Shonda Rhimes has landed on the cover of TIME’s first issue for 2022.
In the exclusive interview, the creator of such modern classics as “Scandal” and “Bridgerton” talked about the road less traveled that she took to get to Hollywood.
Did you know, for example, that she got her start in scriptwriting, where she penned such films as “Introducing Dorothy Dandridge” which starred Halle Berry in the title role? Or, did you know that hers was the pen behind the 2002 cult classic, “Crossroads,” featuring one Britney Jean Spears?
Shonda Rhimes pivoted to television in the early 2000s, shortly after the 9/11 attacks — and after she adopted her eldest daughter (who is now in college) without having a co-parent. Her first partnership was with Betsy Beers, and it’s a partnership that continues to this day.
But, she said, one of the first things she did was deploy “color-blind” casting, which is how “Grey’s Anatomy” (her second-ever television creation; the first never made it to air) got such a diverse cast as Sandra Oh and Ellen Pompeo.
“Nobody said, ‘There are too many people of color on that show,’” she said to TIME.
And that’s also how she got Kerry Washington — who played Olivia Pope, the lead character, in “Scandal” — to become the first Black woman to play the lead in a prime-time network drama since the mid-’70s. Subsequently, she created a series of strong Black leads that helped create a whole new subgenre of characters in “Shondaland.”
“There was a brand that I specifically created for ABC. It has some hallmarks, and one of them is fierce, incredibly successful career women,” Shonda Rhimes said to TIME. “It was highly successful and highly financially viable for them.”
Shonda Rhimes: The Highest-Paid Showrunner In Hollywood
The Ivy League graduate (she completed her undergrad studies at Dartmouth) is known, by Forbes, as the self-proclaimed highest-paid showrunner in Hollywood. Forbes also has put her on the Power Women of 2018 list (where she came in at No. 74) and on the 50 Over 50 list of 2021.
And still, even with all the accolades, don’t do you dare call Shonda Rhimes a “girlboss.”
“I think the girlboss archetype is bullsh-t that men have created to find another way to make women sound bad,” Rhimes told TIME.
According to her, it’s “a nice catchphrase to grab a bunch of women into one group and say, ‘This is what women are doing right now.’ Nobody ever says, ‘This is what men are doing right now.’”
If anything, we’d hope it be acceptable to call her a queen — because after all, she seems to be the queen of lucrative deals.
During her successful run at ABC, Forbes reports that she signed a four-year deal with the network giant for $10 million per year. That deal netted us some of the best shows in modern times, including “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal,” and “How To Get Away With Murder.”
As one of the first big producers to get a deal with Netflix in 2017, Rhimes signed a deal worth more than $100 million. After the success of “Bridgerton” for the platform, The NY Times reported that the streaming giant was looking to expand its deal with the showrunner beginning in the following quarter. That expansion resulted in a $50 million bump in salary.
As of 2022, Netflix bumped up the value again, with reports estimating a value between $300 million and $400 million, plus a “significant raise” and a five-year extension.