Two-time Oscar nominee Viola Davis will mark her return to TV this fall with a starring role in ABC's "How to Get Away with Murder." Or make that the starring role, which is about to catapult her into rarefied company, as the third African-American female lead on a current broadcast-TV drama -- the others being Kerry Washington, who just picked up another Emmy nod for "Scandal," and Halle Berry in CBS' new summer hit, "Extant."
For some perspective, there hadn't been a black female lead on a prime-time show since 1974-75 when Teresa Graves starred in the long-forgotten "Get Christie Love!"
Soon there will be three, and TV -- not to mention culture -- will change ever so imperceptibly.
Davis, 48, Tuesday met the TV press in Beverly Hills, California, to explain the role, and why she chose it. But the woman who put her in it, Shonda Rhimes -- overseer of "Grey's Anatomy" and "Scandal" -- essentially dismissed the significance of two black female leads on the same network: "There are no lessons" to be drawn, she said. "I feel like the shows should speak for themselves."
And so they should, but still . . . television hasn't always been known for breaking glass ceilings, and this particular one just got shattered. That's why so much seems to be riding on this ABC mystery/thriller about a law professor and the students who may -- or may not -- abet her in the commission of a murder.
Meanwhile, Davis -- who plays Professor Annalise Keating -- explained her reasons for being here. "And I have to say, and I will be bold enough to say, that I have gotten so many wonderful film roles, but I've gotten even more film roles where I haven't been the show. It's like I've been invited to a really fabulous party, only to hold up the wall. Here I wanted to be on the show and wanted a character that took me out of my comfort zone."