Shonda Rhimes was making tens of millions of dollars for herself and $2 billion+ for Disney with her franchises at ABC, and yet there were still battles over budget, content and even an ad she made with the stars of her series for then-presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, she tells The Hollywood Reporter.
By 2017, ABC wanted more from her, and she wanted to do something else. "I felt like I was dying," she tells THR of the unforgiving pace and constraints of network TV. "Like I'd been pushing the same ball up the same hill in the exact same way for a really long time."
She’d had enough. She approached Netflix, and signed a nine-figure overall deal, prompting a wave of high level defections to the streamer, including Ryan Murphy, who moved from Fox to the streamer.
The 50-year-old is set to release her first two projects: a documentary about director, choreographer and philanthropist Debbie Allen (dropping Nov. 27) and the period drama Bridgerton (Dec. 25). Her first nut-to-bolts creation, Inventing Anna, about the infamous SoHo grifter Anna Sorokin, alias Anna Delvey will come a few months later.
Rhimes admits it has taken her a while to get things going. Asked if she has a response when people question how much she and some of the other mega-producers make, she says: "It's not my place.[…] I don't know what it is for other people, and to hop in and hop out of a megadeal might not make sense, but for me it's about a much longer haul."
She says of her new approach: "The first thing I said was, 'You're not going to get another Grey's Anatomy — not Grey's Anatomy in a cornfield, Grey's Anatomy on a baseball field or Grey's Anatomy at an airport, that's just not happening,' and he said, 'I'd never expect it to.’ And then 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,' and he was like, 'That sounds great to me.' "
The transition hasn’t been easy. "It was saying, 'Let's go visit Spain, I'm so excited about Spain,' and then getting there and realizing you don't speak any Spanish," she says. "We had real culture shock."
And owning her power has also been hard. "Society is built to make women question their worth from the moment they're born, and we were just never raised that way," says Rhimes, praising her parents, both academics. "We talk about it a lot. We're always like, 'What is it? Can you bottle it?' "
Now, she feels a responsibility to do more, as often as she can. "Every time I'd give a speech, I started to say, 'Why don't we donate that money to charity?' Or, 'What portion of this are you going to donate to charity?' " she says. "And at first we were living in that wonderful Obama world and it felt exciting and positive, and then all of a sudden it felt urgent."