Chapter 16 of 30 from Shonda Rhimes

Case Study: Scandal Pilot - Act One


Shonda breaks down the first act of the Scandal pilot, revealing why she structured the opening scene the way she did.

Topics include: Scandal Case Study

Shonda breaks down the first act of the Scandal pilot, revealing why she structured the opening scene the way she did.

Topics include: Scandal Case Study

Shonda Rhimes

Shonda Rhimes Teaches Writing for Television

In 6+ hours of video lessons, Shonda teaches you her playbook for writing and creating hit television.

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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 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.

Watch, listen, and learn as Shonda teaches you how to write, pitch, and create a hit TV show.

A downloadable workbook accompanies the class with lesson recaps and supplemental materials.

Upload videos to get feedback from the class. Shonda will also respond to select student questions.


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

Thank you for offering Shonda Rhimes' class to MasterClass. The class was honest, informative, and inspirational and complete. She covered all the questions I wished I could ask her in person. MasterClass has excellent instructors who share and teach their crafts. Thanks for sharing, Ms. Shonda Rhimes.

Shonda is a very impressive teacher and is thorough. I'll use her advice to build my VLOG channel for my company!

I love the Masterclass series because the teachers are all people of proven expertise and knowledge in their fields. Being a writer, I've read countless books and articles by people who clearly knew no more (or less) than I did. This is VERY different and Shonda Rhimes in particular has put so much into her course. I can't recommend it highly enough.

I have gained the knowledge and inspiration that I needed to write a pilot, and follow my dream of being a showrunner.


Hector V.

Speaking of 'Easter Eggs', it's only mentioned in one line that Olivia Pope once workd in the White House. That allowed the pilot to go in that direction in the future once the audience has accepted what it is Olivia and her firm does.

Hector V.

Wow! Ms. Rhimes said there should be a baby in every pilot. Subconsciously, I wrote a woman with a baby into the introductory scene! It's the first 'Easter Egg' in my show.

TyRah J.

This lesson is exactly what I needed. The character introductions are intriguing and that's what I'm going for. I want, need, got to have an glued eye to Act One of my pilot. Shonda is so amazing, I swear

Ryan L.

What really struck me about the first act of the pilot is that there isn't a single second of dead air. You're constantly barraged by dialogue, almost to a Robert Altman level, which is a huge risk if it's not good dialogue, though luckily Shonda's a good enough writer that it actually works here.

Adele H.

So much great information in this class. I keep going back to my script to ABSOLUTELY LOVING THIS!

Angela J.

Each lesson leaves my creating another intro. More editing needs to be completed. This is intense but it will be worth it when it make it to prime time

Jamie (JD) W.

Fantastic breaking down the pilot into 5 different acts and using a color for each storyline. Very thorough. Reading the pilot again made me realize why I love Shonda's writing so much. The character introductions are strong and believable; their dialogue is clear and direct; honest and authentic. Great job.

Kimberly P.

This lesson is so helpful to understand how to build the pilot from act 1. So much happened in the first act to give the audience a visual of what is to come. Best advice is how to use a character to be your audience to help tell the background to the story.

Tonya E.

Never heard of beats as a writer, only as an actor. I see the connection now, beats for writers are an important part of the scene that is later fleshed out.

Jean M.

I love this! Thanks Shonda Rhimes! I didn't know that you can have all that in act1. What an awesome experience of learning how to write a Pilot.


So we're talking about the script of "Scandal"-- the pilot script of "Scandal." And one of the things I think is helpful for anybody who's thinking about writing a pilot script is to take a pilot that you know well-- for me it was the "West Wing" script-- and break it down, and figure out what the beats of it were. And just examine it and you dissect it, so then you can understand how it was made in a lot of ways, how it was put together. And it's something that-- it's sort of reverse, unwriting a script, in a weird way. And it helps you when you're trying to figure out how to write your own script, because then you can see why things happened the way they did and how something was built. It's almost like taking a house apart piece by piece to see how they put it together. And so, I thought we would do that with the "Scandal" pilot, because I thought that would make for a nice example of how things are done. Because I know how it was done. So looking at it, interestingly enough, if you look at the-- we have a board here. And I think using a board is always the best way to do this, because it's a nice, big visual, and it helps you. So we divide it into five sections. And each section represents an act of the script-- five acts. And you write each one of your beats going down. Who's going to write on the board? I'll do it. Perfect. Let's do it. We only really have-- this story really only has-- it has three storylines, I suppose. So we'll give each of the storylines a color. Does anybody know what the three storylines are? Really, do you--when you look at it-- what do you think the three storylines really are, the threads of the stories are? Well, I think there's the storyline with Amanda-- finding out about Amanda, which then leads into the storyline and the reveal of Olivia's relationship with the president. Mhm. That's one. That's one. And then I would say the other one is probably the Sully, the Captain Sully storyline, which is Olivia and her team investigating-- or rather trying to handle his issue, as far as what happened with his crime that was committed. Yes. And I feel like more of a C story would be Stephen proposing to Georgia. Yeah, I really always say the C story is life at the shop-- in a weird way-- which is Quinn's entry into the world, how Quinn feels about the world, the Stephen stuff, the fact that Abby has feelings for him, those small beats. So those are exactly right. So let's give each one a color. You can choose whichever color makes you happy. Oh, perfect. Interestingly, enough act one only has three scenes in it, really. If you look at-- if you think about the scene that takes place inside Olivia Pope & Associates-- which we call OPA-- it's just one big flowing scene. The camera never stops moving. OK, so looking at this, you have the opening scene-- which I feel like, oddly enough, while...