Film & TV

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...

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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.

Loved it! I've put the five acts of my new pilot down on paper for the first time which has been great.

It was incredible I learned so much. I’m actually gonna go rewrite My script. Her teaching style is very understandable I’m sure with the knowledge I’ve gained my show is definitely going to be a hit.

Learnt a lot of stuff I didn't know before. I liked Shonda's style of teaching and I feel much more confident now that I can write a great script for a TV series.

It was a great class and I will continue to refer back to it. My only suggestion is to fix the class in which the Scandal beat sheet was written on the white board but we almost never got to see the BOARD!


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.

Donnetrice A.

Also, just went back and watched the pilot of Scandal and it is 100% correct that it was a pilot that made the audience want to watch more. Even though I have seen all of the episodes of that series, I am tempted to sit here and watch the next episode, because it has been so long, I forgot what happened next and now I want to know again. Now that's great writing!

Donnetrice A.

Hard to believe that all of that happened in ONE episode! Really makes me rethink what I'm doing in my pilot. Loving this class!

Derrick W. J.

I have been cheating by watching all the videos(lessons) first but just had to stop and comment. I really like Shonda Rhimes' course. Plan to make the most of it!!!!

Monya W.

To see the breakdown of the show is amazing. I now look at shows from a different perspective. I am learning show much from this masterclass. Thank you Ms. Rhimes!