NEW YORK (AP) — When "Scandal" debuted last spring, its premise seemed clear-cut and comfortable.
This latest melodrama from Shonda Rhimes ("Grey's Anatomy," ''Private Practice") starred Kerry Washington as boss of a Beltway crisis management firm that fixes sticky problems for the D.C. high and mighty.
Clearly, Olivia Pope was well-connected: She had been the communications director to the president of the United States and, before that, helped put Fitzgerald Grant in the White House.
But a certain scandalous detail gave the show a surprise punch: Olivia and Fitz had been locked in a torrid love affair since the campaign, right under the nose of his first lady and the rest of the nation.
For the Grant Administration, this could mean big problems — the sort of problems Olivia Pope is typically retained to fix, not play a role in creating.
Meanwhile, it's a blessing for Tony Goldwyn, who plays the smitten chief executive.
"When I was signed for the show, Shonda indicated that she had big plans for Fitz and Olivia," says Goldwyn, "but you never know."
He knows now. So does the addicted, often flabbergasted "Scandal" audience.
The juicy saga (airing Thursdays at 10 p.m. Eastern on ABC) has this season found Olivia and Fitz ever more deliciously and dangerously entwined.
Fitz survived an assassination attempt plotted by a Supreme Court Justice (who Fitz paid back by killing her). He resolved to dump his wife and wed Olivia, no matter the political fallout. Then he found out what the viewer had earlier been shocked to learn: Olivia and other supporters of Fitz conspired to rig the vote for an election he would likely have lost otherwise. President Grant discovers his victory was stolen for him, and that Olivia played a part in stealing it.
"I'm so grateful the show has gone where it's gone," says Goldwyn, savoring the problems dogging Fitz's presidency. "It's beyond my wildest expectations."
The crazy thing about "Scandal" is that, however outrageous its story line, the characters (including Olivia's hard-charging team of crisis managers and Fitz's tainted deputies) are fully formed, believable and appealing.
Certainly that's the case with Fitz, who, as portrayed by Goldwyn, is charismatic, statesmanlike and (in scenes with Olivia) sizzling hot.
Now 52, Goldwyn first caught the public's eye as Patrick Swayze's villainous best friend in the box office smash, "Ghost." He went on to appear in "The Pelican Brief," Oliver Stone's "Nixon," ''The Last Samurai," and as astronaut Neil Armstrong in the HBO miniseries "From the Earth to the Moon."
Among his stage appearances was a starring role in the 2010 Broadway revival of the hit musical "Promises, Promises."
"On 'Scandal,'" he says, "I wanted to avoid playing a generic TV president. And I wanted Fitz to be a modern president, so I spent a lot of time watching Clinton and Obama, who have this ability to connect with people. I saw Fitz as a Republican Obama who is very purpose-driven and wants to get beyond party politics.