It's only fitting that Kerry Washington reacted to her lead actress Emmy nomination for her role in the buzzed-about drama "Scandal" on Twitter. The show, after all, became a sensation because of social media.
Washington's nomination took on historic proportions as well. She's the first African American to earn one in this category since Cicely Tyson in 1995. And if she wins, she'll be the first African American to do so.
"Just landed. WOW! Im so grateful &humbled. THX 4 all your CONGRATS! YAY ..." the 36-year-old actress tweeted Thursday to her more than 971,000 Twitter followers.
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An early morning flight from Northern California to Los Angeles had left the actress a bit disconnected, but clearly delighted at being one of seven nominees in the suddenly robust lead actress category for her portrayal as passionate crisis fixer Olivia Pope in the ABC drama.
"It is a small group of very accomplished women who I admire very deeply that I share this honor with," Washington said in a phone interview. "It's surreal to be in their company, historically."
"Scandal" creator Shonda Rhimes, who's made a career of color-blind casting with shows such as "Grey's Anatomy," said she couldn't help but view the significance as an unfortunate reality.
"When you tell me it's historic I just go, 'It's really a shame that it's historic because it should not be a thing.' It's 2013," Rhimes said. "Kerry is an incredible actress, and the character of Olivia Pope appeals to everyone. If it means we're going to see more actresses of color being nominated in the future, that is wonderful. It will speak to something greater."
After premiering to lukewarm reviews and soft ratings as a mid-season replacement in 2012, the fast-paced drama became a hit after it generated strong word of mouth via social media, particularly Twitter — attracting celebrity admirers as wide-ranging as Oprah Winfrey and Lena Dunham and inside-the-Beltway admirers like former President Bill Clinton. The series also received a nomination for guest actor Dan Bucatinsky.
The series, loosely based on the life of Washington, D.C., crisis consultant Judy Smith, closed out its second season in May as one of the network's most watched and talked about shows, attracting about 8 million viewers for new episodes and inspiring as many as 2,000 tweets per minute. Clearly social media had become the new water cooler.
Washington was active in forging a digital relationship with the show's legion of fans — who dub themselves "gladiators" in tribute to Olivia's nickname for her posse of employees.
"This role has been quite good to me," Washington said in something of an understatement. In recent months the actress has been on the cover of Vanity Fair, Elle and been the subject of countless TV and Web interviews.
"There is something new and exciting happening in the landscape right now," Washington said. "There are so many ways to watch television now. Like, 'Game of Thrones,' for me, is real appointment television. But then there's "Super Soul Sunday" on the OWN network — with that, sometimes I'm streaming it, sometimes I'm DVRing it. It's always different."
The New York City native has made a career of being the woman on the side — whether as a teen mother in "Save the Last Dance" or Ray Charles' wife in "Ray" or a slave in "Django Unchained." Her portrayal of the sharp-dressed, fast-talking Olivia had fans arguing about her on-again, off-again extramarital lover (and former employer) — the president of the United States (Tony Goldwyn) — or feeling inspired by her intense pep talks to her employee.
"Kerry is a really collaborative actor," Rhimes said. "She's very smart about even figuring out what I mean, because sometimes I feel I'm not the best communicator. Kerry is really smart about asking, 'What were you going for?' We've sort of found our own language together."
Rhimes drew special attention to the season's roller-coaster episode, "Happy Birthday, Mr. President," in which the president is shot and Olivia must pick out clothes for the first lady to wear as days in the hospital drag on.
"There was a moment where she just cried. But only for a brief moment. Then she pulled herself together and leaves," Rhimes said. "She's just very raw and honest. And she's versatile. She can be funny, and smart, and sexy and strong — yet, you can see hints of the cracks underneath without it seeming obvious."
"Kerry is just brilliant. She flawlessly brings the words of Shonda Rhimes to life in Olivia Pope every Thursday night on 'Scandal,' " Paul Lee, ABC's president of entertainment, said in a statement. "This show is on fire, we are so proud of it, and this is a historic and well-deserved recognition for both Kerry and Shonda."
And others want those flames to keep blazing. Under an unusual syndication deal, BET recently announced it will televise episodes of the drama eight days after they premiere this fall, when the show enters its third season.