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Arts & Entertainment

Case Study: Scandal Pilot - Act Five

Shonda Rhimes

Lesson time 19:55 min

Shonda discusses the final act of the Scandal pilot and reveals how she set up the pilot for an entire season of episodes.

Shonda Rhimes
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We're in act 5. They're in the police station. They have no idea what they're going to do about Sully. But basically, they decide, let's try to keep the press at bay. So it's sort of a holding pattern beat, as I like to call it, because you have to keep the story alive. But you don't really have anything to do. You can't leave that "all is lost" moment and then not come back to it until Olivia has her moment. You have to say, here's what happens when somebody gets arrested. And you have to remember that you have to say those things, mainly because you have to think logically. What would happen next? They take them to the police station. They'd be worried about the press. And then Olivia gets the page that basically says that Amanda Tanner tried to kill herself. The next time you see her, Olivia's at the hospital talking to Quinn. And you don't question why Quinn's at the hospital. You don't question any of those things. So then Olivia and Quinn are at the hospital. And Quinn is trying to convince Olivia that she believes Amanda Tanner. And Quinn says the most important thing, which is that I trust my gut, and my gut says she's telling the truth, which is what makes Olivia stop and say, why do you trust your gut? And I love that, because now we've watched Quinn learn from Olivia all the way through. Moments like that-- those callback moments-- that's what I like to call them-- callback moments-- are really key, because they really make the story feel like they have a full circle quality to them. I like that you also learn something about Olivia there as well-- that for as much as she trusts her gut, she's really willing to listen to people when they trust theirs. Yes. Yes, it also says like you trust the idea of trusting your gut so much that if somebody else says they trust theirs, you'll listen, which I think is important. And then basically, this was fascinating to me. I kept, for some reason-- I don't know why-- the phrase "sweet baby" was the phrase. But it was, because I can't really imagine calling someone sweet baby. It sounds like a really weird thing to call somebody. It sounds a little creepy. But some for some reason, at the time, it worked perfectly in my head. The music of it worked perfectly in my head. And so I introduced this phrase in this scene. And there's no relationship anywhere else in the show. It hasn't ever been said before. We've never used it before. It's not one of those moments where you hear it and we all go, oh. But she hears it and goes, oh. So we're now referring to a moment that's happened way before the show has ever started. And that's kind of a gamble. I wasn't 100% sure the audience was going to go with us on that, because they don't know what we're talking about. But she says it, and it stops Olivia enough to make Olivia stop and just walk away. A...

Make Great Television

When Shonda Rhimes pitched Grey’s Anatomy she got so nervous she had to start over. Twice. Since then, she has created and produced TV’s biggest hits. In her screenwriting class, Shonda teaches you how to create compelling characters, write a pilot, pitch your idea, and stand out in the writers’ room. You’ll also get original pilot scripts, pitch notes, and series bibles from her shows. Welcome to Shondaland.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

I couldn't get enough! Thank you Shonda for making me feel like I belong at the table and to dive in fearlessly! I will be coming back to this class!

I rewrote my script, it's better than ever. I learned to describe characters without being too specific and to connect one scene with the next.

I appreciate having access to her. She was so candid and friendly. I don't expect to eve write for television but I am a writer, so the course was very valuable.

there was so many gems that I discovered, but most importantly, "a writer writes. Write every day. It was inspiring.


Kasiemba O.

Do they ever show a good close-up of the completed whiteboard?... Somewhere??? Even in HD, it's kinda blurry when you try to see the whole thing all at once.

Elana R.

It's particularly interesting to hear a bit of commentary before watching any of the show. And then deconstructing/analyzing with Shonda and writing team.

A fellow student

I'm still wondering why Sully had to go public with his secret. Couldn't Olivia's team find a way to discreetly show the evidence to the DA to prove his innocence and get the charges dropped prior to him being arrested?

Ashley H.

I love how Shonda mentioned towards the end of the video how the 1st and 2nd act needs a Resolution towards the end of the show. How there needs to be wrap-ups and satisfaction. And how Amanda Tanner is the launch point for the whole season. Brilliant! This was a great video. So grateful for this class.

Margaret W.

First, I'd like to say, Shonda Rhimes is a creative genius! Writing with a twist is not easy and each episode leaves you craving for more. Reading the script and watching the pilot provides an inside look at the mind of Shonda. I am a writer of twisted suspense and after watching this course I realize how complicated script writing a drama series can be. I am currently developing a script for tv series as requested during my "Pitch Meeting." Choosing intriguing "A", "B", "C" storylines and the gripping beats for Acts One-Five is a challenge. This is my first attempt at writing a script. I need all the help I can get. I'm looking forward to completing the course.

Kendra J.

Great lesson. But I do have a question. Did I hear during 1 of her previous lessons that she actually wrote the entire script for the pilot season prior to her pitching the show? Or did the writing come after the pitch and acceptance of the show?

Graeme R.

Intuitively, this show seems to be exclusively targeted at women. This article suggests that it appeals most to 18 to 34-year-old African American women from middle to upper-class backgrounds. As an old white man it seems to me to be pure, fatuous fantasy, more of a superhero comic than a plausible drama.

Graeme R.

The male student up-talking and saying "like" every second word is appalling. He is presumably meant to be an articulate writer or future writer. Stupid memes destroy coherence.


Ms. Rhimes made it clear how important it is to use action and dialogue to tell the viewer who the characters are. If the character's activity doesn't do so, it should be cut.

Jonathan S.

It's a giant puzzle that needs to be reworked until your brain bleeds. And then you do it all over for the next episode! Confession: I don't think I can do that.