Scandal

Believe Care Invest: Scandal

Why Olivia might be hard to identify with: 
  • It’s a bit off-putting that she’s kinda smugly confident and unflappable. The D.A. has a point when he says “Your Spidey senses aren’t evidence.” 
  • She’s got what is ultimately an ugly job.  She’s horribly abusive to the president’s lover: “I want to warn you. Because you seem like a fine person. So you should know what could happen. It could become hard for you to find employment, your face would be everywhere, people would associate you with a sex scandal. All kinds of information about you could easily become available to the press. For example, you've had 22 sexual partners? That we know of. Also there's that ugly bout of gonorrhea. And your family...Your mother's mental illness. A psychotic break? 2 years in Bedford Hospital? I bet that's private. She's runs a daycare now, right?” (But Olivia does come around to the side of the angels in the final minutes and agree to fight for the mistress against the president.)
Believe
  • Harrison lures Quinn (and us) in with a bunch of lies about how “We’re the good guys, slaying dragons, gladiators in suits”, but gradually reveals the truth once she is (and we are) committed: “It’s not about solving a crime, it’s not about justice, it’s about our client.” This will be a pulpy show, but it’s moral murkiness will be very believable. Olivia smirks and asks “Did Harrison feed you a line about being a gladiator in a suit?”
Care
  • She doesn’t have much suffering or embarrassment, but we slowly come to realize that she’s lost something due to something that something that’s happened in her past. The D.A. says to her, “You don’t have the muscle of the white house behind me any more, you’re just a private citizen who is, by the way, annoying.” We eventually find out she has a big weakness, she’s still in love with the (very married) president and it tears her up inside. Without that bit of suffering, we’d reject her.
Invest
  • Before we meet Olivia, Quinn hears the name “Olivia Pope” and says “THE Olivia Pope?”
  • Then we meet her and she’s standing up to gun-toting Ukranian gangsters, armed with nothing but her confidence: “What’s going to happen is that you and Vlad are going to take the three million and leave right now to make your flight.”
  • She’s the queen of the power moves: The associates have a vote about whether to take the case, the other three all vote no, but she says “my vote always comes down to my gut, my gut tells me everything I need to know. We’re taking the case.” Finch asks “Why do we even bother voting?” But Olivia just dismisses him by saying, “You’re pretty, and smart, so pretty, so smart.”
  • She has the power to say, “You tell the president of the United States to make time for me.”
Five Es
  • Eat: No. She’s not very human.
  • Exercise: No.
  • Economic Activity: She’s always working.
  • Enjoy: After watching Olivia work, Finch says “God I love this job” and Olivia implicitly agrees.
  • Emulate: No.
Rise above
  • At the end of the pilot, she realizes that she has to rise above her job and stop trying to silence the president’s lover.
Kind
  • While she’s being all badass with the kidnappers she’s also inquiring about whether Finch has proposed to his girlfriend.
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Scandal: The Archive

A great pilot that’s worth studying.
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Rulebook Casefile: The Effortless Moment of Humanity in the “Scandal” Pilot

Olivia is the main character of “Scandal”, so they pilot gives her a bad-ass hyper-competent “I want to be her” introduction, but Quinn is our POV character, so she also needs a great intro, and unlike Olivia, Quinn’s intro should be something more off-hand and relateable. Something that makes us say, “She’s fun, like me.”

When rewatching The Fugitive, I marveled at the fact that we basically love Tommy Lee Jones after he says one (personality-filled) sentence: “My my my my my my my, what a mess,” but I asked myself if that line would be as appealing in the mouth of someone other than Tommy Lee Jones, and I can’t tell for sure.

Rhimes, on the other hand, had created a name-brand of appealingly snarky dialogue that can be hand-crafted for every actor and situation. She makes it looks effortless, but it’s actually a very tricky business:
  • You don’t want it to sound canned, as if you stayed up all night thinking of the perfect line.
  • You don’t want the other character to helpfully set-up the witty retort, or it’ll seem too easy.
  • It needs to sound tossed off, without the character putting too fine a point on it.
  • Most importantly (and this is what most shows get wrong), you don’t want it to be totally lacking in empathy. As the always-great David Wong points out here: most “witty banter” actually just consists of incomprehensible cruelty and the audience is simply supposed to ignore that.
Rhimes is more sophisticated than that. She gives her sympathetic characters a tart-but-not-bitter wit that doesn’t alienate us. Here’s a shortened version of Quinn’s introduction:
  • Harrison: What are you drinking?
  • Quinn: I can't stay is what I'm saying. I don't do blind dates.
  • Harrison: My parents met on a blind date. They've been inseparable ever since.
  • Quinn: I'm happy for your parents, and for you, because it means you exist, but I don’t do blind dates.
  • Harrison: This isn’t a blind date.
  • Quinn: What?
  • Harrison: It’s a job interview. What are you drinking?
Quinn remains vulnerable and nervous, and Harrison maintains control of the scene, but Quinn’s quick automatic  “because it means you exist” convinces us that she’s our type of person: naturally funny and willing to stand up for herself even when she’s feeling awkward. This type of dialogue is literally worth millions.
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Straying from the Party Line: Overdoing the Ticking Clock in the “Scandal” Pilot

Ticking clocks are great. They escalate tension and stakes. They create a sense of urgency. They pre-establish the ultimate goal and clarify the main dramatic question. But they must seem natural. If they go too far, and violate our sense of how the world works, all that good will suddenly be reversed.

