Shonda Rhimes’ impact on television


With the release of the second season of the Netflix show “Bridgertonon March 25, which recently reached 193 million hours watched, the spotlight is once again on television producer and screenwriter Shonda Rhimes.

Rhimes’ legacy in pop culture has been cemented for years. She’s the mastermind behind many hit shows like “Grey’s Anatomy” and “How to Get Away With Murder.” Her career has challenged the narrow expectations of black women in the entertainment industry.

Kristen Warner, UA Associate Professor of Communication and Information Science, focuses on television and film in her research and teaching. As a critical race theorist in the creative media sphere, Warner examines the role of race in the entertainment industry.

Warner said there is a disparity in the number of black women who are showrunners, executive producers, versus people who have power and influence in the industry.

From 2020, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media reported that women of color made up 36.6% of screenwriters, 15.1% of co-executive producers, 7.4% of executive producers, and 6.9% of showrunners.

A black woman reaching the level of Rhimes is an anomaly in the entertainment space.

Rhimes skyrocketed into the pop culture lexicon with the premiere of “Grey’s Anatomyin 2005. She is the show’s creator, executive producer and head writer. The hospital drama is still ongoing, though Rhimes is no longer writing for the series.

In 2019, “Grey’s Anatomy” broke the record for longest-running medical drama, beating “ER.” The show’s first four seasons ranked in the top 10 among all viewers on the Nielsen ratings.

Rhimes then created a spin-off, “Private practicewhich ran from 2007 to 2013.

After several other shows that weren’t picked up by the ABC like “Inside the Box” and “Off the Map”, Rhimes’ next hit show was “Scandal.”

“Scandal” debuted in 2011 and starred Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope. The lead actress was a black woman, which was not typical of primetime dramas.

There’s a long-standing problem with the portrayal of black women in TV shows, especially as protagonists. Black girls and women make up 6.5% of the US population, but only 3.7% of leading roles in the 100 highest-grossing movies of the last decade.

Another creation from Shondaland, “How to get away with murder“played Oscar-winning actress Viola Davis. The show ran from 2014 to 2020. All of these shows are under Shondaland, the production company that Rhimes started after “Grey’s Anatomy” was created.

Through Shondaland, Rhimes has also created initiatives to help other aspiring writers and producers. In 2019, she launched the Women’s Directing Mentorship. There are a small number of production companies owned by black women, including Issa Rae’s HOORAE and Ava DuVernay’s ARRAY NOW.

Shondaland had a partnership affiliation with Disney-ABC, which is why the shows aired on ABC Network. In 2017, Rhimes landed another partnership, this time with streaming service Netflix.

The multi-year, $100 million deal means every future Shondaland production will be a Netflix Original. Previous seasons of “Scandal” and “Grey’s Anatomy” are also now on Netflix.

Rhimes released “Inventing Anna” and “Bridgerton” on Netflix. Bridgerton is a Regency era show based on the novels by Julia Quinn. The second season was also in the Netflix top 10 in 92 countries.

Rhimes has made a conscious effort to give black people and people of color major roles on her show.

His most recent show, “Bridgerton”, is set in Regency London. Instead of casting blacks or people of color in servant roles, many actors of color play high-class nobility. Rhimes took preconceptions about this era and turned them on their head.

The power of the media is their ability to shape the opinion of a population about something and to create a “social reality.” There’s this idea of ​​“normalizing” on television: taking something deemed unbelievable or unusual and bringing it to the fore.

Rhimes is impacting the industry both on and off screen. She creates an environment that will lead to more Shondalands in the future.

Questions? Email the Culture Office at [email protected].

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