TIME Television

An Explainer for the Bizarre Scandal Scandal

Eric West
Eric West, who is not replacing Columbus Short as "Harrison" on 'Scandal.' Robin Marchant—WireImage

How Eric West went from replacing Columbus Short in the ABC drama to getting dissed by Shonda Rhimes in mere minutes — all thanks to "an elaborate hoax"

Late Wednesday afternoon, Deadline broke the news that Eric West would be replacing Columbus Short as Harrison on ABC’s hit drama Scandal. Other news outlets picked up the story, thanks to Deadline‘s assertion that ABC had issued a statement confirming the casting.

Fifteen minutes later, creator Shonda Rhimes tweeted the following:

Almost simultaneously, West chimed in:

So in short, West has not replaced Short in the role of “Harrison,” and apparently never will (though if it’s any consolation, neither will anyone else if Rhimes has her way). To make sense of all this, TIME has a primer on the snafu:

Why does Columbus Short need replacing?

The actor recently announced that he would be leaving Scandal at the end of its recently concluded third season. That might have do with the fact that the show never figured out what it wanted to do with his character (see Finch, Stephen in Season 1) — or it may be related to his recent brushes with the law that may leave him facing a four-year prison sentence. Possibly a combination. One way or another, the series needed a serious Harrison shake-up.

Where did we last see Harrison?

When last we caught a glimpse of Olivia Pope & Associates’ most useless employee, he had a gun pointed at his head by a member of the nefarious B6-13 organization.

How does Eric West play into all of this?

Assuming the show’s writers didn’t want to disappear kill off Harrison, they’d have to replace him — potentially with West (see his Twitter bio here). Deadline said he would be taking over the Harrison role, but we’ve already been over that.

And he’s not?

Nope. He did say in an interview with BuzzFeed that he was at the “ABC office” for an audition, but it wasn’t for the part of Harrison. He doesn’t even watch Scandal.

How did Deadline get fooled so bad?

That’s not entirely clear. Here’s what the story’s original writer wrote in a follow-up post:

Sorry, Scandal fans. In the rush of upfront news, a release purported to be from ABC about an actor named Eric West, whose name had been circulated for weeks, replacing troubled Scandal co-star Columbus Short got to me. It turns out it was an elaborate hoax, which is very unfortunate. Scandal creator said on Twitter that she has never heard of West and there are no plans to recast Short.

Wait, there was a fake press release?

Apparently, yes. It doesn’t seem that Deadline has shared the faux statement up to this point, but whatever it was, it seemed real enough that it fooled a news organization well-versed in reading those sorts of releases. It read, in part: “We are so lucky to have someone as talented, joyful and just plain remarkable as Eric,” which does sound an awful lot like the sort of report my mother always hoped to receive from my kindergarten home room teacher.

Does this happen a lot?

It’s not exactly common, though this sort of thing is not unprecedented. Someone anonymously sent at least one member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences a faux Variety article claiming that Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful” track from The Great Gatsby was ineligible for Oscar consideration due a release date technicality (it was not, though it never really stood a chance against “Let It Go,” anyway).

So what do we know now?

No one will be replacing Columbus Short as Harrison, Eric West still does not have a job on Scandal, Shonda Rhimes may not trust everything she reads on the Internet, and everyone will be a little more skeptical the next time a press statement is relayed but not displayed. Other than that, pretty much the same amount as before.

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