“Scandal” is a show with built-in weekly ticking clock: They’re trying to get out in front of scandals before they become known to the public, and that impending danger is always nipping at their heels.

The pilot does a nice job of making the clock more explicit: After the blood-covered war hero stumbles into Olivia’s headquarters after midnight, she heads over to the D.C. district attorney, wakes him up, and tells him that she doesn’t intend to hand over her client for another 24 hours, and she’ll politicize it in the press if he shows up before then. This is a stretch, but it’s believable enough for TV. This is a huge high-profile arrest, and a political football, and the D.A. might give some leeway to a well-connected bulldog defense lawyer.

But then things get needlessly silly. Just when the case is faltering, the D.A. and the police shows up at Olivia’s door with a warrant, but she brashly tells them that she still has 40 minutes on their agreement and so they reluctantly agree to stand outside in the hallway for that time while Olivia’s team tries one last hail-mary to find the alibi.

Nope.

Audiences have a sense of how the world works, and they generously allow a certain amount of wiggle room beyond that. Most stories, after all, are about extraordinary crisis situations, and in that high-stakes world the rules for what would usually happen are allowed to stretch a bit. But come on, people. Don’t violate our good will. 

Why do this? Why not just have Olivia say, “The D.A. might be here in less than an hour! Get me something!” Because TV networks love visual ticking clocks, and pilots especially often have such ludicrously exaggerated scenes. Does this mean that spec pilot writers should include such scenes? Probably not. Don’t voluntarily sacrifice plot logic before they get a chance to take it from you.
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Storyteller’s Rulebook: Hypocrisy Can Build Sympathy

(Warning: This is long!)
I written before that it’s not really true that most villains are the heroes of their own stories, even when those villains have their own TV shows. It is true of deranged psychopaths, like King Joffrey of “Game of Thrones,” but most antiheroes (Frank Underwood, Tony Soprano, Vic Mackey, Patty Hewes of “Damages”) are content to “play the villain.” They feel that their actions are justified, but they know they’re far from virtuous.

But “Scandal” shows us another type of antihero: the self-deluding hypocrite. You would think that this would be the least appealing of any type of antihero, but it turns out to be quite compelling, generating a varying amount of sympathy and a consistent amount of empathy from the audience.

As the pilot opens, Quinn is recruited to join the firm by Harrison, who tells her that
  • Harrison: We all get paid crap salaries because we're the good guys […]You'll change lives, slay dragons, love the hunt more than you ever dreamed because Olivia Pope is as amazing as they say […] When you work for Olivia. You’re a gladiator in a suit.
But as soon as Quinn arrives on the job, she begins to suspect that she’s been lied to:
  • Quinn: It is an honor to work for your law firm.
  • Olivia: We're not a law firm. We're lawyers, but this is not a law firm.
  • Stephen: Law firms are for pansies.
  • Olivia: We solve problems.
  • Abby: Manage crises, save reputations.
  • Quinn: Right. Of course. It's still an honor.
  • Olivia [squints at Quinn]: Harrison feed you a line about being a gladiator in a suit?
(We also see in that scene that they collect a huge check for facilitating a ransom, and they’re proud of the amount, so maybe there’s another reason for the crap salary.)
Later, Harrison is training her in and now his tune is starting to change:
  • Quinn: So you guys don't try cases? You don't go to court?
  • Harrison: We do our jobs right, we never need to go to court. Now look, the reason we're not a law firm is we don't have to play within the rules of the law. We're fixers, crisis managers. We make the problems of our client, big or small, go away. It's not about solving a crime. It's not about justice. It's about our client.
After Quinn helps Olivia destroy the life of the president’s suicidal mistress, she finally realizes what she’s gotten into and has a breakdown. In the end, one of their clients turns out to be guilty (the president) and the other turns out to be innocent (the war hero Sully), but even there, we can’t expect a TV “heroic” ending. They box up everything after he’s cleared:
  • Quinn: So Sully's innocent.
  • Harrison: He didn't kill Paige.
  • Quinn: Then who did?
  • Huck: Don't matter.
  • Harrison: It matters, just not to us. All that matters is Sully. That's the job. Look, I take all this stuff to the police. Maybe it helps them. Finding Paige's killer is their job.
  • Quinn: You said we were the good guys.
  • Harrison: We are.
  • Quinn: Really? I mean, is Olivia .... is she one of the good guys?
  • Harrison: No. She's not one of the good guys. She's the best guy. It's not enough to say it. You gotta believe it.
  • Quinn [timidly]: Gladiators in suits.
  • Harrison: That's what I'm talking about.
Of course, this is another example of ironic set-up and pay-off dialogue: At this point, Quinn is probably remembering that, historically, the gladiators were never “good guys”: they just fought bloodsports for the entertainment of the wealthy, much as OPA will do.

