This has been a big year for Shonda Rhimes, on screen and off.
The TV mega-producer, creator of popular dramas Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, became the sole proprietor of ABC’s Thursday lineup, with the addition of How to Get Away with Murder, an instant hit created by veteran Shondaland writer Pete Nowalk.
And a woman famed for behind-the-scenes work has dipped her toe into the spotlight.
“This was the year of doing a thousand things I was afraid of, and to overcome my fear of speaking in public,” she says. “So, I gave a commencement speech at (alma mater) Dartmouth, I was on Jimmy Kimmel, and when Mindy (Kaling) said, ‘Will you come on The Mindy Project?,’ I took a really deep breath of terror and said yes.”
Rhimes, 45, is pleased that Thursday nights feel like “a destination,” and she enjoys the social-media buzz, including live-tweeting from the series’ stars, that has become a weekly event.
“I love the conversation with fans. I love getting to talk to critics, and we just have this great conversation going with the cast,” she says.
Rhimes doesn’t make a big deal about being in charge of a full night of network TV dubbed “TGIT” (Thank God It’s Thursday) – which should have ABC thanking her for its best night of the week among advertiser-prized young adult viewers. Murder, Scandal and Grey’s have averaged 15.9 million, 13.9 milllion and 12.1 million viewers, respectively, with Murder and Scandal the top two young-adult broadcast dramas last fall.
“I’m not worried about where they go (on the schedule) or spending time celebrating how it’s going, because then I’m not working,” she says. “Part of me controlling my competitiveness is focusing my competitiveness on how I can make the best 61 episodes of television a season.”
Nowalk, a veteran of Grey’s, Scandal and Rhimes’ Private Practice, says he had no idea how newcomer Murder would fit into the block.
“I was lucky to get the best (schedule) placement ever,” he says. “But people really embracing the whole three-hour block? No one ever predicted that. It’s a lot of TV. All the shows feel different but fun to watch on one night.”
The workload is substantial for Rhimes, and her Shondaland company is developing projects from other writers, with Rhimes as producer.
“It’s athletic,” she says of the workload. “Luckily, Pete knows what he’s doing and truly has a voice and is incredibly talented. It’s not me doing the heavy lifting.”
Rhimes and fellow executive producer Betsy Beers “have helped me tremendously,” Nowalk says. “Whenever I have a question or need some creative help, I can go to both of them. (Shonda) watches cuts, gives me notes. She definitely pushes me to be better.”
Nowalk says he can’t say how Murder compares to a Rhimes-written series, but “I think what fits in the Shondaland world is this is a character-driven thriller, there’s soap mixed with procedural elements and there’s a really interesting heroine at the helm of the ship. (But) she has such a distinct rhythmic, musical way of writing. If I ever tried to mimic that, it would be a poor man’s version.”
Liza Weil, who plays Bonnie on Murder and has acted in other Rhimes shows, calls her “a force. I think she knows who she is, has a voice and is always true to that voice.”
Murder star Viola Davis, who won a Screen Actors Guild award Sunday, praised Rhimes, Nowalk and Beers in her acceptance speech for “thinking that a sexualized, messy, mysterious woman could be a 49-year-old, dark-skinned African-American who looks like me.”
But Rhimes deflects questions about television diversity.
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SOURCE: USA Today – Bill Keveney