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Wednesday October 18th, 2017 3:43AM

Shonda Rhimes: Don't look for Donald Trump in 'Scandal'

By The Associated Press
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PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — A roundup of news Tuesday from the Television Critics Association winter meeting, at which TV networks and streaming services are presenting details on upcoming programs.

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PARALLEL WORLDS

There's the world of Trump and the world of "Scandal." Don't go looking for similarities between the two, because the ABC show's creator certainly isn't.

The series returns to ABC's lineup on Jan. 26 with its own election, early episodes that were filmed before the world learned the results of the real-world contest between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

"I don't really equate the two," said "Scandal" executive producer Shonda Rhimes on Tuesday. "That's not really the goal. If it was the goal, we would have waited until after the election" to film new episodes.

The show is beginning its sixth season, and ABC can use the ratings boost. The season was shortened from 22 to 16 episodes to accommodate star Kerry Washington's pregnancy, and Rhimes said being able to concentrate on fewer programs sharpened the storytelling.

Washington gave birth to her second child, a boy named Caleb Kelechi, on Oct. 5.

Even though she was obviously busy, Washington said she and the show's other stars sought each other out to talk about what happened on election night.

"Over the years, these are the people I've become closest to in many ways," she said. "It was strange to have to find each other on hiatus, to kind of check with each other and process it."

Rhimes batted away political questions during a meeting with reporters, including one about Meryl Streep's Golden Globes speech. She said she had no problem with ABC postponing the show's debut for a week for the network to air a pre-inauguration special.

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UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE

Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black says his upcoming TV miniseries about the gay rights movement is for everyone, up to and including the incoming president.

"I think there's a lot of people who voted for Donald Trump who will love this show," Black told a TV critics' meeting Tuesday. "I didn't write this show for half the country. If Donald Trump watches the show, I think he might like the show."

"When We Rise," airing Feb. 27 to March 2 on ABC, recounts the LGBT civil rights movement and those involved from the mid-20th century to present day. The cast includes Guy Pearce, Rachel Griffiths, Mary-Louise Parker, Ivory Aquino and Michael Kenneth Williams.

Black said the show already has come under online attack from white nationalists known as the alt-right, but said that "the show is not a war. We are not against anyone."

The project was initiated four years ago and without anticipation of the current political climate, Black said.

He wrote it for members of his own family, he said. The writer, who won an Academy Award for 2008's "Milk," described growing up in a "religious, conservative, military" household in the South.

His message to his cousins, aunts, uncles and others is, "Hey, we have more in common than we think and we speak the same language," Black said.

The series' perspective is universal, Black said, calling it a "conversation about what it's like to be a minority in this world" and the importance of working together.

Williams ("Boardwalk Empire," ''12 Years a Slave") said the miniseries offers "stories of triumph and courage this country was built" and is a timely celebration of American diversity and unity.

When Black and the actors were asked about whether Hollywood is out of touch with middle America, Griffiths responded.

"This show isn't four nights of telling the middle how they should think and feel. It's not an education, propaganda tool, which I'm sure the alt-right will say it is," said the Australian actress ("Six Feet Under").

Instead, she said, it's an opportunity to understand the lives of others. When she was a "little Irish Catholic girl" and watched the slavery epic "Roots," she learned what it was like to be owned by another person and "that affected me for the rest of my life."

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TRY, TRY AGAIN

Jenna Elfman is taking aim again at finding comedic success on television.

The actress best known for her hit ABC show "Dharma & Greg" that ran from 1997 to 2002 is back on the same network with "Imaginary Mary." Elfman plays a woman dating a man with children. Her character relies on an imaginary friend voiced by Rachel Dratch of "Saturday Night Live" fame.

Elfman has had starring roles in six comedies since 1996-97. Only "Dharma & Greg" lasted more than a single season.

"I'm always looking for writing I feel I can express myself in a true way," she told the Television Critics Association winter gathering on Tuesday.

Her latest role presents challenges similar to what Elfman faced in the 2003 movie "Looney Tunes: Back in Action."

Back then, she was acting against a green screen. Now, she rehearses with a life-sized puppet and another actress on set who does Dratch's lines since she's based in New York and the show is shot in Los Angeles.

The puppet is removed for filming, when Elfman is interacting with Stephen Schneider, who plays her boyfriend, and his children. The boyfriend doesn't see or hear the imaginary friend.

"It was actually a really great challenge," Elfman said. "I liked the challenge of maintaining all these things. I felt super-engaged on set all the time."

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AP Writers David Bauder, Lynn Elber and Beth Harris contributed to this report.

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