ABC’s TGIT drama Scandal has survived cast departures, onscreen breakups, and even the fact that nearly every main character has killed someone at one point or another. The Shonda Rhimes-steered show hits its 100th episode this Thursday, and The Hollywood Reporter, for one, is celebrating with an extensive oral history of the political series. It starts of course, with discussing who got cast when and why (Scott Foley was originally supposed to be Stephen, which is why he got killed on Grey’s Anatomy), with a surprising revelation about the main role.
Rhimes already had two ABC series—Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice—when she was inspired to take on a third after seeing Washington, D.C. politico Judy Smith speak. She remembers: “Judy Smith talked for 10 minutes, and I could see what 100 episodes would be.” But after the show got picked up, she got a call from the network: “This would be the perfect show for Connie Britton.” Rhimes replied: “It would be, except Olivia Pope is black.” Rhimes wanted the character to honor Smith, who is black, and explains, “Nothing felt more important than the sense of outsiderness. I didn’t know that there hadn’t been a drama series with a leading black woman for 37 years.”
Rhimes’ casting director, Linda Lowy, recalls, “The network was reading us their top choices, and it was Connie and all white women. I panicked. Somebody finally piped up, ‘We’re going to have to redo this list,’” resulting in Kerry Washington finally taking the lead role after auditions from Jill Scott and Anika Noni Rose. Even though it’s difficult to picture anyone but Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope, Washington gets it: “This would have been a great role for Connie Britton!”