Greetings From Shondaland: 16 Reasons Shonda Rhimes is the TV Titan of Our Times

She’s been called TV’s savior. She once described herself as a titan. Her production company is an entire land, graced by her name.

It would all seem a little exaggerated if it were not true.

Shonda Rhimes is a force in Hollywood. She’s created not one but multiple money-makings, trailblazing TV shows that double as a cultural phenomenon.


Her imagination has given birth to some of the strongest and most colorful characters in television history, in turn, gifting actors roles of a lifetime. Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope in “Scandal.” Viola Davis as Annalise Keating in “How to Get Away with Murder.” Ellen Pompeo as Meredith Grey and Patrick Dempsey as McDreamy in “Grey’s Anatomy.”

How did this titan capture her kingdom? Follow the footsteps of her hero’s journey.

She Wanted to Be the Next Toni Morrison



Being like legendary literary novelist Toni Morrison, shown here receiving her Medal of Freedom award during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, was Shonda Rhimes's first goal.Carolyn Kaster / AP Photo

Shonda Rhimes didn’t set out to create salacious and scandalous TV shows. She wanted to be a serious novelist.

It wasn’t quite working out as she’d hoped.

She was a struggling writer, living in her sister’s basement when she gave herself a challenge: get accepted into the extremely competitive film school at the University of Southern California.

She did — and she graduated at the top of her class.

While at USC, she put her dreams of becoming Toni Morrison to bed and woke up to a newfound passion for television writing.

Her First Pitch Was Rejected



After film school, Rhimes wrote several projects, including "The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement." Anne Hathaway and Chris Pine starred.The Walt Disney Studios

Rhimes struggled after film school, working random writing and producing jobs with a measure of success. She didn’t hit any home runs.

She made a short film with Jada Pinkett Smith and wrote “The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement“ and “Crossroads,” which starred Britney Spears.

When she pitched her first show to Disney about a group of female war correspondents, she got a swift rejection. Executives didn’t want to do the show while American troops were fighting in Afghanistan.

She didn’t quit. And her next pitch would make her career.

The Working Title of “Grey’s Anatomy” was “Sex and Surgery”

In "Grey's Anatomy," Rhimes created complex, strong female characters who were as competitive and passionate as their male counterparts.American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.

Rhimes, a self-described homebody introvert, recalls mumbling into her papers while pitching the show that would be “Grey’s Anatomy.”

At the time, she had yet to conquer her fear of speaking in public. She made up for her lack of bravado with a script full of sizzle.

Building a universe within Seattle Grace Hospital, Rhimes said her intention was to create complex, strong female characters who were every bit as competitive and passionate as their male counterparts.

ABC gave her pilot a green light in 2005.

“Grey’s Anatomy” Is One of the Most Successful Shows in TV History


Shonda Rhimes accepts the award for best outstanding drama series for "Grey's Anatomy" at the 39th NAACP Image Awards in 2008.Kevork Djansezian / AP Photo

“Scandal” Isn’t Just a Hit. It’s a Meme Machine.

Kerry Washington's "Scandal" character Olivia Pope was the first African American female to lead a prime time drama in 40 years.American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.

When “Scandal” wraps its final season this year, it will do so having left behind a bright, blazing trail.

Kerry Washington, playing Olivia Pope, was the first African American female to lead a prime-time drama in 40 years. After seven salacious seasons and more than 120 episodes, her white hat, her giant glass of wine and her Pope-isms are now entrenched in pop culture.

The show about a Washington, D.C. fixer and her team of enforcers was also one of the first to truly capitalize on social media to bring its stories and characters to life. From viral memes to #gladiator threads on Twitter, Scandal’s plotlines have been diligently dissected and parodied by a committed group of fans who kept the show going well beyond the small screen.

If a boss-girl was ever at a loss for words to express how she’s handling a project, she just had to Google an Olivia Pope meme to get her point across: It’s handled.

Her Shows Attract Rabid Fans


By the time the final episode of "Scandal" aired, the show had well over a million followers on its official Twitter channel, and countless more on fans' accounts.American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.

Whether it’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal” or “How To Get Away with Murder,” fans aren’t satisfied by just watching their favorite Rhimes shows. They hunger to discuss, dissect and mock every aspect of it on social media.

Her shows combined have millions of Twitter followers, not to mention unofficial fan-created accounts.

She Owned Thursday Nights


Rhimes's efforts resulted in her induction into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 2017. Yes, that Oprah Winfrey behind her on stage.Phil Mccarten / AP Photo

There’s a reason media executives hailed Rhimes as television’s savior.

Before her shows, the great era of sitcoms was coming to an end with the finales of “Friends” and “Seinfeld” — with nothing in sight to replace them.

In a TED talk, Rhimes estimated that, at her peak at ABC, she was running four television programs, 70 hours of content and 3-4 productions at a time with a total budget of $350 million dollars. She is one of the few showrunners to have created three shows that topped 100 episodes each.

Rhimes was also the first African American to do it, and the first female showrunner to have three shows running on network TV at the same time.

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