Looks like Olivia Pope isn't the only fixer in primetime. Perennial ABC showrunner Shonda Rhimes has another official hit on her hands, after political thriller Scandal churned in its biggest ratings to date Thursday night. According to Nielsen, the series' third season premiere drew 10.5 million viewers and a 3.6 rating across the coveted 18-49 age demographic, a 71 percent increase from last year's opener and a 13 percent spike compared to May's second season finale. Despite handily winning its 10 p.m. time slot and enjoying a litany of social media buzz, Scandal's explosive success can be attributed to the kind of crafty behind-the-scenes plotting for which Pope & Associates would likely charge a steep retainer.
Scandal's meteoric rise from relatively modest midseason replacement in 2012 to Emmy-nominated juggernaut 18 months later is a trajectory uncommon for Rhimes, whose success with flagship soap Grey's Anatomy seemed to materialize virtually overnight in 2005. Scandal wisely shifted its narrative framework between its first and second seasons to mirror the decidedly sudsier, albeit entirely familiar, formula Rhimes had already perfected. Combined with a powerful backdrop of fictional Washington, D.C. insiders, the results are as slick as a politician's campaign slogan. Even mastermind Cyrus Beene (Jeff Perry) would be impressed.
The structural and formulaic parallels between both Grey's and Scandal have been widely acknowledged, namely the chatty ensemble of neurotic yuppies and the hyperbolic throes of romantic and professional strife in which they find themselves. Unlike Kerry Washington's high-strung heroine, however, Rhimes is likely unfazed at the notion her "secret is out." When it comes to building addictive, frothy network melodramas, Rhimes is a gladiator all her own.
Fan-generated conspiracy theories surrounding several juicy subplots introduced in Thursday's premiere, "It's Handled," have only heightened the anticipation for next week's sophomore episode, "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner." What do you think Cyrus found in the classified folder? Don your own white hat and sound off in the comments below!
Scandal airs Thursdays at 10/9c on ABC.