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How to Handle the End of ‘Scandal': Is ABC’s Drama Irreplaceable?

Kerry Washington drama will end after upcoming seventh season

Can anything replace “Scandal”?

ABC announced Wednesday that the beloved Shonda Rhimes series, starring Kerry Washington as ruthless crisis PR mastermind Olivia Pope, will end after its upcoming seventh season. For fans who gather around their TVs to group-watch, it’s possible that no show will capture the juicy, twisting, sizzle-packed scandals that kept Pope picking up her phone to icily declare, “It’s handled.” Group-watching so became the way to watch “Scandal” that Netflix’s new “Dear White People” lovingly lampoons the phenomenon.

Along with hits like “Black-ish,” “Scandal” helped establish ABC’s identity as a broadcaster committed to diversity, one that reaped rewards from putting women and people of color front and center, in complex, multifaceted roles. It proved that diversity pays.

But every scandal runs its course, and “Scandal” isn’t what it used to be, at least ratings-wise. Few shows are. Blame too much competition — including from streaming sites like Netflix — but broadcast television isn’t what it used to be.

It was a midseason replacement when it premiered in 2012, and didn’t become a breakout hit until good word-of-mouth — including bars and restaurants hosting “Scandal” nights — pushed the series to its viewership peak around Season 3. When ABC lined-up all three of its Rhimes-produced dramas in 2014, “Scandal” was the star, outperforming it’s lead-in, the long-running “Grey’s Anatomy.” It also became a launchpad for the similarly juicy Viola Davis drama “How to Get Away With Murder.”

The show averaged a whopping 3.5 average rating in the 2015-16 season in the advertiser-coveted 18-49 demographic, over the seven days after each episode first aired. That made it one of TV’s top shows.

Heading into its seventh and final season, “Scandal” is still an important part of ABC’s “TGIT” Thursdays, and a solid performer. At the time of this writing, “Scandal” is tied for the 13th highest-rated broadcast entertainment show of 2016-17, averaging a 2.3 rating over the week after it airs. That places it just behind the long-running CBS hits “NCIS” and “Survivor,” and above “Chicago Fire,” “Bull,” “The Goldbergs,” and even “Dancing With the Stars.”

But “Scandal” is down 34.3 percent over year, which means it’s lost one-third of its audience in the key demo. That’s a difficult data point at this time of year, because next week broadcasters will pitch their shows to advertisers at upfront week in New York. It doesn’t help that ABC is sitting in last place among the Big 4 broadcasters in overall season-average ratings.

Replacing it won’t be easy — as ABC found out the last time it tried.

When the show was pushed to midseason this year to accommodate Washington’s pregnancy, the network attempted to replace it in the Thursday night fall line-up with the Piper Perabo-led “Notorious.” Despite a cushy time slot between “Grey’s” and “Murder,” the show was poorly received by critics and disappointed in the ratings, leading the network to trim its episode order from 13 to 10 in October.

If anything does take the place of “Scandal,” it may come from the mind of the show’s creator. Rhimes has been ABC’s champion hitmaker for years, and her “How to Get Away With Murder” is doing better than “Scandal” at the moment, averaging a 2.6 this season.

That’s down 25.7 percent from last year, but the series can partly blame its weakened lead-in —  “Scandal.” Another Shondaland show, “The Catch” (a 1.0), probably won’t catch a renewal. With a 3.3 average rating, Rhimes’ “Grey’s Anatomy” is undeniably the star of ABC’s Thursday night lineup, but the reliable performer is heading into its 13th season on the air.

Last May, ABC picked up a fifth Shondaland drama, the “Romeo & Juliet” sequel series “Still Star-Crossed.” Originally slated for a midseason premiere, the show was notably absent from ABC’s schedule until it was given a summer premiere date last month. At the moment, Rhimes and company only have one project in the works, an untitled legal drama from “Scandal” writer Paul William Davies that has not yet been ordered to series.

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