Shonda Rhimes — Queen of Primetime

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Shonda Rhimes, the creator and executive producer of enjoyably messy Thursday night television dramas like Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, is the reigning queen of primetime. Over the years, Rhimes has developed a huge fanbase for writing conflicted-yet-likable characters. Her seemingly endless well of ideas and her ambition have catapulted Rhimes into Hollywood’s upper echelon, making the 47-year-old is the most powerful showrunner in the business. Rhimes is among the few remaining bona fide network hitmakers; her pull at ABC is matched only by Chuck Lorre, with his three sitcoms at CBS, or Seth MacFarlane, with his three animated shows at Fox.

Born in 1970 and raised outside Chicago, Rhimes is the youngest of six children. Her mother was a teacher who got her PhD after Rhimes left for college, and her father is now the chief information officer at the University of Southern California. After graduating from Dartmouth, Rhimes read an article in The Times that said getting into University of Southern California’s School of Cinema-Television was harder than getting into Harvard Law, and an innate hunger for competition prompted her to pursue that path.

“A lot of people dream. And while they are busy dreaming, the really happy people, the really successful people, the really interesting, powerful, engaged people are busy doing,” Rhimes is quoted as saying. “I wanted to be Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison. That was my dream. I blue-skied it like crazy. I dreamed and dreamed. And while I was dreaming I was living in my sister's basement. Dreamers often end up living in the basement of relatives.”

Rhimes worked as a development assistant for a few years before selling a script on spec called Human Seeking Same, about an older woman who begins dating a man she meets through personal ads. She then co-wrote a 1999 HBO biopic about Dorothy Dandridge starring Halle Berry, and began to find steady work as a screenwriter, penning the 2002 Britney Spears vehicle Crossroads and 2004’s The Princess Diaries 2.

After the 9/11 attacks, Rhimes reassessed her future and adopted her first daughter, Harper, as a single mother. (Rhimes adopted her second daughter, Emerson Pearl, in 2012, and had her third girl, Beckett, through surrogacy in 2013.) But it was when she wrote Grey’s Anatomy that everything changed. The soapy medical drama became the 2005 TV season’s breakout hit, and Rhimes’ life would never be the same.

As part of her Shondaland production company, Rhimes currently oversees some 550 actors, writers, crew members and producers. Her professional output is responsible for an estimated 70 hours of television every season. Rhimes and Netflix announced a massive new deal in mid-August that will see the showrunner’s Shondaland production company move away from longtime home ABC.

“Shondaland’s move to Netflix is the result of a shared plan [Netflix Chief Content Officer] Ted Sarandos and I built based on my vision for myself as a storyteller and for the evolution of my company,” Rhimes said in a statement announcing the deal. “Ted provides a clear, fearless space for creators at Netflix. He understood what I was looking for – the opportunity to build a vibrant new storytelling home for writers with the unique creative freedom and instantaneous global reach provided by Netflix’s singular sense of innovation. The future of Shondaland at Netflix has limitless possibilities.”

With a huge new deal with one of the hottest content suppliers on the planet and a stable of hot TV shows (which she will continue to oversee after the move to Netflix), Rhimes appears even more comfortable on her throne as the Queen of Television.




Nithya | The Edge Blog

Photo credit: TED Conference


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