The Disney-owned network has set a six-episode web series, Scandal: Gladiator Wanted, created and directed by star Darby Stanchfield (Abby) that features promotions for all involved behind the scenes. All six of the two- to three-minute webisodes will debut later today (Jan. 19) as a surprise to diehard Gladiators. (Watch the first episode, below, exclusive to The Hollywood Reporter.)
The web-only offering comes a week before the delayed season six premiere. It features Gladiators Huck (Guillermo Diaz), Quinn (Katie Lowes) and Marcus (Cornelius Smith Jr.) as they are tasked with finding an intern for Olivia Pope & Associates. George Newbern will also reprise his role as Charlie in the web series, which will be available on ABC.com and the ABC app.
Gladiator Wanted marks the directorial debut for Stanchfield, one of the show's original series regulars. The actress-turned-helmer was inspired to not only create the series but also delve into directing by watching co-star and frequent Scandal director Tony Goldwyn during a season five episode. After shadowing Shondaland's Betsy Beers for two years, Stanchfield then turned to a few of Scandal's regular helmers, including producing director Tom Verica, to learn the ropes before stepping behind the camera for Gladiator Wanted.
"This huge lightbulb went off and I thought, 'On this Shondaland show, why aren't any women actresses directing on Scandal?'" Stanchfield tells THR of watching Goldwyn at work in season five, before calling Shondaland "a very supportive company for women, for diversity, for you name it."
Gladiator Wanted was written by Juan Carlos Fernandez, who was promoted from his standard role as Scandal's script coordinator. The web-only series features nearly everyone working in a step above their standard roles on Scandal, with other key promotions including Justin Kleiman, promoted from line producer Merri Howard's assistant to co-producer; 1st assistant directors (upped from 2nd AD); set production assistants (upped from office staffers); directors of photography (upped from camera operators, among others); as well as hair, makeup and so on.
To hear an excited Stanchfield tell it, the actress kept bumping into Shonda Rhimes around the editing bay, preproduction and other areas typically off-limits to actors. Eventually, word got out and Verica told Rhimes of Stanchfield's interest in directing. Verica — who also doubles as an actor on Shondaland's How to Get Away With Murder — initially told Stanchfield she should focus first on a short film before he connected the actress with Rhimes and the digital series.
"Tom called and Shonda said she had this opportunity to direct and I had a meeting with Shonda and her digital department and they said that I could direct whatever I wanted," Stanchfield says. "Forty-eight hours later, I pitched 'Gladiator School' [what became Gladiator Wanted], they promoted Juan Carlos Fernandez to write it and he took my idea to another level and made it his own."
Rhimes and Beers' Shondaland has made the growth of its staffers a key priority. The ABC Studios-based production company has seen many of its writers move on to become showrunners — including Pete Nowalk, who created How to Get Away With Murder — and Allan Heinberg, who oversees The Catch, among others.
"We are lucky to work with some incredibly talented crew and staff members and we want to make sure they stay in the Shondaland family, so the best way to do that is by fostering their learning and development by taking on new roles that they are passionate about pursuing," Beers tells THR. "We want our family to continue to grow and succeed — and this web series proved to be the perfect opportunity to make that happen! I am so proud of what Darby and the rest of the production and producing team accomplished, and love the work they did!"
Many Shondaland stars also direct, including Scandal's Goldwyn and Scott Foley as well as Grey's Anatomy'sKevin McKidd and Chandra Wilson, among others. Many of Shondaland's stars also have producing deals, including Ellen Pompeo, Kerry Washington and Viola Davis, with Foley and Dan Bucatinsky also serving as prolific developers.
"Shonda saw the desire I had and Shondaland is all about supporting people to grow and expand their talents," Stanchfield says. "Less than 10 percent of all TV directors are women and Shonda is not one to shy away from making television look like the real world; she has a very clear vision and is generous and pragmatic about empowering others — women and people of color and sexual orientation — she really embraces everybody and it's not just in her storytelling, it's also in her company. … Everybody got to step up on Gladiator Wanted. It's incredible how this was a promotion for so many people yet it still feels natural."
As for Stanchfield, the actress hopes Gladiator Wanted is just the beginning of what comes next in her career. She eventually hopes to take on an episode of Scandal as well as step behind the camera outside of Shondaland as she compared the directing experience with her time spent renovating a four-unit apartment building and overseeing its development as an investment. "It's that moment of having the courage to step forward and say, 'I'm going to do this,' and Shondaland is a company that supports that desire," she says.
In terms of how Gladiator Wanted connects to the Scandal universe, Stanchfield says it serves as a "really nice bridge" between seasons five and six of the Washington, D.C-set political soap. "When you see the first episode of Scandal season six if you have seen Gladiator Wanted you will be like, 'Oh OK!' There are some new reveals in the first episode and Gladiator Wanted connects a couple of those dots," she says, calling the web series a "tribute" and "shout-out" to the "Original Gladiators" who have been with the show since Day One.
"It really goes back to those classic days at OPA that are brought back from the very first couple of seasons. There's a similar tone and humor and a lot of inside Gladiator jokes," she says.
Season six of Scandal returns Jan. 26 at 9 p.m. with the series picking up on Election Night.