits? by Willa Paskin. She reports that Scandal now gets 8 million viewers per week. It is the number one drama at the 10pm slot on any night, on any network and with the coveted 18-49 year old demographic. It hangs with the network television big dogs like CSI, and gets more viewers than beloved cable shows like Game of Thrones and Mad Men. It’s also the number one show on network TV among Black people.
The piece also contains an interesting test for people to really examine if racism and sexism are shaping their responses to Scandal and to Shonda Rhimes herself:
Try this blind test: A politician and a workaholic have a passionate extramarital affair that endangers their careers and national security. A scheming Washington insider murders an innocent and makes it look like a suicide to further his own career. A person assumes a false identity after a gruesome incident and uses that identity to build a new life. To protect his legacy, a man preemptively murders a former ally once essential to his success.
These are all descriptions of plot points on “Scandal” — but also on “Homeland,” “House of Cards,” “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad,” respectively. “Scandal” may not look or feel like TV’s other prestige dramas, in which (usually male) antiheroes mix it up under the oversight of an (almost always male) auteur who has complex feelings about entertaining his audience. Rhimes feels no such ambivalence.
I really like that Shonda Rhimes has spoken out (more than once, actually) on her resentment of the show being called a “guilty pleasure.” She called such a label “ridiculous” and “super insulting.” I find that women and men embracing this label for shows of interest to women just reveals sexism in our society. What man has ever called anything he watches a “guilty pleasure?” I know men that watch the most ridiculous reality shows and wrestling—which is a soap opera, and do not label the shows this way. The irony of Scandal is it is not woman-centric; it’s human centric. “Olivia” gets to be human too, not just a series of stereotypes. And, as the ratings reveals, men watch Scandal too.
Only two more episodes this season!