It is to the show’s enormous credit that they don’t show the defense attorneys tracking down the real killer, even in the pilot (where heroes are usually more purely good than in subsequent episodes.) In the comments last week, I said:
  • In many ways, Rhimes is the second coming of David E. Kelly: when her shows are at their best, they feel like complex and thoughtful drama, but the very next week the silliness can tip over the line, and they seem like unintentional farce. That was true of “Chicago Hope”, “The Practice”, and “Boston Legal”, and it’s equally true of Rhimes's shows.
“The Practice” doesn’t get enough credit for its part in the rise of morally complex antiheroes on TV. There had been dozens of lawyer shows, but it was the first one that showed its “heroes” successfully getting vicious criminals off the hook on a regular basis. “Scandal” will also be willing to go there from time to time, so how do you do that without losing sympathy? Do you show that they feel really bad about it (as “The Practice” did)? Do you show that they’re totally amoral (as “Damages” did, although that was tort law)?

Rhimes finds another way: she wraps her characters up in many layers of hypocrisy and self-delusion. They are semi-aware of this (which engenders some sympathy, because we can see they’re trying) but we are more aware of it than they are (which engenders empathy, because we understand them better than they understand themselves.)

Hypocrisy is considered to be a cardinal sin in our culture, and therefore it might seem like unforgiveable (it’s certain not a job-interview flaw), but it’s actually deeply compelling and identifiable: after all, who doesn’t feel that they are, deep-down, a hypocrite?
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Storyteller’s Rulebook: Use Ironic Set-Up and Pay-Off Dialogue

Shonda Rhimes is a dialogue master, and one of the tricks she uses well is ironic set-up and pay-off in dialogue. In the pilot, when the war hero comes to her to clear his name, he keeps insisting that he didn’t kill his girlfriend:
  • “I didn’t kill her! I loved her! [voice cracks] She was my best friend!”
At the time, this just seems like a painful coda which makes his feelings seem even more genuine: Don’t we all want a lover who is also our best friend? It’s only when she discovers that he’s gay that Olivia realizes what it really means.

Rhimes uses this same trick in the other storyline. Olivia insists on meeting with the president so that she can look in the eye and test to see if he’s telling the truth about not having an affair with his accuser. President Fitz looks squarely at her and says, and...
  • You’ve seen me at my best and my worst. You know I did not fall for some young girl. You know there’s only one person I love”
And of course that’s true: He loves Olivia, and he had the affair to try to forget her. That’s just what Olivia wants to hear on a subconscious level, but on a conscious level she lets herself believe that he’s talking about the first lady, so she can convince herself to the take on this smear job. It’s only after she’s driven the accuser to attempt suicide that she realizes that Fitz has tapped into her subconscious desires in order to manipulate her into doing evil (which is one reason that he’s one of the most realistic presidents on TV).

I’ve said before that one of the advantages of mastering set-up and pay-off is that it keeps down on producer interference. It convinces them that your script is a tight ship, and any poking will only sink it. Indeed, though the script online is still called “UNTITLED SHONDA RHIMES PROJECT”, it’s 90% similar to what made it on the air, including these two exchanges. They know they can trust her.

(Of course, the most deeply ironic line to get flipped over in the pilot is the description of the firm as “gladiators in suits”, but that brings us into our next category…)
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Rulebook Casefile: Art vs. Entertainment in the “Scandal” Pilot

One of the reasons that Shonda Rhimes’s shows are underrated by the high-brow-set is because their moral ambiguity and deeply complex characters sit uncomfortably beside melodramatic plotting and a wildly pulpy tone. Rhimes has mixed a very delicate cocktail of darkness and fizziness: Some admire the audacity of that, while others are (perhaps understandably) offended that she would whip those two together.

I’ve said before that the real difference between art and entertainment is that the latter is concerned with intended consequences (think “CSI” and “House”) and the former with unintended (and ironic) consequences (think “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad”). So which is “Scandal”? As usual, Rhimes is determined to be both.

The storylines in the pilot have deeply ironic relationships to each other. In one, she has to convince a conservative hero to come out as gay to confirm his alibi at the time of a murder. In the other, she threatens the president’s mistress with humiliation if she comes forward.

If these two storylines were simply juxtaposed, it would feel darker and more ironic, making it more of an arty show, but the show is lifted back up into the realm of entertainment because one finale triggers the other: It’s only after confronting the president that she’s able to tell the war hero what he needs to hear.

So Olivia has restored a chain of intended consequences (she resolves the case-of-the-week thanks to what she learned from the ongoing story), but she does so using a deeply ironic “inspirational” speech that’s actually borne of her own self-loathing and chaotic downward spiral. Olivia tries to harness the irony of her life in order to keep control, but it’s obvious that she’s not really succeeding.

In other words, it’s a volatile mix of art and entertainment, and that friction actually deepens the show. In other hands, this would be an unstable template for an ongoing series, but it’s right where Rhimes wants to be.
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Rulebook Casefile: Swiftly Differentiating the Ensemble on “Scandal”

I’ve written about how it’s always best to differentiate an ensemble using their current actions and attitudes, rather than by giving them “interesting” backstories. This is one of many aspect of TV writing that Shonda Rhimes has mastered. In the script for the “Scandal” pilot, there are scenes in which the team members talk about their backstories, but by the time the episode made it to the screen, those scenes had fallen out, because they were no longer needed.

