Kerry Washington

As the first African-American actress to play the lead successfully in a network TV drama in nearly 40 years, Kerry Washington says she didn't want Scandal to become a hit just so she could keep going to work. She knew the show's staying power meant much more.

"I wanted Scandal to be a success because I wanted networks and studios to believe that people of color and that women can be the driving force — both separately and when you happen to have both," she tells The New York Times. "I feel proud that we live in a world where Scandal can succeed. It wasn't up to me. The variable was the audience: Was the audience going to be ready?"

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The audience indeed was ready. After narrowly avoiding cancellation after a shortened first season last year, Scandal's most recent episode grabbed 7.8 million viewers and a 2.8 rating in the adults ages 18-49 demographic on Thursday. The ABC drama now seems almost a lock for renewal.

Despite the special place Scandal now holds in TV history because of Washington's casting, series creator and executive producer Shonda Rhimes says she's glad race has not become a hot topic on the show — a sign of major evolution in pop culture. All three of Rhimes' other ABC dramas, Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice and the short-lived Off the Map, were known for having extremely ethnically diverse casts. "We've been trained on television to watch characters of color discuss their race incessantly," Rhimes told the newspaper. "We've hit a moment on TV in which she doesn't have to be perfect, soulful or sassy. Those are the boxes that usually get checked."