Shonda Rhimes Revealed Why She Left ABC After 15 Years
"I felt like I was dying."
As we’ve all been enjoying Shonda Rhimes’ multiple hit ABC shows (including Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away With Murder) over the years, the wildly successful writer-producer has been fighting battles with the network behind the scenes. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter released Wednesday, Rhimes shared why she decided to leave ABC after 15 years in 2017 to go to Netflix. According to THR, Rhimes received constant pushback from the network over issues of budget, content, and, years ago, an ad for then-presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
“I felt like I was dying,” Rhimes told THR, “Like I’d been pushing the same ball up the same hill in the exact same way for a really long time.”
Rhimes reportedly had known she was close to her breaking point with ABC for quite some time, but her decision to finally leave came during a trip to Disneyland. Rhimes had been given an all-inclusive pass to the park as part of her deal with the network, and one time, she asked for a pass to cover her sister and her daughter but faced pushback.
After an ABC executive allegedly asked her, Don’t you have enough? Rhimes decided then to call and ask her lawyer to get her over to Netflix.
Rhimes had started thinking about the move to Netflix a while before she signed in 2017, sharing that she met Netflix’s co-CEO Ted Sarandos for breakfast in 2016. At that meeting, part of the conversation went like this: “I said, ‘I just want to be in a place where I can make stuff and no one’s going to bother me or make me feel like I’m beholden,'” she said, “and he was like, ‘That sounds great to me.'”
However, Rhimes said she still experienced a “real culture shock” when switching over to Netflix, having to get comfortable with things like having a large crowd of people in her meetings. “50 people, if you’re as introverted as I am, is terrifying,” she said. Rhimes has also struggled with anxiety telling her that she should be producing shows must faster than she has in the past three years, since her first projects have yet to be released.
“I spend a lot of time going, like, ‘We should have made 50 shows by now,'” she said. “And not for the audience so much as, like, ‘What do the bosses think?’ And I know they don’t think I should have made 50 shows by now, but it’s very hard for me to not be the perfect storytelling machine.”
However, the wait is almost over. Rhimes’ first two projects, a documentary Dance Dreams: Hot Chocolate Nutcracker about director, choreographer and philanthropist Debbie Allen and the period drama Bridgerton will be released before the end of the year, on November 27th and December 25th, respectively.
Even though she may not be producing as much or as fast as she wishes, Rhimes told THR, “My legacy is set, I’m writing now because I love to write.” Referencing advice from a 2006 interview with Oprah, in which the legendary talk-show host told her “You’re not enjoying this yet,” Rhimes said, “Now, I just want to enjoy this.”
And she’ll keep enjoying it—as long as people just let her do her thing.
“The reason I came to Netflix is because I wanted to be able to make television without anybody bothering me,” she says. “And as long as I get to keep making television without anybody bothering me, I’m happy.”