The quickest way to differentiate between an ensemble is to let them all answer the same question in rapid succession, and a great way to do this is to take a vote. In the pilot, the case of the week literally walks in the door: a right-wing-poster-boy-war-hero stumbles in covered in blood, insisting he didn’t kill his girlfriend. Shortly, our gang is watching him through glass, and debating the case:
  • Stephen: I vote no. The guy's a fugitive covered in blood. Not once did he question who killed Paige or ask us to find her killer. We all know that's a red flag. He did it.
  • Harrison: No, I don't think he did. He's a soldier, government-issue trained killing machine. He'd have to be an idiot to get her blood all over himself, call 9-1-1, and then run. But I still vote no. It's a media hand grenade.
  • Abby: I don't want to take it because it's too messy, too much work. And I hate republicans.
  • Olivia: My vote always comes down to my gut. My gut tells me everything I need to know. We're taking the case.
  • Stephen: Why do we even bother voting?
  • Olivia: You're pretty and smart. So pretty, so smart. [She smiles and leaves]
A vote like this does so much:
  • Almost instantly, we are able to differentiate between the ensemble’s attitudes and agendas, with no backstories necessary.
  • This establishes the power dynamic and hierarchy amongst them, which is closely related to…
  • It builds up conflict for later, in terms of simmering resentments and prejudiced viewpoints.
Of course, the downside of this particular vote is that one of the show’s top assets, “Lost” vet Henry Ian Cusick (Stephen), left the show without a word at the end of the first seven-episode season: He had seen the pecking order and he didn’t like it. Ultimately, he decided that Rhimes and Olivia felt the same way: He was a pretty face and a big name that would please ABC, but would never be a match for the lead character. As with some of the other shows we’ve looked at, this is a show that tends to sacrifice the ensemble to empower the hero, and it suffered a bit for that before it found a new equilibrium.

(And the other downside is that this gave Rhimes license to come up with new backstories for those characters once the show had gotten more nutty. The version of Quinn’s backstory we get in the script actually makes sense, as opposed to the ludicriously pulpy version we got in the second season!)
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The Ultimate Pilot Story Checklist: Scandal

