Shonda Rhimes: the queen of the small screen


Shonda Rhimes: “I am very clear on my record … I am no longer worried about negotiations in any way.” Photo by Jamel Toppin for Forbes

Lat Christmas, as millions of people watched Bridgerton for the first time, Shonda Rhimes was at her home in Los Angeles with her three daughters, unwrapping gifts. His first clues to the mania his first Netflix series triggered were several gushing texts from the streaming
CEO of the giant, Ted Sarandos. Then came an email from Hillary Clinton.

“How can you be cured of a duke’s obsession?” »Asked Clinton, referring to actor Régé-Jean Page and his beloved
representation of the aristocrat Simon Basset in the drama of the time of the Regency.

With its adaptation of the popular
romance novels, Rhimes, 51, has done the impossible: to create an unmissable sensation in a world brimming with frenzy of television. In the first 28 days of its availability, 82 million households, or 40% of Netflix’s paid audience, watched the eight-episode series, breaking the service’s previous audience records. Sarandos booked a second season in a matter of weeks and in April he agreed to fund seasons three and four. A the spin-off is in preparation. Rhimes, that is already around $ 30 million a year to create exclusive content for the streamer, should receive millions of bonuses due to the success of the series, a rare feat in generally preloaded streaming offerings.

“I never worried about earning the money,” Rhimes says. “I deserve every penny I earn… I always find these young women who have been conditioned to believe or speak for themselves in a way that makes them look smaller. It drives me crazy.

BridgertonThe resounding success of is proof that jumping ship in 2017 from ABC, her home for over a decade, has paid off. “I don’t know how you do things without bet on yourself, ”says the show’s creator. “If I had to play it safe I would have stayed exactly where I was and kept doing exactly what I was doing. It wasn’t like a crazy jump to believe in me.

Not after all its success. Rhimes grossed over $ 2 billion for ABC’s parent company, Disney, with hits such as
like medical drama Grey’s Anatomy; Scandal, who made Kerry Washington the first black female role in a network drama in almost 40 years old; and How to get away with a murder, starring Viola Davis, who became the first black woman to win an Emmy for Best Dramatic Actress for her role.

Despite this, Rhimes had to constantly fight for higher wages in writing and production (she went from around $ 30,000 per
episode at $ 250,000 since Grey’s premiered in 2005, according to Forbes estimates) and a larger share of the show’s profits. Network executives would eventually step up, she said, but it was still a battle.

“It’s really surprising to realize how much money your work makes for a place, and then find out how much they think you are worth compared to that,” she adds of the years she’s spent at herself. argue with ABC.

When she entered into negotiations with
Sarandos in 2017, Rhimes got rid of all modesty. “I was very clear that everyone was going to make it the way I wanted,” she says. Sarandos agrees: “I was amazed by the complete clarity on what she wants in this Next chapter. [She] is at the top of its game.


“Shonda Rhimes is a force like no other,” says Michelle Obama, who first met Rhimes when the showrunner was sitting in the Obama dressing room at the 2013 Kennedy Center Honors. “All you have to do is look at the empire that continues to grow from year to year to see that she stories – his example – are something people hunger for.

This empire, dubbed Shondaland, now has 50 employees and, like the cast of its series – some of the most racially diverse on television – is “exceptionally inclusive,” according to Rhimes. While half are devoted to creating television, the rest are working in new fields. There is Shondaland Audio, a
partnership with iHeartRadio, which has a Bridgerton companion podcast, as well as shows hosted by Laverne Cox and Scandal star Katie Lowes. Shondaland.com, a partnership with Hearst, is a mix of articles meant to empower women and update fans on the Rhimes series. There is also an eight week Peloton program based on his Inspirational book 2015, Year of Yes, and a best-selling master class.

Forbes estimates that Rhimes will earn nearly $ 40 million from Netflix this year from his Bridgerton bonuses, plus around $ 8 million in production costs for Grey’s Anatomy and Station 19, An additional $ 17 million for its share of Grey’s, scandal and How to get away with a murder, and a few million more from Shondaland ventures, including podcasts, web content, books, and more. In total, Rhimes is expected to earn nearly $ 70 million pre-tax in 2021, his biggest salary to date. Since the start of her television career, she has earned over $ 350 million before taxes.

This is all just the beginning too, as Rhimes looks decades ahead. “We don’t work for anyone… We do things the Shondaland way,” she said, adding: “In 30 years someone should be looking around and not knowing that there is a Shonda. in Shondaland. ”

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