PASADENA -- At one point during the TV critics winter press tour, which concluded Wednesday, I found myself in a line of reporters on the set of "Scandal." We were waiting in a fake Oval Office to have our picture taken with a fake president of the United States, played by amiable actor Tony Goldwyn.
Yes, it was kind of kooky and cheesy. But it seemed oddly fitting for this ABC melodrama, which continues to grow more popular even as it gets more absurd.
"Scandal" is a sophomore series from prime-time soap maestro Shonda Rhimes ("Grey's Anatomy," "Private Practice") that follows a team of D.C. crisis managers led by Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington). She, ahem, has had a torrid affair with the aforementioned
To enjoy the sexy, salacious "Scandal" -- and millions of viewers are certifiably hooked -- you have to be willing to cut it some slack. Lots of it. It's full of morally questionable hookups, crazy cover-ups and wild twists that simultaneously make your jaw plunge downward and your eyes roll upward. In this week's episode, the surprises keep coming, including a laughably hammy turn by Barry Bostwick as the president's politico father.
During our visit to the set at Gower Studios in Hollywood, a critic told Rhimes that he gets the sense many fans love "Scandal" because it's absolutely "bonkers" and wondered if she was OK with
"I think I'm OK with anybody loving the show for any reason they want as long as they don't say it's their guilty pleasure," she replied.
"And why is that?" I asked.
"Because when you call a show a guilty pleasure, basically, you're saying it's crap, but I can't stop watching it," she said. "If they say they watch because it's bonkers, that's fine."
Of course, a high-gloss Rhimes show always puts a premium on hot bods, steamy romances and complicated relationships, which has proved to be TV catnip for ABC's largely female audience.
"We never wanted the show to be 100 percent about what Washington is really like," said Rhimes, who noted that we had "The West Wing" for that. "We wanted to be a little high drama, a little Shakespearean if we could, in the sense of what the characters are up to."
Often those characters are up to no good -- a rigged election, anyone? And that includes the fast-talking, brazen Olivia Pope, who isn't above lying and cheating to accomplish her end game.
"I really admire Shonda's courage and commitment to making sure Olivia is human and complex," said Washington, who describes "Scandal" as a "really fun combination of 'Grey's Anatomy,' 'West Wing' and 'Damages.'
"I think there's a lot to appreciate about the show no matter who you are," she added.
But what does the future hold? Can "Scandal" get any wilder, any more over-the-top, without imploding on itself? Rhimes, of course, is ultrastingy with plot details, but fans will have some of their key questions answered -- via flashbacks -- in this week's episode, provocatively titled, "A Criminal, a Whore, an Idiot and a Liar."
In addition, a major development will put President Fitzgerald Grant "in a hopeful, excited place where he thinks that anything is possible," teased Rhimes. And Olivia soon will come clean to Quinn (Katie Lowes) about her "origin."
"I think eventually there's going to come a time for Olivia where not telling the truth is going to become more of a burden than telling the truth," the "Scandal" boss said.
In the meantime, Rhimes and her fellow writers will continue to concoct new ways to seduce and surprise the show's rabid fans.
"We're having the most fun we've had in a while," she says, referring to the members of her team who have worked on her other shows. "That's one of the things we talked about: We're going to have a good time, no matter what."
SPOTLIGHT ON OAKLAND: Oakland apparently is ready for its close-up. After shunning the East Bay city for years, TV producers finally think there's a there there.
On the most recent season of "Sons of Anarchy," Oakland was the home to crime boss Damon Pope (Harold Perrineau). And in April, it will be the main setting for "Rogue," a new DirecTV drama pegged to a fictional undercover detective (Thandie Newton) in the Oakland Police Department.
Oakland is also the setting for "City Hall," a pilot script for ABC about a fictional mayor and her young, establishment-bucking staff. The network likely will decide by the end of the month whether to greenlight "City Hall."
Matthew Parkhill, the creator of "Rogue," said he picked Oakland for several reasons, but mainly because he envisioned his story in a working-class port city.
"There were places we didn't want to set it, because we felt they had a very distinguished history in terms of cable dramas," he explained. "So we weren't going to set it in New Jersey because of 'The Sopranos,' or Baltimore because of 'The Wire,' or Seattle because of 'The Killing.' ... On many levels, Oakland fit the subject matter like a glove."
Added executive producer Nick Hamm: "And Oakland is underrepresented (on TV) and a great place, frankly, to locate a show."
Of course, locating a show in a city is not the same as actually shooting it there. While "Rogue" did use Oakland for some second-unit setup shots, the series is being principally shot in Vancouver, British Columbia.
"Rogue" premieres April 3 on DirecTV.
THIS 'N' THAT: CBS entertainment chief Nina Tassler is interested in doing another season of "Two and a Half Men," and she wants Angus T. Jones to be part of it. Jones infamously ripped the show as "filth" in a viral video. "At the end of the day, (the producers) want him to come back, and he wants to be back, and we move on," she said. ... Tassler also said that CBS is close to sealing the deal for a ninth season of "How I Met Your Mother." ... The CW is developing a "Vampire Diaries" spinoff starring Joseph Morgan and Phoebe Tonkin. ... In the wake of the Newtown, Conn., tragedy, PBS plans to air a series of specials that "continue the public conversation on gun laws, mental illness and school security." The "After Newtown" programming will air Feb. 18-22.
Contact Chuck Barney at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his TV blog at http://blogs.mercurynews.com/aei/category/tv, and follow him at Twitter.com/chuckbarney and Facebook.com/BayAreaNewsGroup.ChuckBarney.
When: 10 p.m. Thursdays