Shonda Rhimes: “I’m not one of the most powerful women on television, I’m one of the most powerful people on television”

In the year 2005, television appeared in the corridors of Seattle Grace Hospital. While the intimate and professional lives of its health personnel paraded before the eyes of the spectators, they got hooked and today, 17 years later, Grey’s Anatomy is still active. Thus began the television career of Shonda Rhimes (Chicago, 52 years old). She became responsible for the production of 70 episodes a year for free television and series from her factory, such as scandal or How to defend a murderer, were great audience successes. In 2017 she left her agreement with ABC (owned by Disney) to sign a contract with Netflix for five years which, according to the US media, exceeded 100 million dollars (87 million euros). In 2021, the platform was secured the presence of the creator in their ranks for another five years with a hefty salary increase: it is estimated that the agreement now reaches 150 million dollars (131 million euros).

His production company Shondaland is responsible for one of the biggest public successes on Netflix, The Bridgertons, which launches its second season on March 25. Before, this Friday, February 11, it was released Who is Anna?her first series as a creator since launching scandal, back in 2012. Who is Anna? follow the true story of anna delvey (actually Anna Sorokin), who posed as a wealthy German heiress to curry favor with New York high society and swindle thousands of dollars from individuals and businesses. Delvey defrauded some $275,000 from luxury hotels, banks and millionaire friends, so he went to prison. He was paroled in February 2021 and has no connection to the Netflix series. Rhimes spoke about his new creation and his television work on Thursday the 3rd with EL PAÍS by video call.

Ask. Why did you choose this story for your first series as a creator in a decade?

Answer. It is an irresistible story. It arises from an article written by Jessica Pressler [publicado en New York Magazine en 2018] And it moved me the moment I read it. I could imagine it in images, with those characters, those women… It was something I couldn’t get out of my mind.

Julia Garner and James Cusati Moyer, in the second episode of ‘Who is Anna?’.

P. What has been the biggest challenge you have encountered when narrating it?

R. It’s a fascinating story because we wrote it as it was developing. Our writers started working while the trial was going on, and then the pandemic hit. So a project that we started writing I think in 2018, we didn’t finish recording it until 2020-2021. It took us a while to complete – writing something while it was in development and then being stopped by the pandemic and having to get it back up and running made the project very time consuming. The world was constantly changing while we were doing it.

P. It’s been 10 years since her last series as a creator, scandalWhy so long?

R. It seems like a long time has passed, but you have to think that the series I have created have lasted a long time on the air. scandal lasted seven years. Grey’s Anatomy is still running. I had no time to create new series. Y then came the move to Netflixwhich was a very exciting move for us, and the first thing I did after finishing scandal was to focus on what we knew we wanted to be our first project, which was The Bridgertons.

P. Now that you have developed two series for Netflix, what differences have you found between producing series for traditional television and doing it for a platform?

R. I am enjoying a lot of the possibilities that working with Netflix offers me. There is a certain type of series that you can produce for a free-to-air channel and you have to follow certain types of rules. You work for a corporation. And with Netflix, you feel like you’re almost working for a start-up. and in one start-up they have a very “can do” mentality. There’s a lot of excitement about telling stories and telling new stories and being versatile, and I love all of that.

As a producer I look for stories that I would like to see

P. His deal with Netflix was announced nearly five years ago. The Bridgertons they premiered more than three years later and now their second production for the platform has arrived, Who is Anna? He takes his time to create and develop series, at least compared to other producers and creators…

R. Yes, I have taken my time. I wanted to do a good job. My goal wasn’t to rush out and throw things out there on the screen. We wanted to get it right and make a series that we were really proud of. I’m not saying other people aren’t doing the same thing at a faster rate, just that we’re doing it at our own pace.