Olivia Pope runs a media-relations-focused law firm for scandal-plagued D.C. power players. In the pilot, new girl Quinn gets trained in by smooth operator Harrison and meets sarcastic Abby, lothario Stephen, and quiet Huck. The main story involves a medal of honor winner (Sully) who didn’t kill his girlfriend, but can’t prove it without admitting that he’s gay. In the other story, President Fitz Grant uses Olivia to silence a woman (Amanda Tanner) who claims to be his lover, but Olivia realizes that the woman is telling the truth, because Olivia also had an affair with Fitz and he used the same pet-name. Olivia decides to represent Amanda, setting up the season arc.
PART 1: IS THIS A STRONG CONCEPT FOR AN ONGOING SERIES? (20/20)    
The Pitch: Does this concept excite everyone who hears about it?
Does the concept satisfy the urges that get people to love and recommend this type of series?
Well, it’s pretty original (soap, lawyer, political thriller), but it satisfies the expectations of each of these.
Does the series establish its own unique point of view on its setting?
It’s a very original setting, so it doesn’t need a unique point of view.
Is there a central relationship we haven’t seen in a series before?
The relationships within the firm are pretty standard, but then we get a big new relationship: a black woman fixer pursued by a white guy Republican president! Nope, we’ve never seen that one before.
Does the ongoing concept of the series contain a fundamental (and possibly fun) ironic contradiction?
Lawyers who never enter the courtroom.  A scandal fixer who can’t stop herself from creating the biggest scandal of all.
Does the concept meet the content expectations of one particular intended network, venue, or audience?
Yes, it’s very ABC (which would soon be renamed “Shondaland”)
Even if the setting is unpleasant, is there something about this premise that is inherently appealing? (Something that will make the audience say, “Yes, I will be able to root for some aspect of this situation to recur episode after episode.”)
Yes, we see that they can use their powers for both good and evil, and they’ll try to stay on the side of good, though they’ll lie to themselves a lot about that.
Series Fundamentals: Will this concept generate a strong ongoing series?
Is there one character (or sometimes two, in separate storylines) that the audience will choose to be their primary hero (although these heroes should probably be surrounded by an ensemble that can more than hold their own)?
Just Olivia.
If this is a TV series, is the hero role strong enough to get an actor to abandon a movie career, come to work in TV for the first time, and sign a five-year contract before shooting the pilot? (And even if not for TV, is the hero role still that strong, simply for narrative purposes?)
Yes. (Though Washington’s movie career wasn’t as strong as it should have been. I had been rooting for her since I saw Lift at Sundance.)
Is the show set in an unsafe space?
Yes, it’s made clear that you’re not allowed to date any one or not know anything, or cry long as you’re there.
Is this a setting that will bring (or has brought) different economic classes together?
Yes and no.  It will be almost entirely about rich people, but there will just enough poor people.
Will trouble walk in the door on a regular basis?
Literally.
Will the heroes be forced to engage in both physical and cerebral activity on a regular basis?
Yes and no.  Mostly cerebral, just a little physical. 
Are there big stakes that will persist episode after episode?
Yes, we find this out at the end when she takes on the president.
Will the ongoing situation produce goals or mini-goals that can be satisfactorily resolved on a regular basis?
Yes, there will also be a case of the week every week.
The Pilot: Will this pilot episode be marketable and generate word of mouth?
Does the pilot contain all of the entertainment value inherent in the premise (rather than just setting everything up and promising that the fun will start next week)?
Yes.
Does the pilot feature an image we haven’t seen before (that can be used to promote the show)?
Sadly, it’s this: A powerful black woman fronting a TV show.  (And also later kissing the president, but I don’t remember if that was shown before it aired.)
Is there something bold, weird, and never-before-seen about this concept and/or pilot? 
Lots. 
Is there a “HOLY CRAP!” scene somewhere along the way in the pilot (to create word of mouth)?
Kissing the president.
Does the pilot build up potential energy that will power future episodes (secrets that will come out, potential romances, etc.)?
Lots, for many characters.
Even if this is episodic, is there a major twist or escalation at the end (though sometimes this twist will only be new to, or only revealed to, the audience) that will kick future episodes up a notch?
The big revelation to the audience only: She had an affair with the president in the past. Escalation for future episodes: She takes on the president.
PART 2: IS THIS A COMPELLING HERO (OR CO-HEROES IN DIFFERENT STORYLINES)? (15/16)
Believe: Do we recognize the hero (or co-heroes) as human?
Does the hero have a moment of humanity early on? (A funny, or kind, or oddball, or out-of-character, or comically vain, or unique-but-universal “I thought I was the only one who did that!” moment?)
Oddball: She’s giving Stephen relationship advice while casually talking about how they’re about to confront Ukranian gangsters and break a deal with them.
Does the hero have a well-defined public identity?
The ultimate fixer.  Everybody gasps when they hear her name.
Does that ironically contrast with a hidden interior self?
She’s kind of a mess.
Does the hero have three rules he or she lives by (either stated or implied)?
She has many explicit rules: Don’t lie. No crying. I always trust my gut.  She breaks all three of those rules by the end, which lets us know that this will be a deeply hypocritical heroine, and yet we still like her, because we’re hypocrites.
Does the hero have a consistent metaphor family (drawn from his or her job, background, or developmental state)?
Maternal: “Good boys!”  “Too much cleavage.”
Does the hero have a default personality trait?
All-business
Does the hero have a default argument tactic?
Flusters you, then drops overwhelming leverage.  And extreme eye contact.
Care: Do we feel for the hero (or co-heroes)?
Does the hero have a great flaw that is the flip side of his or her great strength?
She’s addicted to power (romantically and otherwise) and she’s morally and legally slippery.
Does the hero feel that this flaw cannot be resolved until it’s time to abandon the world of the show?
Yes.
Does the flaw resonate with the theme and/or setting of the show?
Very much: she solves scandals but can’t keep herself from causing new ones.
Invest: Can we trust the hero (or co-heroes) to tackle this challenge?
Does the hero have a great strength that is the flip side of his great flaw?
She great at wielding and manipulating power.
Is the hero good at his or her job (or family role, if that’s his or her primary role)?
Very, very much so.
Is the hero surrounded by people who sorely lack his or her most valuable quality?
