“Scandal,” which ends its seven-season run on Thursday, April 19, is a benchmark in many ways. At the time of its April 2012 premiere, it was the first network drama series with an African-American female lead, Kerry Washington, since “Get Christie Love!” with Teresa Graves in 1974. It savvily used social media to turn itself into a red-hot hit. It was the last series Shonda Rhimes created before she signed her new deal with Netflix last year. It had some of the craziest twists that defied logic and storytelling. It gave us new vernacular, like “gladiator,” “it’s handled,” “jam,” “bitch baby,” “white hat” and yes, even “I want my bones!” It went to great lengths — with lamps, in particular — to hide a pregnancy. It showed that a woman could sustain herself on a diet of popcorn and red wine. And it ended a long drought at the Emmys.
Washington received two Best Drama Actress nominations, in 2013 and 2014, for her work as fixer Olivia Pope. Her 2013 breakthrough marked the first time a black woman was nominated in the category in 18 years. She was only the fifth black actress to be up for the award, following Debbie Allen (“Fame,” 1982-85), Alfre Woodard (“St. Elsewhere,” 1986), Regina Taylor (“I’ll Fly Away,” 1992-93) and Cicely Tyson (“Sweet Justice,” 1995). And as you can see in the video above, she was the only one of the seven nominees to elicit cheers from the press in the room when her name was announced.
Washington lost to Claire Danes (“Homeland”) in 2013 and Julianna Margulies (“The Good Wife”) in 2014, but still made an impact at the former ceremony when she presented with Diahann Carroll, the first black actress to headline her own series (“Julia” in 1968) in a non-stereotypical domestic worker role, and the first black actress to be nominated for Best Comedy Actress.
Though Washington, who received Golden Globe and SAG nominations in 2014, never won for “Scandal,” her groundbreaking role paved the way for more inclusivity on television, specifically with powerful women of color front and center. Since her two Emmy bids, Viola Davis (“How to Get Away with Murder”) and Taraji P. Henson (“Empire”) have received five nominations between them from 2015-17. 2015 was the first time two black actresses contended in the same year for the prize, with Davis becoming the first black actress to win.
There’s still a long way to go when it comes to representation on TV, but Olivia Pope did her part, and as she would say, “It’s handled.”
The “Scandal” series finale airs Thursday at 10/9c on ABC.
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