Chapter 20 of 30 from Shonda Rhimes

Case Study: Scandal Pilot - Act Five

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

Topics include: Scandal Case Study

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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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Shonda Rhimes

Shonda Rhimes Teaches Writing for Television