Kerry Washington could soon make Emmy history – twice. As the star of ABC’s political thriller "Scandal," she is poised to become the fifth African American actress ever nominated for Best Drama Actress. And, if she goes the distance in September, Washington could become the first to win.
Debbie Allen cracked this glass celling for her role on the syndicated musical drama “Fame” with a bid in 1982 and contended three more times. In 1986, Emmy darling Alfre Woodard was nominated for “St. Elsewhere”. Six years later, Regina Taylor received the first of two consecutive bids for her work on the family drama “I’ll Fly Away”. And in 1995, Cicely Tyson was cited for the short-lived legal drama “Sweet Justice”.
2012 was a career-defining year for Washington. In addition to a supporting role in Quentin Tarantino’s Oscar-winning spaghetti western homage “Django Unchained,” her role as political fixer Olivia Pope, loosely based on real life crisis manager Judy Smith, on "Scandal" gave her huge prominence on television. She is the first African American woman since the late Teresa Graves (“Get Christie Love!,” 1974) to be the sole lead on a broadcast network drama.
While Washington was not nominated for the Golden Globe or SAG Award, she is still a strong Emmy contender. It was a surprise she was snubbed by the Globes as she fits their mold -- a beautiful woman on a hot new show. As for SAG, "Scandal" lacks the prestige of some of the other shows nominated but she can overcome this.
She can contend at the Critics' Choice TV Awards in June. These kudos, from the newly established Broadcast Television Journalist Assn. (BTJA) award, could give her momentum just when Emmy ballots are being completed.
In the two-year history of these awards, they have nominated newcomers snubbed by other kudos. Anna Torv ("Fringe," 2011) and Emmy Rossum ("Shameless," 2012) contended here first. While they did not reap Emmy bids, Washington's show doesn't suffer from genre bias -- sci-fi for Torv and the “Roseanne” effect for Rossum.
Who are Washington's strongest competition at the Emmys?
All of last year's nominees are eligible again, except for Kathy Bates ("Harry's Law") who saw her show cancelled.
Last year's champ Claire Danes ("Homeland") is a lock for a slot. Likewise, 2011 winner Julianna Margulies (“The Good Wife”) is all but certain to represent network television in this category. And Michelle Dockery (“Downton Abbey”) was pivotal to the third season of the Brit hit that just finished its run on PBS' "Masterpiece Theater" to record audiences.
Close had the only bid for "Damages" last year, and may have had a boost from her Oscar bid for "Albert Nobbs." The final season played out last summer – could it be forgotten by the time of Emmy balloting in June?
And Moss could go supporting once again. The sixth season of "Mad Men" does not begin airing until April 7. The show has fallen out of Emmy favor, losing all 17 of its bid last year.
In addition to Washington, other high profile newcomers include Emily Mortimer (“The Newsroom”), Kerri Russell (“The Americans”), and Robin Wright (“House of Cards”) to consider.
However, Washington's biggest threat for a bid could come from another ABC star, Connie Britton, who headlines the critically acclaimed musical drama “Nashville”. Having been nominated at the Emmys for each of her roles since 2010 ("Friday Night Lights," 2010, 2011 and "American Horror Story," 2012). "Nashville" boasts major awards pedigree in Oscar-winning scripter Callie Khouri ("Thelma and Louise") and her musican husband T-Bone Burnett.
What “Scandal” lacks in pedigree, it makes up for with red-hot buzz! The show has been breaking its own ratings records. The cast and creator Shonda Rhimes have taken to Twitter to interact with the vocal fan base. Come Thursday night at 10 pm and you are sure to see the hashtag #Scandal in your timeline. It is how Oprah Winfrey became a fan. She even devoted an episode of “Oprah’s Next Chapter” to the show.
Moving from the procedural “scandal of the week” to serialized storytelling has played a huge part in its surge in popularity and quality. Critics have praised this shift. Alan Sepinwall of Hitfix calls the show “an enormous amount of fun, thanks to the writing and the performances”, while Entertainment Weekly says its “a reliable, thinking woman's soap opera”.
The success of "Scandal" is reminiscent of the rise of Rhimes' “Grey’s Anatomy." That drama series also amped up its storytelling in its sophomore season, became a pop culture phenomenon, had a highly rated post Super Bowl episode, and reaped 11 Emmy nominations, including five for acting.
And Washington's rising profile is sure to help. Last year, she announced the Emmy nominations with host Jimmy Kimmel. Since then, she has been everywhere. One of EW’s 2012 Entertainers of the Year, she has landed covers and red carpet coverage to gain a visibilty far beyond her competitors.
If nominated, can Washington win?
Yes, if she submits With “Happy Birthday, Mr. President”, a pivotal installment in the “Who Shot Fitz” arc. In the episode, Olivia deals with the aftermath of the assassination attempt on Fitz (Tony Goldwyn). The flashback episode recalls the early days of their relationship and gives Washington ample material to play and she’s stellar. The scene in the garden where Fitz and Olivia are struggling with their feelings for one another is a stand out. The episode is thrilling and works well as a standalone for those voters unfamilar with the show.