ABC’s Scandal stars Columbus Short as Harrison Wright (ABC/Craig Sjodin)
Columbus Short is a master of career reinvention. The “Scandal” co-star began working in commercials as a teenager, became a choreographer for Britney Spears and then turned actor and landed on the hit ABC political thriller.
His latest plan was to make it in music, starting with a newly released single. Instead, Short, 31, is facing the plight of other troubled performers: Out of his plum TV job as he confronts alleged misbehavior that has overshadowed his success.
His marriage is at stake as well, and the newly acquired affluence he owes to an industry that may give a series star like Charlie Sheen second and third chances but shows little patience with mid-level performers who roil the waters.
And that is what Short has done.
A 2010 fight on a basketball court at a Los Angeles gym led to a charge of battery that was resolved when he pleaded no contest to a lesser charge and was sentenced to three years of informal probation.
In February, Short was arrested twice by police after his wife, Tuere Short, called to report he was being abusive. He has pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor spousal battery.
In March, he was charged with felony battery after allegedly knocking a man unconscious in a West Hollywood bar fight and faces a May arraignment.
Three weeks ago, his wife accused him of threatening her with a knife during a fight, stabbing a couch as he pinned her to it and threatening to kill her with the couple’s 2-year-old daughter in the house. She left, filed for divorce and obtained a temporary restraining order.
Jeff Jacquet, Short’s attorney, couldn’t be reached for comment Monday. But Jacquet wrote in an April 23 court filing that Tuere Short’s restraining order filing had “a number of egregiously false statements” but did not go into detail to refute any of the domestic violence claims.
His motion focused on the actor’s right to be at a hillside home in suburban Chatsworth that he began renting in January for nearly $7,000 a month. The lease, slated to run through December 2016, reflected some of Short’s long-term plans: The actor would have the option to buy the home for $2 million later this year.
Short failed to help his image during an interview earlier this month with radio host Tom Joyner. His responses were rambling and at sometimes combative, as when Joyner asked what Short’s wife thinks of his new single, “Gave Ya.”
“I don’t care. How about, I don’t care,” Short said. He later issued an apology for his demeanor, saying he was exhausted and not under the influence of any substance, and that he regretted using the n-word in the exchange.
Despite headlines about his woes, one “Scandal” fan said she was taken aback by Short’s announcement Friday he was leaving his role as attorney Harrison Wright. The presumption was it wasn’t entirely voluntary, and his contract option reportedly was not renewed.
“I was shocked and disappointed,” said Jmeka Funches, 18, a student in Cleveland, Ohio. But she was aware of his legal problems and figured those were the reason.
“Maybe he and the producers felt it was time for him to step back and focus on things he might have going on at home,” Funches said.
The season finale had Wright last seen in the sights of a gun, a cliffhanger that could be easily tweaked either way for the character to survive or not.
ABC and series creator Shonda Rhimes declined comment Monday. A call to a cellphone listed as belonging to Short was answered by a man who identified himself as his assistant and took a message, but the call was not returned.
Eric Deegans, TV critic for National Public Radio and author of “Race-Baiter,” said he was surprised by Short’s exit because the charges against him have yet to be proven in court. But Deegans said he understands the logistics at work.
“If (a case) comes to trial in the middle of next season, there would be more bad publicity as the show is airing,” along with taping disruptions, he said. This way, Short can focus on his defense and producers keep their attention on the series.
After all, said veteran publicist David Brokaw, the industry maxim is “whatever you do, the show must go on. Don’t do anything to halt production.”
Rhimes has seen firsthand on another of her shows the toll that even a war of words can take. “Grey’s Anatomy” star Isaiah Washington was fired after his use of a gay slur in the presence of his co-stars caused a public uproar and tension on the set seven years ago.
It’s also worth noting that a show entering its fourth season, as “Scandal” will be this fall, is likely to have ballooning costs and be expected to find ways to contain them. Leaving star Kerry Washington aside, cutting an ensemble cast member is a relatively painless way to accomplish that, Brokaw said.
Even viewer Funches, who liked Short on the show, says it will keep her rapt attention without him.
“Scandal” is known as much for its “eye candy,” including Short and its other handsome actors, as for its wild plot twists, she said. Bring on another good-looking guy — she tweeted Michael Ealy as one suggestion — “and we’ll forget all about Harrison being gone.”