Simone Ashley and Jonathan Bailey, in the second season of'The Bridgertons'.
Simone Ashley and Jonathan Bailey, in the second season of ‘The Bridgertons’.LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX (LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX)

P. What do you look for in a story to bet on it as a producer?

R. I’m always looking for stories I’d like to see. That is the best barometer I have to measure if a series is going to be good or not. I want to see? Betsy Beers, my partner in production, and I always worked with that theory of making series that we would like to see. The Bridgertons It’s something I would definitely want to see. Who is Anna? It’s something I knew we’d want to see.

P. She is considered one of the most powerful women on television. How much does that power weigh on her life?

R. Well, actually, I don’t consider myself one of the most powerful women on television. I have become one of the people [remarca la palabra persona] TV’s most powerful. I don’t think there is a difference between how powerful a man and a woman can be. And I don’t think that weighs on my life at all. It’s my job. I am lucky to have this job.

The more people there are telling stories and the more different voices there are, the better television will be made

P. Sorry about how I phrased my earlier question, you’re right. She has been asked on other occasions about the fact of being a black woman in a world of white men as she was, and still is, the world of the script and audiovisual production. Do you think you have paved the way in this regard?

R. I don’t know, I hope the doors have opened, there is a lot of space for everyone to make series and tell their stories. It’s very clear that the more people there are telling stories and the more different voices there are, the better television will be made, and people are interested in seeing those stories. No one wants to see the same kinds of stories all the time.

P. What is the decision you are most proud of in your career?

R. I think that what I am most proud of is that I chose to be a screenwriter. I think that’s who I really am, a screenwriter. You know, I’m also an executive producer, I do other jobs, but in my heart, I’ll always just be a writer.

An image from the series'Grey's Anatomy'.
An image from the series ‘Grey’s Anatomy’.

P. What does it mean Grey’s Anatomy in your career and what have you learned in that series that you have applied to your next creations?

R. I would say that I have learned everything in Grey’s Anatomy. She had not worked on television before nor had she created anything. It was my first job on television and I learned to do television in Grey’s Anatomy. I learned how to direct a series in Grey’s Anatomy. I learned everything I know about television in Grey’s Anatomy. It amazes me that it’s still on the air and still working, that it’s still one of the most watched shows on its network and that fans still respond to it, even that new generations of fans discover it. Netflix has made it possible for new generations to join the fan base that follows it weekly. We are already in the second generation of fans, I would say. We have writers now on our team who grew up watching Grey’s Anatomy! That’s why it will always be an incredibly special series for me, it has taught me how to do this job.

I was raised not to see failure as failure, it’s okay to fail. Failures are just another way to learn something

P. What do you think is the reason for the success of your series?

R. I have no idea, I really don’t. I wouldn’t be able to tell you why other people like to watch my shows. I hope it’s because we tell the stories in an honest way and because we create characters that seem real and live real lives in very complicated situations that make you feel compelled to watch them. But I don’t waste my time thinking about why they see them, because then I would worry, I don’t think there is a formula. I’m just so glad you see them.

P. He is often asked about success. But has he failed at anything in his career? And if so, what has he learned from that failure?

R. What’s really interesting to me is that I was raised not to see failure as failure, with the mindset that it’s okay to fail. Failures are just another way to learn something. Our biggest problems come when we look at failure as something devastating, as a terrible moment. I think you can be successful at some things and fail at others, and that’s perfect. Those failures are ways of teaching you things and giving you lessons on how to improve and stay humble. Nobody is perfect. And if you expect to be, you are going down a very dangerous road.

“Guilty pleasure”? I have always found that definition slightly insulting. There is nothing guilty in pleasure

P. Sometimes his series are associated with the label of “guilty pleasure”. What do you think of that category?

R. There is nothing guilty about pleasure. I’ve always found that definition to be slightly insulting, because it suggests that you shouldn’t be watching those series. Ours are seen by lots of people. I don’t know why you should feel guilty about watching something and I don’t know why pleasure should make you feel guilty. It’s a phrase that people like to use, but I still haven’t figured out why.

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Shonda Rhimes: “I’m not one of the most powerful women on television, I’m one of the most powerful people on television”