April 12 (UPI) -- Connie Britton was ABC's top choice to play Olivia Pope on Scandal.
"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.'"
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."