Beverly Hills-- Sunday was not a day of rest for either ABC or the Television Critics Association, slouching toward the end of its annual summer press tour in Beverly Hills.

The Disney-owned network spent the day pitching the television press on its forthcoming offerings for the fall season, and to be honest, some of them did look promising.

When it came time for the ABC party Sunday night at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, almost everyone seemed to be keeping one eye on the ballroom entrance for the star of a third-season show: That would be Emmy-nominated Kerry Washington, who plays Washington DC fixer Olivia Pope on Shonda Rhimes' hit "Scandal."

Dressed in an orange and white brocade cocktail length dress, with grey patent leather heels and her hair swept up (and a simple but elegant gold wedding band from new husband, San Francisco Forty Niner Nnamdi Asomugha, on her left hand), she was happy to answer questions about the forthcoming season of "Scandal" -- maybe because she insisted she and the rest of the cast are almost as out of the loop as the show's fans.

She did have a little information about the first episode of the third season, which airs on Thursday, Oct. 3.

"The show picks up right where we left off, just a moment later," Washington said. "It's very exciting that we get to learn more about Olivia and her father."

After that, Washington said she doesn't know where the third season will go.

"We're never privy to that information. I can't even tell you what's in the second episode, but I can tell you it's really good," she laughed.

Washington says she hasn't begun to get tired of Olivia Pope.

"What I love most about the role is the complexity of Olivia, how strong she is and how vulnerable she is, and how somehow she can focus those things in her life, depending on the circumstance. I love that challenge."

Looking back from the vantage point of two powerhouse seasons and Emmy nominations for both Washington as lead actress in a drama and Dan Bucatinsky, for guest actor in a drama, it's difficult to imagine there was ever a time when the series' success was in doubt.

But that's not how Washington recalls it.

"Thank God our first season was only seven episodes because the writers were like, well this seven might be all we're going to get so let's just go for it, and let's go hard and let's put it all out on the table. Then when we got picked up, we're like, oh well, we can't pull back now."

Earlier in the day, ABC Entertainment Group President Paul Lee called Washington's Emmy nod "historic," but the actress was eager to emphasize the ensemble nature of the show.

"I was really excited that the day of the nomination was our first table read, so I got to hang with the cast and the writers and the crew," she said. "And I believe in my heart that this nomination belongs to all of them because there's no way you can play a character like Olivia Pope for 22 episodes without just reflecting the excellence around you. Every time you're watching Olivia you're really seeing the excellence of the other actors and the members of our crew."

She acknowledged the significance of an African American woman starring in a hit drama show while saying television needs to reflect the overall diversity of the American public.

"You know there's been a lot of attention around the African American actress thing, but I just think that there are just so many important stories to tell that we all deserve to have a place at the table," she said. "It's exciting to me that people have this woman in their homes, not just in the United States but all over the world.

"But what I'm most proud of is that our show is diverse in so many ways," she continued. "Our show is diverse in terms of gender, in terms of age, in terms of sexual orientation, in terms of ethnicity, in terms of religion. And that to me is one of the things that's special about the show. So it's not just about a black woman. When you look at our cast you have Guillermo Diaz (who plays Huck), you have Jeff Perry (chief of staff Cyrus Beene who is married to Bucatinsky's character), and you have Columbus Short ( who plays Harrison Wright) and there's just a range of characters."

"And Dan Bucatinsky who's Emmy nomination is awesome," she said, before being whisked into the depths of the ABC party.

David Wiegand is The San Francisco Chronicle's executive features editor and TV critic. E-mail: dwiegandsfchronicle.com Twitter: WaitWhat--TV