(The Root) — Thursday night is date night at my apartment.
Nothing special, just drinks — a glass of water for me, red wine for her. We have not seen each other in months, and I'm excited to be reunited.
Her name is Olivia Pope.
We will meet in my living room, where she has shown up promptly at 10 p.m. on and off for the last 18 months. I will be on my couch. She will be in my television set.
She is not real, but my love for her, as she is played by Emmy-nominated actress Kerry Washington on the hit political drama Scandal, is very real.
Olivia and I will pick up where we last left off tonight with the season 3 premiere, and I will remain devoted to her week in and week out. I will tweet about Scandal incessantly while it airs. I will cut off any real dates with real women on Thursday nights by 9, and I will start every conversation on Friday with, "Did you watch Scandal last night?"
Trust me, this is not a familiar relationship. The only thing to which it can compare is my devotion to NFL football on Sundays (and Mondays). The other shows I love — House of Lies on Showtime, House of Cards on Netflix, Sportscenter on ESPN — don't get this much dedication. I watch them when time allows. For Scandal, I make time, and what has surprised me most about my allegiance to Olivia and her cast of "gladiators" is that when I started watching in season 1, I didn't see the relationship lasting this long.
Notice what's the same about the other shows I mentioned as favorites. They center around men or are geared toward men. Scandal is anything but.
It is written and executive-produced by the amazing Shonda Rhimes. The show is also based on a woman, real-life crisis-management expert Judy Smith. And its popularity is driven by women. According to Nielsen, women viewers outnumbered male viewers 3 to 1 for both seasons, which makes me and guys like me as rare as a smile from Huck.
Often, the hook into the show for men is Kerry Washington, whose work I liked enough (I Think I Love My Wife, hello!) to give it a chance.
Scandal may be soap opera-esque in its storytelling, and more women than men may love it, but Rhimes has made gladiators out of a host of men, like Kevin Walker. He's a married man who runs a printing press and is an assistant basketball coach at Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C.
During a slow summer day at the office, Walker decided to give the show a shot on Hulu. Four episodes later, he came home to tell his wife about his new favorite show. She was unconvinced, so Walker started season 2 without her, and soon the questions started coming. "She's asking me these questions, and I told her to keep watching," Walker says. "And, bam! She got hooked, looked at me and said, 'I hate you.' "
Hanselman is not sneaking around with another woman like a real-life Fitz. The Web developer is referring to humorist blogger Awesomely Luvvie, a Scandal superfan, and Hanselman's co-host on the podcast Ratchet and the Geek. The two host a biweekly discussion on pop culture, tech and, of course, the latest Scandal episodes. They don't watch the show on a couch together; they do so online through Twitter, which has become the de facto gathering place for Scandal fans.
ABC has proudly touted the show's social media presence. I didn't know "most-tweeted-about television show" was a thing until the network started using it as a selling point. Los Angeles Times TV critic Mary McNamara called the Beltway drama "the show that Twitter built." Without it, the show's profile would not have been boosted, the ratings would have remained flat and Scandal probably would have been canceled.
Twitter actually enhances the Scandal experience for men like Walker. "It's like watching a game at a barbershop," he says. But for Shawn Hardie of Harlem, word on the tweets wasn't as convincing as the word on the streets. Specifically the word from his older brother. "I'd always see people tweeting about it," says Hardie, who came around after the first season. "But my brother mentioned he watched it, and he's not a big television fan, so I had to give it a chance if it was getting his attention."
Like Hanselman, Walker and me, Hardie soon became a fan of a storyline that focuses not only on Olivia (Girl, get it together!) and her litigious misfits (What's up, Huck, Quinn, Abby and Harrison?! Gladiators in the house!) but also on a philandering president (You get it together too, Fitz!), his justifiably evil first lady (Hold your head up, Mellie!) and his sadistic, openly gay chief of staff (Cyrus, you crazy!). With such a complex cast of characters, Scandal has earned the attention of men who watch.
Having a strong African-American male in the cast makes a difference. Hardie's favorite character is Harrison (played by Columbus Short) because "he's the glue of [Olivia's] firm." Walker said he was becoming a fan of Quinn (played by Katie Lowes) by the end of the second season, when Huck (played by Guillermo Diaz), Hanselman's favorite guy, trained her to kill. I myself am always looking for a collection plate whenever Cyrus (played by Jeff Perry) starts seething and preaching at the same time.
But still, nothing can compare to the magic that Rhimes has created with the show's heroine. As Olivia, Washington brings to life a character who is relatable to women and admirable to men. Yes, she is easy on the eyes, but she and everyone else on the show are easy to watch because they are all so entertaining. As beautiful as Washington is, no guy is watching to see Washington strut her stuff. For one, she wears so many white coats.
But more importantly, Olivia's ability to layeth the smacketh down is rare to see on television from a black woman. It is arguably not even something we're used to seeing from white women. Hanselman says that Olivia is more similar to popular alpha males like Tony Stark, the everyday guy who morphs into Iron Man when danger strikes but is still a boss underneath the armor. "There's something about the unapologetic person who says, 'I'm getting what I need, and you can either hop on board or get out of my way,' " says Hanselman. "Olivia has that, and it goes across gender."
Jozen Cummings is a contributing editor at The Root. His new column, His Side, will bring us men's perspectives on the latest events in news and pop culture. He is a writer for the New York Post, where he covers the blind date column, Meet Market, and writes for his own blog, Until I Get Married. Follow him on Twitter. He can be reached at jozenc@untilIgetmarried.com.
Jozen Cummings is the author and creator of the popular relationship blog Until I Get Married, which is currently in development for a television series with Warner Bros. He also hosts a weekly podcast with WNYC about Empire called Empire Afterparty, is a contributor at VerySmartBrothas.com and works at Twitter as an editorial curator. Follow him on Twitter.