Even if you don’t know Shonda Rhimes’ name, you can’t escape her influence on television in the last decade. Since 2005, Rhimes has launched three mainstay primetime dramas on ABC: “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Private Practice,” and “Scandal.”
And now Rhimes is taking over the entire ABC lineup for Thursday night with a new, juicy-looking hour-long drama called “How to Get Away With Murder,” starring the excellent Viola Davis. Her contract with the network will keep Rhimes’ company Shondaland with ABC and Disney for the next four years.
The television industry, like most industries, has long been predominantly run by white men, which makes Rhimes’ meteoric rise a landmark change within the industry. Her takeover of ABC’s Thursday drama lineup has been sure and swift, and with Ad Week dubbing her “Today’s Aaron Spelling.”
Rhimes began her career with nuggets like the Britney Spears movie “Crossroads” and “The Princess Diaries” sequel, but soon broke through on television with “Grey’s Anatomy.” Her signature show is one that mixes elements of a traditional procedural—a new case every week on “Grey’s Anatomy, a new hush-up to execute on “Scandal”—with the emotional roller coaster of a soap opera.
Even if her brand of drama isn’t your cup of tea, Rhimes’ rise to power is a huge victory for promoting diversity in television. Without fanfare, Rhimes populates her shows with characters from an array of minority groups. “Scandal” is the first network television drama with a black female lead character since 1974, but Olivia Pope’s race never feels like a defining feature of her character. It’s an effortless inclusion, as it should be.
Rhimes’ attitude is that diversity should be a given in programming, When receiving a Diversity Award from the Directors Guild of America, Rhimes confessed that she was miffed about receiving the prize.
“We’re a little p—ed off because there still needs to be an award,” she said. “Like there’s such a lack of people hiring women and minorities that when someone does it on a regular basis, they are given an award.”
There are so few women and minorities in big network dramas, Rhimes continued, “because of lack of access. People hire who they know. If it’s been a white boys’ club for 70 years, that’s a lot of white boys hiring one another.”
“I like the world that we work in to look like the world that we live in,” Rhimes added. “Different voices make for different visions. Different visions make for something original. Original is what the public is starving for.”
Hear, hear. We’re looking forward to seeing what things Shonda has up her sleeve for next season.