'Scandal' cast and producers talk real world politics: 'We are not in reaction to that'

If there’s one political-themed TV show that could rival the twists and drama of the most recent presidential election, a likely candidate would be ABC’s “Scandal.”  But executive producer Shonda Rhimes doesn’t equate the two beyond that — no matter how many times it’s pressed.

“Scandal” ended last season with former First Lady Mellie Grant (Bellamy Young) running for president against Democratic rival Franciso Vargas (Ricardo Chavira). The fifth season, at one point, had also featured a Republican front-runner, Hollis Doyle (Gregg Henry) that resembled Donald Trump.

The sixth season premiere, “Survival of the Fittest,” takes place on election night — and a trailer promises that “all hell will break loose” in the first 10 minutes.

Cast and crew members discussing the series Tuesday during a panel at  the Television Critics Assn. press tour stressed that the season launch was filmed months before the election of Trump. In fact, the first five scripts of the season were in the can before election day on Nov. 8.

“I don’t really equate the two,” said Rhimes.  “The goal is really just to tell the story that we had been telling, and had been on the journey to tell, the whole time.… The candidates don’t have any similarities to the real-world candidates. Francisco Vargas is a hopeful and different Democrat. These candidates don’t equate. You can’t correlate the two.”

Cast members on the panel included Kerry Washington, Tony Goldwyn, and Bellamy Young, as well as Rhimes’ producing partner Betsy Beers. As expected, Trump and the current political climate were hot topics.

Young said the results of the fictional election will be revealed immediately, but the story will also go back in time with different characters to trace back how everything happened. Young acknowledged that “you can’t help but be a human and be alive and have things resonate as the world has changed since we filmed it.”

Added Goldwyn: “While it’s interesting to have a political show in the counterpoint to a very dramatic real political world … Shonda is taking the show in a whole fresh direction … they’re not the same. We are not in reaction to that.” 

The intersection of “Scandal” with real-world politics played out this week in other ways after the much-promoted return of TGIT (Thank God It’s Thursday), ABC’s Rhimes-branded programming block. The original Jan. 19 launch was pushed a week to Jan. 26 in order to make room for a “20/20” special, “America's First Family: The Trumps Go to Washington.”  

“I just think that ABC does its programming,” Rhimes said. “I'm not in charge of its scheduling … I like to stay in my lane.”

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yvonne.villarreal@latimes.com

Twitter: @villarrealy

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