Damian D. "Skipper" Pitts was not offended when a student in his leadership class at Temple University raised a hand one Thursday night last year and asked for an early dismissal.
Pitts was just confused by the excuse: The student wanted to get home in time to watch Scandal.
"I said, 'What the hell is Scandal?' " Pitts recalled recently. "The only thing the classroom didn't do was stone me."
A year later, the former Marine and leadership consultant from Fort Washington cannot only rattle off the names of every character like a true Gladiator, as fans of the ABC-TV political drama are known, he aims to cash in on the program's wild appeal with a crisis-leadership game called Scandalytes.
Scandal's third season resumed last Thursday after a midwinter hiatus, serving as an invaluable lead-in to Scandalytes' retail debut. The game is expected on store shelves and for online purchase by spring, likely priced at $40.
Pitts is predicting that its appeal will live long after ABC pulls the plug on new episodes.
"Even when the show goes into syndication, the game will still have legs because chaos will never stop," Pitts said. "It teaches how to overcome crises."
He's had to do a little of that himself.
It's been a long climb back from what Pitts, a Mount Airy native, calls his best business year. That was 2007, when his Bison Group Inc., a strategy and management consulting firm then based in Orlando, had $12.5 million in gross sales and 202 employees.
Pitts, who served in the Marines for 16 years as a military police officer, said his big break had come when he was hired as an adviser on the 2004 movie Stateside, a love story starring Val Kilmer about a rich kid serving in the Marine Corps to avoid jail who falls in love with a schizophrenic actress. Pitts even got some face time on screen as a drill instructor.
"Then the bottom fell out," he said, referring to the economy's collapse in 2008. "Within the blink of an eye, my world turned upside down. Our phones went quiet. I had to dim the lights and figure out what to do."
By 2009, he had moved with his wife and two daughters back to the Philadelphia area. At his lowest moment, he was watching another movie, Trading Places, and was inspired by a line actor Dan Aykroyd utters at the end: "Looking good. Feeling good."
That prompted Pitts to start Success Natural Cosmetics Co., followed by a candle-making affiliate. Both amount to "a hobby" by Internal Revenue Service sales standards, he said.
But they were enough to help get his mojo back. Pitts would keep the Bison Group going, establishing the Leadership Bar, a Wyndmoor company that offers thought-leadership training and professional development. He would also write a self-help, personal-development book, Success TRAPS. It became the basis of the leadership course he was teaching at Temple when that student asked for the early release to watch Scandal.
Pitts did, indeed, let the class go home early. And that weekend he watched the entire first season of Scandal on Hulu.
"I'm watching and saying, 'There's a lot of leadership stuff in here I could use,' " he said. "I ended up taking 19 pages of notes."
By the following Thursday, his class was impressed with his newly acquired Scandal acumen. By the time the next semester started in September, Pitts had a new name for his course - "Scandal: Crisis Leadership" - and a curriculum using the show's scenarios to teach crisis avoidance and intervention.
Among those thrilled with that was Veronika Johnson, a Mount Airy consultant who said she is often likened to Scandal's main character, Olivia Pope - not that she's slept with a U.S. president, mind you, but for the many circumstances she has been called in to handle. In one case, someone's ceiling fell in; in another, a homeowner's gas was about to be turned off; in another, a young man was arrested.
"I got it," she said of the course's Scandal premise. "This is so much in my life."
Her class got to try out prototypes of the game and suggest improvements. It was created by Pitts and Drexel Hill entrepreneur Guy Dunn and his son Guy Jr., after Pitts and the senior Dunn met in August at a joint-venture conference in Philadelphia.
"I said, 'I want to create a game, and we never looked back,' " Pitts said.
Dunn, an author, management consultant and owner of Geeks on Call franchises in Philadelphia and New York, saw great potential and has taken the lead on the game's development.
It's a scenario-based game to be played by two teams, or firms, of at least four players each. The goal is to be the firm that solves the most scenarios within the allotted 20 minutes and, thus, earns the most revenue. Scenarios will change with each season of the show, covering the gamut of trouble - from slander and cover-ups, to kidnapping and convictions.
Strategy will require deciding whether to draw from the investigator, lawyer or analyst card decks.
"People will love this game," Dunn said.
If not, they'll have a different crisis to handle.
Damian D. Pitts talks about the game he based on the TV drama "Scandal" that teaches crisis leadership. www.inquirer.com/business