Shonda Rhimes, creator of ABC's hit political drama "Scandal," had a blunt message for the legions of "#Gladiators" who packed Hollywood's El Capitan Theatre on Thursday to celebrate the end of ABC's hugely popular political drama centered on top Washington crisis manager Olivia Pope.
"I refuse to talk about legacy, because I'm not dead," she told the cheering fans.
Hundreds of "Scandal" devotees, many of them wearing trench coats in homage to Pope's power outfits, gave Rhimes an extended standing ovation as she, star Kerry Washington, who plays Pope, and the show's cast gathered one last time for a special reading of the script of the finale, which aired Thursday.
The event, which started about an hour before the episode's 10 p.m. West Coast broadcast, was a benefit for the Actors Fund, a nonprofit organization offering assistance to entertainment industry professionals. Fans paid between $75 and $500 to watch the cast read and act out scenes playing on millions of TVs across the country.
"Scandal" premiered in 2012 with little buzz. But as Rhimes injected the show with soap opera-style mayhem and Washington spearheaded a social media movement to connect with viewers, the series gained momentum. By the end of the second season, the show was appointment viewing for fans who called themselves "gladiators."
"You guys are our loyal gladiators," Rhimes said. "We are forever grateful to all of you for watching, tweeting and cursing my name."
The show also made history as Pope became the first African American female character to lead a network drama in nearly 40 years.
"Your viewership really did change the game for women of color … on television," Rhimes told the audience.
Referencing a quote by Rowan Pope, Pope's father played by Joe Morton, she added, "And that means fewer people have had to be twice as good to get half as much."
The fans in the theater got more than just a live script reading. They were treated to deleted scenes, a cast sing-along of the theme song between scenes, and an uncensored narration by executive producer Betsy Beers that was an attraction in and of itself.
One of the most enduring responses came when Rowan Pope was introduced in the reading. His closing monologue touching on racial dynamics in the U.S. appeared to resonate with the audience.
"I was not born with your privilege … I make America great," Rowan Pope tells Gov. Samuel Reston (Tom Amandes) as he explains the reasons for his crimes.
"Oh Shonda!" one audience member shouted.
The event came to a close with Beers narrating the scene in the finale of two young girls staring up at a powerful portrait displayed in a museum of Pope wearing a gown. The moment echoed the recent report of a young girl mesmerized by a portrait of former First Lady Michelle Obama hanging at the National Portrait Gallery.
Does Pope become president? Or was the portrait simply that, a portrait?
Said Beers, "You'll have to discuss among yourselves, America."