Not really.  Most of her employees are sort of mini-versions of her, just less so.  (I suspect that this is why Henry Cusick bailed after the short first season: he wasn’t allowed to distinguish himself.)  In fact, her employees are actually better at following her rules than she is: Quinn actually can trust her gut.
Is the hero curious?
Yes and no.  She tries not to be about certain things, but she can’t resist.
Is the hero generally resourceful?
Extremely.
Does the hero use unique skills to solve problems (rather than doing what anybody else on the show would do)?
Yes, she has unique pull and unique relationships.
PART 3: IS THIS A STRONG ENSEMBLE (BEYOND THE HERO OR CO-HEROES)?  (12/13)
Powerful: Is each member of the ensemble able to hold his or her own?
If this is a network TV series, are there at least two more roles that are strong enough to get TV veterans to sign their own five-year contracts? (And even if not for TV, are the characters still that strong, simply for narrative purposes?)
Yes and no: they got Cusick but lost him. Ultimately, Olivia’s team was downplayed and the presidential politics were played up, partially because they got better actors on that side.
Are all of the other regular roles strong enough on the page in this first episode to attract great actors? (ditto)
Well, not great but good. 
Does each member of the ensemble have a distinct and defensible point of view?
Yes and no: they’re distinct but not defensible: They all vote down the case for different reasons, but they then fail to defend those points of view and instantly knuckle under. Only Quinn manages to change her mind about something.
Is each character defined primarily by actions and attitudes, not by his or her backstory?
Yes, we don’t get backstories yet, except a brief mention of Huck’s CIA past.  Their backstories will become much richer (and more ludicrous) later, but for now they’re defined by their actions and reactions to this case.
Do all of the characters consciously and unconsciously prioritize their own wants, rather than the wants of others? (Good characters don’t serve good, evil characters don’t serve evil.)
 Yes and no. Though they insist that they’re serving good, they all know deep down that they aren’t for much of the time.  It’s very impressive that they admit at the end that they don’t care who really did it because they’re just representing their client, but even there, they characters aren’t prioritizing their own wants.  It’s all about Olivia’s wants.
Do most of the main characters have some form of decision-making power? (And is the characters’ boss or bosses also part of the cast, so that major decisions will not be made by non-regulars?)
Olivia and the president do, of course, and the other do when out in the field.
Balanced: Do the members of the ensemble balance each other out?
Whether this is a premise or episodic pilot, is there one point-of-view who needs this world explained (who may or may not be the hero)?
Quinn
Does it take some effort for the POV character to extract other characters’ backstories?
Yes, they keep shutting her out.
Are the non-3-dimensional characters impartially polarized into head, heart and gut (or various forms of 2-way or 4-way polarization)?
Vaguely:  Stephen and Abby =gut, Quinn and Huck= heart, Harrison and Olivia = head.
Does each member of the ensemble have a distinct metaphor family (different from the hero’s, even if they’re in the same profession)?
 Stephen: adolescent boy, Abby: MSNBC, Quinn: teen
Does each member of the ensemble have a different default personality trait?
 Stephen: insecure/unsure, Abby: cold and quippy, Quinn: vulnerable, Huck: damaged, Harrison: swaggering, Fitz: sociopathic, Cyrus: fiercely loyal
Does each member of the ensemble have a different default argument tactic? 
 Abby: extortion, Quinn: breathless speeches, Harrison: looks for your tell, Fitz: false sincerity
Is there at least one prickly character who creates sparks whenever he or she appears?
Well, Olivia herself basically qualifies, but if we don’t count her…they try with Abby, but the actress doesn’t create enough sparks, so they put Cyrus in this role in future episodes (and Mellie, to a certain extent), and that worked better.
PART 4: IS THE PILOT EPISODE A STRONG STAND-ALONE STORY AND GOOD TEMPLATE FOR THE ONGOING SERIES? (22/22)                                                                
Template: Does this match and/or establish the standard format of this type of series
Does the pilot have (or establish) the average length for its format?
44 minutes.
If this is intended for a form of commercial media, does the pilot have the right number of commercial breaks for its intended venue?
Yes.
If this is intended for commercial TV, does every act end on a cliffhanger or escalation, especially the middle one (and, if not intended for commercial TV, does it still have escalations happening in roughly the same places, simply for narrative purposes)?
 1st act out: Bleeding soldier comes in. 2nd act out: “You tell the president of the United States to make time.” 3rd act out: Demolishes accuser. 4th act out: Suicide attempt.
Does the pilot establish the general time frame for most upcoming episodes of this series?
Yes, most episodes will take place within 24 hours, to get out ahead of the scandal.
Do all of the pilot’s storylines intercut believably within that time frame?
Sort of.  The mistress storyline should take place over a longer time frame than the murder storyline, but it’s just believable enough.
If this is a premise pilot, is the basic premise established by the midpoint, leaving time for a foreshortened typical episode story in the second half?
It’s not a premise pilot, it’s pretty much “center-cut”
Pilot Story Fundamentals: Does the pilot episode have a strong story?
Does the pilot provide at least one satisfactory stand-alone story (even if that story is just the accomplishment of a mini-goal)?
It has a complete stand-alone story.
Is this episode’s plot simple enough to spend more time on character than plot?
Rhimes is very good at conflating character and plot.  It’s chock full of plot, but most of the plot twists connect either directly or thematically to Olivia’s inner turmoil, so it’s fine.  
Is the pilot’s challenge something that is not just hard for the hero to do (an obstacle) but hard for the hero to want to do (a conflict)?
Yes, she’s conflicted about the possible guilt of both of her clients, though she pretends otherwise.  (And she’s uncomfortable about how the two cases reflect each other.)
First Half: Is the problem established in a way that reflects human nature?
Does the hero start out with a short-term goal for this episode?
Yes, get the baby back from the Ukrainians.
Does a troubling situation (episodic pilot) or major change in the status quo (premise pilot) develop near the beginning of the episode?
Yes, the guy walks in the door.
Does the hero eventually commit to dealing with this situation personally?
Yes, after a bit of debate.
Do the hero’s efforts quickly lead to an unforeseen conflict with another person?
Not really unforeseen, but I’ll count it: the D.A. isn’t happy and Abby is disgusted by their client.
Does the hero try the easy way throughout the second quarter?
