Olivia Pope is about to throw a kidney dish at the President of the United States. Sitting in a hospital bed, she looks like a shell of herself, barefaced in a baggy white hospital gown. But even when she's not wearing a sharply tailored suit, Washington, D.C.'s most notorious fixer has no problem summoning her power. Case in point: She just told the leader of the free world that she hates him. That his apologies are moot. That his feelings are meaningless. ''Get out,'' fumes Kerry Washington, who plays Pope with razor-sharp precision. ''Do you want me to make a scene?'' When it's clear he has no intention of exiting, the kidney dish goes flying to the floor, along with everything else that was sitting on her overbed table. Chastened, POTUS gets the hell out. It's just politics as usual in the crazy, conspiracy-filled world of Scandal. ''I feel like The West Wing brought us Washington as we'd all want it to be,'' explains creator Shonda Rhimes. ''And this show brings us Washington as we hope it would never be.''
At the center of Scandal's heightened-reality universe is Olivia Pope, an Armani-clad rapid-fire talker who oversees an A team of crisis managers...while carrying on a passionate, taboo romance with the sitting president, Fitzgerald ''Fitz'' Grant (Tony Goldwyn). Together, Pope and her associates, who call themselves ''gladiators,'' can contain even the most out-of-control situations like securing a decoy wife for an up-and-coming politician to avoid exposing his secret affair except the ones in their own complicated lives. Almost all of the characters on the show are grappling with major dilemmas they can't fix. And that, of course, is what makes ABC's Scandal such a fun, live-tweet-every-oh-my-God-moment viewing experience. Every Thursday between 10 and 11 p.m., hordes of fans gather online to do just that: The show has averaged more than 220,000 tweets per episode since January, according to SocialGuide; some of these fans include Oprah Winfrey, Lena Dunham, and Mary J. Blige. ''Bill Clinton was another person where I was like, 'What?! You watch Scandal?!''' Washington says. ''I feel like it happens at least once a week that I am totally floored by somebody who watches the show.''
It wasn't always that way, though. After generating precious little buzz with its April 2012 premiere, the team behind Scandal refused to fade into TV obscurity, and instead waged a deftly fought campaign for the hearts and second screens of viewers.