April 12 (UPI) -- Connie Britton was ABC's top choice to play Olivia Pope on Scandal.
Series creator Shonda Rhimes said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter that she cast Kerry Washington in the role after network executives suggested Britton and other white stars.
"Nothing felt more important than the sense of outsiderness," Rhimes explained. "I didn't know that there hadn't been a drama series with a leading black woman for 37 years."
"When the show got picked up [to pilot], I got a phone call from somebody who said, 'This would be the perfect show for Connie Britton.' I said, 'It would be, except Olivia Pope is black,'" she recalled.
Scandal follows Olivia, a Washington, D.C., fixer loosely based on former White House press aide Judy Smith, who is African-American. Casting director Linda Lowry agreed with Rhimes that Olivia should be black.
"The network was reading us their top choices, and it was Connie and all white women," Lowry recounted. "I panicked. Somebody finally piped up, 'We're going to have to do redo this list.'"
"We tested Kerry, Jill Scott and Anika Noni Rose. It was Kerry from the moment I took her to meet Shonda," she said.
Britton went on to play Rayna James on five seasons of the ABC/CMT series Nashville, while Washington is in her sixth season of Scandal. Washington recalled her first meeting with Rhimes in an interview with Entertainment Weekly this week.
"I remember walking in and seeing 'Shondaland' on the wall, and thinking, 'Who is this person? I don't know if I'm going to like this meeting,'" she admitted. "Here I am, years later, living in Shondaland and loving it! It's the best ride of my life."
Scandal will air its 100th episode Thursday. The political drama co-stars Tony Goldwyn, Bellamy Young, Scott Foley, Darby Stanchfield, Katie Lowes, Guillermo Diaz and Jeff Perry.