This image released by ABC shows Tony Goldwyn, from left, Scott Foley and Kerry Washington in a scene from Scandal.

TONY Goldwyn has displayed a lack of ethics in the White House.

As President Fitzgerald Grant on ABC’s hit melodrama Scandal (known as The Fixer in South Africa), he has cheated on his wife right under her nose and even smothered a Supreme Court justice on her sickbed.

But in his behind-the-camera roles as producer, director and writer, Goldwyn is exposing the ethical minefields of the justice system in a fine new drama, The Divide (pictured). This eight-episode series teams Goldwyn with fellow creator and producer Richard LaGravenese (writer of Behind the Candelabra), who penned the two-hour debut.

Inspired by the real-life Innocence Project (which works to exonerate wrongfully convicted people through DNA testing), The Divide focuses on a young Philadelphia lawyer named Christina Rosa, who has joined the Innocence Initiative and become obsessed with winning a last-ditch appeal for a white inmate facing execution for killing a black family.

As Christina (Marin Ireland) and her boss (Paul Schneider) investigate inconsistencies in the case, they butt heads with the city’s charismatic black district attorney (Damon Gupton), even as he begins to acknowledge problems with the racially charged verdict, which vaulted him to prominence a dozen years ago but, if it came apart now, could be his undoing.

“In the past,” Goldwyn says, “I had assumed that if someone is in prison, they probably did it. I didn’t realise how much grey area there is in our justice system, and how many cracks catch people without money and influence.”

“On the show, we try to come to terms with the ambiguity of human nature,” explains LaGravenese. “In the Writers’ Room, I said: ‘Let’s get rid of words like ‘good’ and ‘bad’. That is not what our show is about.”

The two first worked together when LaGravenese did a script rewrite for the Goldwyn-directed 2010 film Conviction, which starred Hilary Swank in a dramatisation of an actual Innocence Project case.

When that was done, says Goldwyn: “I wanted to explore the Innocence Project further. I thought a TV series would be a great way.”

After months of hashing out ideas, then crafting a proposal for the series, they landed a deal with the corporate parent of AMC to film a pilot. Time passed. Then so did AMC on the series. But a sister network, WE tv, stepped up.

WE tv, in the midst of a network-wide rebranding, claimed The Divide as its first scripted series – a hoped-for repeat of how, in 2007, a new drama called Mad Men saw the revamping of AMC.

Goldwyn and LaGravenese went back to work to beef up the narrative in preparation for adding and reshooting scenes for the pilot.

Goldwyn had landed the original deal for The Divide before committing to Scandal, but despite those “presidential” duties, he says the show was generous in giving him freedom to develop The Divide. And when Scandal took a two-month hiatus in the middle of last season, Goldwyn was able to head to Toronto, Canada, where he directed the first two episodes of The Divide as it sprang to life again.

Ireland (whose credits include the films I Am Legend and Sparrows Dance and TV appearances on Homeland and The Following) returned to Toronto after having used her “down time” wisely: Last autumn, she starred in an off-Broadway play, Marie Antoinette, and for a month spent her days as an intern at the Innocence Project.

She found that entering Christina’s world for real was not only instructive, but also exhilarating.

“It left me thinking I should quit acting and work with these people full-time, even though I barely knew how to work the fax machine,” she says

For now, she’s happy to play a passionate lawyer trying to find justice, while Goldwyn, on break from presidential mischief, presides over his saga of doing the right thing. – Sapa-AP