As I was waiting for my Thursday night love affair with Shonda Rhimes to begin last night, I casually scrolled through my Facebook newsfeed and realized that there was an Empire vs. Scandal battle going on that I was unaware of. This is nothing like the upcoming Mayweather vs. Pacquiao fight, but the interwebs is trying to pretend it is.
If you’ve been living under a rock or are allergic to FOX, you may not know that Empire has quickly become the number one new series of the season in all the key demographics. According to Nielsen, 61% of the show’s audience is African-American — a figure that no other prime time show, new or old, even comes close to matching. Additionally, Empire is shattering Nielsen records as the only series to rise in the ratings for seven consecutive weeks since its premiere, climbing steadily from 9.9 million same-day viewers for its Jan. 7 opener to 13.9 million last week.
In comparison, Scandal first landed on ABC with eight episodes and the ratings were okay, but nothing like the Empire phenomenon. However, because of Scandal‘s ridiculous Twitter engagement, ABC saw its potential. Shonda Rhimes has since become Thursday night’s queen.
The basic argument was that Empire is led by an all-black cast (Andre’s wife is a minor character) and has continued to break Nielsen records. Beyond this, the show addresses issues that plague the African American community, but are sometimes ignored (e.g. homophobia and mental illness). In addition, the show is ultimately a celebration of a family rising from poverty to an – for lack of a better word – “empire”.
Pro-Empire viewers chastised Scandal for not addressing serious issues and basically saying it was a dramatic story of who “other woman/ sidepiece” Olivia should be with. (For the record, I’m #TeamJake whom, I refer to as Pillow Lips). Don’t get me wrong, I roll my eyes and sip my wine whenever the Olitz music plays and they have a brief and highly dramatic encounter. However, Scandal, in fact, has taken up an insane number of social issues. Abby’s storyline that raised awareness about domestic violence. The issue of gun control was weaved into the storyline via a speech by Fitz. Who can forget the end of Season 3 when Daddy Pope called Fitz a “boy” reading him to filth with the eloquence and dynamics of a preacher giving a sermon on First Sunday. This wasn’t just about Fitz’s rude and childish comment, but about the achievements and struggles of the black community and a commentary on white privilege. Also, we can’t leave out Rowan’s “You have to be twice as good as them to get half of what they have” speech.
I also can’t address that criticism without talking about last night’s episode “The Lawn Chair,” which echoed what occurred with Michael Brown in Ferguson, Eric Garner in New York and other countless incidents across the country. (P.S. Can we have a round of applause for Courtney B. Vance?) While the protesters weren’t chanting “black lives matter,” Shonda Rhimes and co. had them chant “Stand up, fight back, no more black men under attack.” – still effective in my opinion. I’m usually pretty active on Twitter during episodes, but last night I was pretty quiet. I stayed engaged with the characters and I may have cried a little because the episode was just that powerful.
My question is why do we have to choose?
I think both shows play an important role in today’s TV landscape. Scandal is the kind of show that will have Olivia Pope kidnapped one day and then take on institutionalized racism the next. Empire is opening people’s eyes to taboo topics like mental illness. Both are showing Hollywood the power of not only Black actors and actresses (and producers), but black audiences. Shonda Rhimes tweeted about the importance of Empire’s record-breaking numbers:
— shonda rhimes (@shondarhimes) March 5, 2015
If boss lady Shonda can dance for joy about Empire’s success, why do we have to be Team Empire or Team Scandal?
Tweet me your thoughts. Do you watch both? Are you a Cookie Monster or a Gladiator? Or are you just sipping your tea while on Team Mary Jane Paul? (FYI – I love them all and equally on their corresponding nights!)