Solider storyline: Try to prove his alibi, President storyline: Try to threaten her away.
Does this culminate in a major midpoint setback or escalation of the problem (whether or not there’s a commercial break)?
Soldier: (just a mild one) Gun matches his.  President: Accuser attempt suicide.
Second Half: Is the mini-goal resolved as the ongoing trouble escalates?
Does the hero try the hard way from this point on?
Soldier: Try new methods. President: Watch her full time.
By halfway through, are character decisions driving the plot, rather than external plot complications?
Yes, for both.
Are the stakes increased as the pace increases and the motivation escalates?
Yes.
Does a further setback force the hero to adopt a wider view of the problem?
Soldier: They find alibi proof, but it’s video of him kissing another man.  President: Olivia actually listens to the accuser.
After that setback, does the hero finally commit to pursuing a corrected goal?
Soldier: They try to convince him to come out. President: Olivia confronts the president.
Before the final quarter of the story begins, (if not long before) has the hero switched to being proactive, instead of reactive?
Yes.
After the climax, does either the hero, the point of view character or a guest star have a personal revelation and/or life change, possibly revealed through reversible behavior?
Yes, soldier comes out. Olivia admits to herself that her feelings for the president have comprised her judgment and morality. Soldier refuses to name his lover, then he does.
PART 5: IS EACH SCENE THE BEST IT CAN BE? (19/23) (After being humiliated by Olivia, the president’s accuser attempts suicide. Quinn waits in the hospital and then briefs Olivia.
The Set-Up: Does this scene begin with the essential elements it needs?
Were tense and/or hopeful (and usually false) expectations for this interaction established beforehand?
Before the commercial break, we saw Quinn’s discomfort before and then her horror at the news.
Does the scene eliminate small talk and repeated beats by cutting out the beginning (or possibly even the middle)?
Yes, they’re already talking.
Is this an intimidating setting that keeps characters active?
Somewhat. They spying on someone at a hospital.
Is one of the scene partners not planning to have this conversation (and quite possibly has something better to do)?
Olivia doesn’t intend to have the second half of the conversation, and Quinn has to call after her to detain her.
Is there at least one non-plot element complicating the scene?
Not really.
Does the scene establish its own mini-ticking-clock (if only through subconscious anticipation)?
Olivia told the rest of her team before she left, “I’ll be back!”
The Conflict: Do the conflicts play out in a lively manner?
Does this scene both advance the plot and reveal character?
We suddenly suspect much more strongly that Olivia had an affair with the president, and we get to see another side of her.
Are one or more characters in the scene emotionally affected by this interaction or action as the scene progresses?
Olivia’s composure finally cracks.
Does the audience have (or develop) a rooting interest in this scene (which may sometimes shift)?
Our rooting interest has always been uncertain
Are two agendas genuinely clashing (rather than merely two personalities)?
Quinn wants to change Olivia’s mind.
Does the scene have both a surface conflict and a suppressed conflict (one of which is the primary conflict in this scene)?
Surface: what do we do about this suicidal woman? Suppressed: What is our relationship? Are you a good person or not? What’s really going on with you? Can anyone trust their gut? Etc.  
Is the suppressed conflict (which may or may not come to the surface) implied through subtext (and/or called out by the other character)?
Talking about someone else and talking about herself: “People are crazy, they get fixated on famous people, they stalk them.”
Are the characters cagy (or in denial) about their own feelings?
Olivia is both.
Do characters use verbal tricks and traps to get what they want, not just direct confrontation?
No, it’s direct.
Is there re-blocking, including literal push and pull between the scene partners (often resulting in just one touch)?
No touching
Are objects given or taken, representing larger values?
No objects.
If this is a big scene, is it broken down into a series of mini-goals?
First inform Olivia, then make the case for the accuser.
The Outcome: Does this scene change the story going forward?
As a result of this scene, does at least one of the scene partners end up doing something that he or she didn’t intend to do when the scene began?
Olivia storms off to barge into the Oval Office.
Does the outcome of the scene ironically reverse (and/or ironically fulfill) the original intention?
Quinn pleading does no good, until she says the one thing that would change Olivia’s mind without realizing it.
Are previously-asked questions answered?
Did they really have an affair?  What was the message that the accuser wanted to send?
Are new questions posed that will be left unanswered for now?
What will Olivia do?  What really happened between her and the president.
Is the audience left with a growing hope and/or fear for what might happen next? (Not just in the next scene, but generally)
Very much so.
Does the scene cut out early, on a question (possibly to be answered instantly by the circumstances of the next scene)?
Implied question: Where’s she going.  Then we cut to the White House.
PART 6: IS THIS POWERFUL DIALOGUE? (14/15)
Empathetic: Is the dialogue true to human nature?
Does the writing demonstrate empathy for all of the characters?
Ultimately, yes.  At times, the show teeters on the brink of Sorkin-disease, in which all non-stars are weak strawmen who collapse in defeat when blow away by the heroes’ brilliance, but each of their opponents eventually gets his or her own.
Does each of the characters, including the hero, have a limited perspective?
Yes, it turns out that she has a big blind spot.
Are the characters resistant to openly admitting their feelings (to others and even to themselves)?
Yes.  They’re constantly lying to themselves about their feelings.
Do the characters avoid saying things they wouldn’t say?
Many things are said in code.
Do the characters listen poorly?
Very much so.
Do the characters interrupt each other more often than not?
Very much so.
Specific: Is the dialogue specific to this world and each personality?
Does the dialogue capture the culturally-specific syntax of the characters (without necessarily attempting to replicate non-standard pronunciation)?
No.  Everybody speaks very clearly in Rhimes shows.  There’s no cultural specificity here.  Everyone is totally deracialized in the pilot, though that will change.  
Does the dialogue capture the jargon of the profession and/or setting?
Yes.
Does the dialogue capture the tradecraft of the profession being portrayed?
Very much so.
Heightened: Is the dialogue more pointed and dynamic than real talk?
Is the dialogue more concise than real talk?
Yes.
Does the dialogue have more personality than real talk?
Yes.
Is there a minimum of commas in the dialogue (the lines are not prefaced with Yes, No, Well, Look, or the other character’s name)?
Yes.
