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How Social Media Helped Save ABC’s ‘Scandal’

By Brett Gold – Feb 27, 2014 at 8:35AM

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'Scandal' looked to be on the road to cancellation until the show and its fans used social media to turn things around in a major and ground-breaking way.

While time-shifting and binge-watching have become the go-to ways to watch TV, there are still some shows you have to watch live ... or else pay the consequences. ABC's (a subsidiary of Disney (DIS 0.85%)) political drama Scandal is one of them. That's because producers have created a series that doesn't ask its viewers to tune-in, it makes them!

A few years ago many networks began "suggesting" its talent tweet during their shows, which amounted to nothing more than actors sending pre-approved messages at pre-selected times. Audiences aren't dumb; they figured it out pretty quickly. Some series got more creative and took it to a new level. And then there's what Scandal did, which helped it go from being recalled to being reelected.

(Credit: ABC)

Midseason replacement

Scandal debuted as a midseason entry in April 2012. Traditionally when a show is held until April to debut, it doesn't last long. Usually a network burns off its remaining commitments in that time period to free the slate for its new round of orders in May. Audiences typically discount those shows from the start and Scandal wasn't much different in the beginning.

But as the weeks went along, the show held solid around 7 million viewers and became a guilty pleasure that appealed to multiple demos. It was also only seven episodes and moved at a brisk pace. ABC spared the show and renewed it for a 13-episode second season and during the summer its fans help spread the word socially.

Eventually Scandal's cast and crew began harnessing the power of social media as well and looked to be having real fun with it. Surprisingly over the next season the ratings gradually spiked and ABC ended up ordering additional episodes. Now it didn't happen overnight as Scandal actually returned down in viewers, but by its second season finale its audience rose by a substantial amount and the show began to consistently win the key 18-49 demo in its timeslot.

#Gladiators unite

This wasn't just an instance of sending a one-off tweet or posting a clip ... the show went full tilt. As it turned out the cast members are actually friends and regularly got together to watch the episodes together and they tweeted about it during the show. 

Scandal's creator and executive producer Shonda Rhimes also regularly engaged with the series' fans (known as "Gladiators") and gave them behind-the-scenes tidbits that keep the conversation going online. Combined it makes the fans feel like they are more involved and have an active role.

ABC to its credit came up with a fun concept as well. Instead of having people tweet #Scandal or something mundane, the social team devised clever hashtages relating to the action and key lines such as #YouWantMeEarnMe or #WhatTheHuck to spur on the conversation as well as #AskScandal, which served as a direct line to the talent.

Secret's out

(Credit: ABC)

Of course live-tweeting is a double-edged sword for fans and that's beauty of it! You either need to be engaged live or be ready to be spoiled. Thousands of tweets per second go out about Scandal and few of them have the phrase "spoiler alert" in them.

Now, thanks to social media, a series that barely survived its first season is riding high in the all-important 18-49 demo and has basically assured itself a slot on ABC's schedule until it's ready to call it quits.

Yet given how quickly the show chews through storyline, that may not actually be more than a couple of years. Rhimes freely admits her team moves faster than most shows and she knows there is a finite amount of material. But what they are doing works and there's no reason to change it.

The show consistently tops its time period in the measures that count with advertisers and breakout series star Kerry Washington scored a Emmy nomination last year for Best Actress in a drama. It's amazing to see how far the show's come in just two years. In fact it's a model for other networks on how to become a viral hit. If you want to witness the action firsthand, tune into ABC tonight at 10 p.m. as Scandal returns for its final eight episodes of the season ... and be ready to tweet.

Brett Gold has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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