DRAMA PREMIERE "Scandal"

WHEN|WHERE Tonight at 10 on ABC/7

REASON TO WATCH Shonda Rhimes ("Grey's Anatomy") strikes again.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT As we all know, Washington, D.C., is a city of dirty, little secrets -- all of them just patiently waiting to destroy those who harbor them. That's where Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington, "Boston Legal") comes in.

She's the fixer's fixer -- the one whom President Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn) calls when some pesky White House intern is claiming he slept with her, or whom an arch-conservative war hero calls on, even with the blood of his recently murdered girlfriend still on his shirt. She was the former communications director for Grant but now has her own firm with a flock of other fixers, like Stephen Finch ("Lost's" Henry Ian Cusick) and Harrison Wright (Columbus Short), who says of his boss: "She isn't a good guy -- she's the best guy."

MY SAY "Scandal" is Shonda Rhimes unleashed -- and unleashed on poor, defenseless Washington, no less. All the tropes, cliches and (especially) soap conventions she has poured so generously into "Grey's" and "Private Practice" (which moves to Tuesdays to make way for "Scandal") over the years have been poured right back into this Beltway potboiler. The hairpin plot twists. The whiplash character reveals. The bumptious moralizing. The Strong Woman/ Wronged Woman character type, and its direct corollary, Weak, Middle-Aged, Married Man Who Secretly Likes Hookers. It's all here! And it's all utterly foolish!

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But that doesn't mean it's not fun. Shonda Unleashed can be one of the more entertaining writers working in television and, in fact, seems to have a good time spinning her tales. (She told a reporter she spent four days nonstop writing this at a resort in Cabo San Lucas, then applied the finishing touches while staying at the Chateau Marmont.) The dialogue has a nice zip and zing, even sounding almost plausible at moments, and Washington as Ms.Fix-it is good, too.

BOTTOM LINE Clear away the soap bubbles, and you'll find ... more soap bubbles. But you won't be bored.

GRADE B-