Do non-professor characters speak without dependent clauses, conditionals, or parallel construction?
Yes and no.  There are lots of long eloquent speeches, but Rhimes knows how to break up long thoughts into a series of short, rousing, rhythmic sentences that doesn’t sound convoluted.
Is there one gutpunch scene, where the subtext falls away and the characters really lay into each other?
Yes, the oval office scene.
PART 7: DOES THE PILOT MANAGE ITS TONE TO CREATE AND FULFILL AUDIENCE EXPECTATIONS? (8/10)
Genre and Mood: Does the series tap into pre-established expectations?
Does the series fit within one genre (or compatible sub-genres)?
It’s an odd and somewhat uncomfortable mix of soap / lawyer show / political show, and eventually spy show, though that isn’t yet obvious in the pilot.  The show didn’t really take off until the second season when it become primarily a political thriller.
Are unrealistic genre-specific elements a big metaphor for a more common experience (not how life really is, but how life really feels)?
Yes, addiction to powerful bad boys becomes a black woman’s affair with a white Republican president.
Separate from the genre, does the pilot establish an overall mood for the series?
Yes, surprisingly jauntry, for all the awful stuff going on.  After horrific scenes they’ll say “kicky” things like “I love my job!”
If there are multiple storylines, do they establish the spectrum of moods available within that overall mood?
Yes: the stand-alone story is a straight-up heroic narrative about protecting an innocent man.  The serialized story is much more morally murky.
Is there a moment early on that establishes the type and level of jeopardy?
Yes, when they face down the gangster: There is mortal danger involved. Shortly afterwards, when Sully looks guilty, we get moral danger as well.
Framing: Does the pilot set, reset, upset and ultimately exceed its own expectations?
Are there framing devices (flashforwards, framing sequences and/or first person narration) to set the mood, pose a dramatic question, and/or pose ongoing questions?
Shockingly no, though this would become common in later episodes and later Rhimes shows. We just dive right in.  (The director makes up for this by putting in literal framing devices throughout, framing almost every shot through glass or around corners, [literally] reflecting the theme of public vs. private)
Is there a dramatic question posed early on, which will establish in the audience’s mind which moment will mark the end of the pilot? 
Will he be arrested?
Does foreshadowing create anticipation and suspense (and refocus the audience’s attention on what’s important)?
Yes, the subtly prepare us for the fact that we won’t ever find out who killed the girlfriend.
Are set-up and pay-off used to dazzle the audience, distracting attention from plot contrivances?
The secret that Olivia had an affair with the president is set-up very skillfully throughout the episode and then pays off big-time
Is the dramatic question of the pilot episode’s plot answered near the end of the story?
It’s answered a little early when he’s arrested (giving Olivia time to move on to the B plot), then she comes back and springs him after all in the final act.
PART 8: DOES THE PILOT CREATE A MEANINGFUL ONGOING THEME? (11/14)         
Pervasive: Is the theme interwoven into many aspects of the show?
Does the ensemble as a whole have a unique philosophy about how to fill their role (and competition from an allied force with a different philosophy)?
Very much so: they’re “gladiators in suits,” and they have contempt for how normal law firms are run. (Although we quickly realize that this is bullshit and they know it.)
Does the pilot have a statement of philosophy and/or theme, usually either at the beginning or ¾ of the way in. (Sometimes this will be the ensemble’s stated statement of philosophy, sometimes this merely be the implied theme of the series itself.)
There’s a false one early on:  “We all get paid crap salaries because we’re the good guys.” and “Because that’s what you are when you work for Olivia: a gladiator in a suit.”  But when she arrives, they laugh: “Did Harrison feed you a line about being a gladiator in a suit?” Later, he comes clean: “the reason we're not a law firm is we don't have to play within the rules of the law. We're fixers, crisis managers. We make the problems of our client, big or small, go away. It's not about solving a crime. It's not about justice. It's about our client.”  Everything is slippery on this show.
Can the show’s overall ongoing theme be stated in the form of a classic good vs. good (or evil vs. evil) dilemma?
Public vs. private
Throughout the pilot, do the characters have to choose between goods, or between evils, instead of choosing between good and evil?
Constantly.  Pay a kidnapper to get your son back?  Protect your client by lying to the cops? Threaten an accuser if you think she’s lying?
Are the storylines in the pilot thematically linked (preferably in an indirect, subtle way)?
Very much so.  Olivia realizes at the end that she is living a lie just like Sully, and she can talk him out of it but not herself.
Are small details throughout the pilot tied into the theme?
It’s everywhere. Unseen video surveillance plays in both storylines, etc.
Will the heroes grapple with new moral gray areas in each episode?
Very much so.  This will be a “defense lawyer” show that won’t shy away from the intense moral dilemmas of the job.
Grounded: Do the stakes ring true to the world of the audience?
Does the series’ set-up reflect the way the world works?
Yes and no.  In some ways, it’s very realistic (lawyers not going to court, protecting the 1% to ludicrous extremes, etc.) but there’s no shortage of “the world doesn’t work that way” howlers. For instance: the D.A. agrees to wait outside her door for 40 minutes while she tries to find new evidence! Rhimes’s respect for  how the world works fluctuates wildly.
Does the series have authentic things to say about this type of setting?
Yes. Many of the unique details about law and the halls of power ring true. 
Does the ongoing concept include twinges of real life national pain?
Very much so: Gays in the military, cheating politicians, many more.
Are these issues presented in a way that avoids moral hypocrisy?
Yes and no.  The “issue of the week” will usually be presented in a complex and non-hypocritical way.  As for the firm, the show will hypocritically twist things so that their machinations wind up serving justice, allowing us to be shocked at their bad ethics while reassuring us that nothing really bad happens as a result.
Do all of the actions in the pilot have real consequences?
Yes: the kidnappers get away,  the real murderer is uncaught, lives are destroyed.
Untidy: Is the dilemma ultimately irresolvable?
Do the characters refuse (or fail) to synthesize the meaning of the pilot episode’s story, forcing the audience to do that?
She synthesizes it, but she does it in the speech to Sully, so it’s sublimated and motivated, so that’s okay.
Does the end of the pilot leave the thematic dilemma wide open and irresolvable?
Yes, Sully can come out, but she can’t without wrecking the country and her career. 
Total Score: 121/133
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