Friday, May 11, 2012

Judy Smith: The Real Olivia Pope Inspiring ABC's Scandal

I love Scandal, Shonda Rhimes's hot, new drama on ABC, but I had no idea that it is based on a real black woman, Washington DC fixer (crisis manager) Judy Smith. In the video below, Smith says, "To be a crisis manager you have to be very calm." When clients come to her, they are already in the middle of a crisis and nervous. It would not help for her to be nervous and jumpy as well. She also says that she and her staff sometimes work on cases a long time before they become public, and often keeping the story from becoming public is the best outcome. However, in some cases it's inevitable that a story will go public. Her firm worked on the Michael Vick case for months before the story broke and nobody knew for a while that her company was working with him.
In terms of helping Scandal's Rhimes and producers, Smith, the show's co-creator, says that in preparing for the show, she and Kerry Washington "were pretty much joined at the hip." Washington is the star who plays Olivia Pope, the character based on Smith.

From Smith's WJLA interview:
The story isn't fictional — the real-life inspiration for the show still lives in the District, and despite working with household names for two decades, she typically stays out of the public eye. [...] The inspiration for Pope's character comes from a woman named Judy Smith. [...] Smith is president and CEO of the D.C.-based crisis management and public relations firm Smith and Company. [...] "It's hard to be invisible now, but I'm still gonna try, but it's hard!" Smiths said.
Read the full interview with Smith at WJLA. They also have video, but it's not working at the moment.
According to Black Enterprise, Smith is "the former deputy press secretary for President George H. W. Bush." I will try not to read anything into that information despite the show's story line of Pope having an affair with a Republican president. In her NPR interview, Smith says the television show is more exciting and dramatic than her real life.
B.E. also lists five crises Smith managed and their resolutions: the Bill Clinton Monica Lewinski scandal, Idaho Sen. Larry Craig’s solicitation scandal, the Shandra Levy murder, the Michael Vick case, and the Marion Barry crack scandal. Hmm. So much goes on while the rest of us are sleeping, feeding children, and working to keep a roof over our heads.
Smith is also the author of Good Self, Bad Self: Transforming Your Worst Qualities into Your Best Assets. Amazon's description of the book reads:
They found out. It’s not working . They won’t listen. It’s all over. Now what ? Whether the problem is debt, infidelity, indiscretion, or merely an embarrassing email sent to the wrong reader, we have all found ourselves in bad situations of our own making. And whether that puts you in a delicate position or a full-blown crisis, it can sometimes feel as if there is no way out. Enter Judy Smith. America’s number one crisis management expert, Judy Smith is on speed dial for some of the highest-profile celebrities, politicians, and corporations in the world. But though her business is helping her clients recover from widely publicized personal and professional setbacks, her expertise is applicable to us all. In Good Self, Bad Self, Smith shares her methods, gleaned from years of professional experience, for smoothing over a bad situation while providing the tools to prevent similar incidents from ever happening again.

The way to get through a personal or professional rough spot is by understanding the traits that can lead to our wildest successes and most painful failures. Smith has learned to identify high-risk situations that often lead to marital, financial, professional, or personal imprudence; her ability to anticipate potential personal disasters has allowed her to coach people prior to, as well as in the wake of, crisis. ... She has identified seven traits that are often found at the root of a crisis. These traits can be positive and extremely useful but can cause problems when they fall out of balance. ... (Read more at Amazon)
I'm buying my copy now.

You may also enjoy NPR's profile of Smith. Here's an excerpt:
HURTADO (NPR): Actor Kerry Washington, Judy, plays Olivia Pope, the character you inspired. She's also the lead. You've mentioned that many African-American actresses auditioned for one role, and yet, as I watched, I thought, Olivia Pope is a strong, smart, tough-as-nails, successful businesswoman who happens to be African-American. Is there a reflection on barriers the series is breaking down?

SMITH: Here, it is exciting in the sense that you have Kerry Washington - who's African-American - myself and Shonda Rhimes. So it's one of those unique situations that I think hasn't happened since the '60s.
Smith says in her NPR interview that the 24 hour news cycle we have today, that includes bloggers and people tweeting information that may not be true that goes public instantly, makes crisis management more challenging.
If you haven't yet caught the show, you can watch full episodes of Scandal at ABC's website and also on

1 comment:

Middle-aged Diva (Carol) said...

Love the show--used to work in crisis mgt, myself. Am a new follower; look forward to exploring your blog. Hope you'll take a glance at mine, too.

Going to BlogHer12?